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Aug 21, 2016

To Badly Go...

The Alternative Factor
This is my third blog post in a series celebrating 50 years of Star Trek. In this post, I comment on selected (mostly Season Three) episodes of the original 1960s Star Trek series.

I was amused to discover that there had been a vote by Star Trek fans to identify the least popular Star Trek television episodes. As a Star Trek fan who likes to complain about the shortcomings of Star Trek, I'll join in with the spirit of that "10 worst" list for the rest of this blog post. I've previously made a list with 10 of my favorite episodes.

Trek 31. 'The Alternative Factor' was a Season Two episode. Previously, when I went through all of the Season Two episodes and picked out some of them for comment, I skipped right over 'The Alternative Factor'. I have a general dislike for all of the "parallel universe" episodes of Star Trek.

2001 seconds of boredom
As a child, I despised this episode for the seemingly endless hand-to-hand combat scenes in which the anti-Lazarus and Lazarus struggled against each other in psychedelic colors. I have the same sort of revulsion for those fight scenes in 'The Alternative Factor' as I have for the silly light show near the end of Stanley Kubrick's painfully paced 2001.

A warrior's semi-private boob nuzzling
Hair splitting 101. Which of the two Star Trek episodes that were written by Don Ingalls do I like the least? 'A Private Little War' (see Trek 27.5) was mired in 1960s geopolitical nonsense while 'The Alternative Factor' can be taken as a recursive science fiction commentary on the idiocy of most parallel universe plots in Sci Fi. In hope of a tie breaker, I'm allowing the remnants of my 12-year-old self to register their vote. 'A Private Little War' had the benefit of more boob nuzzling and fuzzy faux fur halter tops. Final decision: still too close to call. Check back during the 100 year Star Trek celebration in 2066.

instant learning
Trek 32. I'm a sucker for a good mystery story in a Sci Fi setting. Is 'Spock's Brain' a good mystery? Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for even a bad mystery in a Sci Fi setting. It would take a twisted nonscientific mind to come up with the idea of space aliens intent on stealing Spock's brain. Still, this episode had redeeming aspects...

How to select a nice brain.
No Sci Fi script seems complete without a multi-pronged learning machine that you can strap to your head for a quick download of the latest medical procedures. And what Sci Fi saga is complete without well-proportioned aliens in flashy purple miniskirts? Particularly when they say cute things like, "Brain? Brain? What is brain?"

Marj Dusay died in 2009.

Kirk and Miramanee
Trek 33. One of the time-honored traditions among science fiction story writers is the creation of distant imaginary worlds where the author might enjoy living. In the case of Jack Vance, I suspect that Araminta Station on the planet Cadwal is such an imaginary paradise.

For Spock, there was the planet Sharpeidon where he could live happily with Zarabeth. Similarly, in 'The Paradise Syndrome', for Kirk there was Miramanee, a curvaceous alien living on a planet with a peaceful low-technology culture.

Margaret Armen died in 2003. Sabrina Scharf became a state senator in California.

Gorgan
Trek 34.  'And the Children Shall Lead' was recently voted by fans as being one of the 10 least favorite episodes of Star Trek. The ghostly greenish Gorgan was one of the more bizarre characters in Star Trek. Maybe the message from Trek fans to evil aliens is "keep you non-corporeal hands off our children!" Melvin Belli died in 1996.


McCoy's asteroid girl
Trek 34.5 'Day of the Dove' had another annoying "energy being". With Klingons on-board, I've always disliked 'Day of the Dove' as much as I dislike 'And the Children Shall Lead'.

Trek 34.9 McCoy's hollow asteroid saga. Science theme of the week: I'd rather be lucky than smart. An inversion of 'The Paradise Syndrome' gives the dying Doctor his chance for one last fling. Then he gets lucky a second time when it turns out that ancient records inside the asteroid/spaceship contain the cure for McCoy's rare illness.


Tina, Janice and Charlie
Puzzler. Among 'And the Children Shall Lead', 'Charlie X" and 'Miri' which was my least favorite? For my 12 year-old self, Tina Lawton and Janice Rand were redeeming factors for 'Charlie X'. 'Miri' had Janice along for the ride, and although she was not having much fun, at least she was not turned into a lizard. I seem to agree with the other voters: 'And the Children Shall Lead' ranks very low on my personal list of enjoyable Star Trek episodes.

dealing with Medusans
Trek 35. 'Is There in Truth No Beauty?' was always hard for me to swallow. I could not accept that looking upon the Medusans would cause insanity and why would a red-tinted visor protect people? Also, why was the Enterprise suddenly unable to find its way home? Ya, it was in the script.

Specter of a Sci Fi Western
Trek 36. 'Spectre of the Gun' has a special place in my heart. It is not a good place.

Some of my earliest memories are watching other people watch Westerns on T.V. By the time I was six years old, I did not want to ever see another Western.

This episode was tedious, with an effort by the Enterprise crew to make "knockout gas", but in the end they realize that they are in some kind of virtual reality where nothing (including their gas) is real.
Fast woman: able to side-step a phaser beam and run Kirk ragged.
Kirk grabs a quickie
Trek 37. 'Wink of an Eye' provided proof that Kirk liked fast women. Sadly, after discovering "hyper-acceleration", the amnesia of the Federation sets in and this amazing technology was apparently forgotten.

Kathie Browne died in 2003.

Spock's jam session
Trek 38.  'The Way to Eden' was a suitable way to wind down both Star Trek and the 1960s.

If there is an award for anachronism, this episode is a contender. When Jack Vance wanted to create a fictional variation on the 1960s, he imagined a culture where free-love hippy types were the norm and a revolution of young people went in the opposite direction towards hard work and neat appearance. If only the rushed Star Trek crew could have been half that creative.


Droxine
Trek 39. David Gerrold had a hand in writing 'The Cloud Minders'. The pampered Droxine eventually learns that she must leave behind her comfortable home in the cloud city Stratos of planet Merak II. On the planet below, the hard-working Troglytes mine the valuable mineral zenite under harsh conditions. This story is even more meaningful today as the "top 1%" of Earthlings continues to expand its grip on our planet's wealth.

alien mind transfer device
Trek 40. The final episode of Star Trek was 'Turnabout Intruder. This episode is one of three original series episodes that was recently voted as being among the most disliked by fans.

From a technical standpoint, we can ask: what would be involved in the transfer of minds to and from a human body? Mind transfer is a plot device that was used in 'Wolf in the Fold', 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?', 'Return to Tomorrow' and 'Turnabout Intruder'.

telepathy is useful
Among these four mind transfer episodes, the least convincing from a technical perspective was 'Wolf in the Fold' where there seemed to be little more than an evil spirit that could magically migrate into human bodies or even the main computer of the Enterprise. In 'Metamorphosis' the mind of the 'Companion' could also magically transfer itself into a human body. I would not rank 'Turnabout Intruder' as being among the very worst episodes of Star Trek, but with a telepathic Mr. Spock around, and Dr. Janice Lester's odd behavior on display, it is painful to spend a whole hour watching and waiting for Kirk to regain control of his body.
Assignment: Earth
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This blog post (above) is the third in a series celebrating the first 50 years of the Star Trek era.
 Other posts in the series:
1) season 1 episodes
2) season 2 episodes
Also: Star Trek: Galactic Core (fan fiction)
10 fun Star Trek episodes
Next: Star Trek Phase IV
visit the Gallery of Posters

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