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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

14 Comments

  1. trekker709
    June 26, 2013 @ 12:48 am

    Not sure I get your take on this episode, but if you’re implying it had a lot of unfulfilled potential, I agree 🙂
    Don Ingalls wrote one other ST episode, “A Private Little War” where he changed his name to Jud Crucis, apparently a word play on Jesus crucified. Don’t know if that sheds any light on why his good/evil character is named Lazarus, the close friend whom Jesus is said to have brought back from the grave. Seems like many of the writers and actors of TOS would have been haunted by memories of the WW2 holocaust—Shatner and Nimoy, Gene Coon, etc. According to Susan Sackett’s book, Roddenberry’s mother was Jewish, though she was a regular Baptist churchgoer….
    The only sense I can make of the ending, is that civilization will survive if violence is contained as private inner conflict of the individual, instead of being unleashed on the world.

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  2. Jacob Nanfito
    June 26, 2013 @ 5:21 am

    Josh,

    You're a mad genius.

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  3. BerserkRL
    June 26, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    "Jud Crucis" sounds more like "Judas Crucified." Which is what happened, according to the Gospel of Barnabas.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    June 26, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    It took me a while to figure out what precisely you were up to, Josh, but now that I have, I endorse this completely.

    About The Alternative Factor itself. I can't say for sure what the first episode of Star Trek I've ever seen was. But the first one I remember in detail was The Alternative Factor, I think because the character(s) of Lazarus appealed to me. (A mysterious man from another plane of existence whose sage attitudes and superior technical and moral knowledge to the Enterprise crew sets him up as the genuine hero of the story, relegating the ostensible star Kirk to the status of witness. I guess I've always been a Doctor Who fan at heart.) I loved this program as a 3-5 year old, and when I've watched it since, the plot holes don't matter to me as much as that story of the Lazari.

    I'm fascinated by this trend in Star Trek fandom of re-evaluation and rethinking the show's history in the forum culture. Despite the Abrams movies (which are really more conventional sci-fi action films with Star Trek characters and copyrighted material than they are Trek), Star Trek no longer being on TV has put it in a version of the Whovians' Wilderness Years. The first post-cancellation period (1969-1987) was a story of growing cultural cachet and a popular series of films through the 1980s. But now, Star Trek seems almost retrograde, or else entirely subsumed into the Abrams and Whedon paradigms of sci-fi. Since 2005, Star Trek could no longer claim to be the dominant strain of popular sci-fi in the United States.

    So The Alternative Factor goes from being a classic to being a naff. But there's more than this going on. Josh has done a great job of showing that the utopian humanism that Roddenberry long pimped as his vision of Star Trek was in fact a lie. Star Trek is haunted by its own evil, insane Lazarus: The Cage, and its vision of a hyper-logical space air force extending the military reach of Earth Command through the stars. It seems that evil Lazarus was named Gene Roddenberry. And no matter how far Star Trek may develop its utopian elements that Gene Coon started to develop, it will always be haunted by the militarism of its original conception. Its insane, murderous twin from a parallel world, the Gene Roddenberry of 1965.

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    June 26, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    Apparently Ingalls felt "A Private Little War" had been so mangled in rewrites (IIRC by Roddenberry) it wasn't his script anymore and the antiwar commentary he had written it to convey wasn't present at all in the draft that made it to screen. Ergo, he felt him and his story had been "crucified" in a sense.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    June 26, 2013 @ 9:54 am

    Why, thank you very much! I aim to please 🙂

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    June 26, 2013 @ 10:32 am

    Many thanks for the thoughtful words and analyses, Alex! It's much appreciated. I don't have much to add to that, except to say I have a feeling you're going to really like what I have planned for the Rick Berman era 🙂

    I think your take on "The Alternative Factor" is spot-on. It's IMO one of those cases where the concept and script are so unbelievably ambitious and intriguing the structural issues don't hold it back in the slightest. They're noticeable, sure, but they don't detract from how enjoyable this one is to watch.

    The 1969-1987 period is very interesting to me, and one of the reasons why is that I'm not sure it can really be called a wilderness or post-cancellation period: Star Trek never did well ratings-wise in its original run, it was kept alive for as long as it did mostly out of NBC's good faith and a small but extremely vocal group of fans. It really wasn't until the 1970s when it was in syndicated reruns that the show really began to amass any kind of significant following. Not to mention there actually was Trek briefly on the air during that period (the Animated Series in 1974) and the fact there was a 99% complete live-action TV reboot planned for 1977-8.

    This was also the period dialog between the fans and creators really began to be significant factor, and I think this proved to be bit of a perspective shift for Gene Roddenberry. But, things to come and all…

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  8. Adam Riggio
    June 26, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    Really, I think the closest thing to the Doctor Who Wilderness years for Star Trek was probably the last couple of years of Enterprise leading up to the Abrams movie. The television franchise had clearly run out of steam, and for all the fascinating ideas Enterprise had, every other major sci-fi franchise was blowing it out of the water. All the political concepts about the War On Terror™ that Enterprise worked with were far better written on Battlestar. The characters on Stargate SG1 were much more fun, and even though they were kind of programmatic, they were much more interesting and fun to watch than most of the cast of Enterprise.

    Now I think Star Trek fandom has to deal with a paradigm shift in who the big folks are in sci-fi. Essentially, Star Trek has been subject to a hostile takeover by J. J. Abrams, who has morphed the show into his style of thoughtful action movie. He's also achieved what seemed impossible to any Star Trek fan from the 1980s or 90s with Star Trek 2009: He turned it into Star Wars. It's a pretty common idea now that the plot of Star Trek 2009 is essentially Star Wars: A New Hope. So Star Trek is still big, but the franchise itself doesn't seem to have any power to create its own paradigms of how to do sci-fi. Instead, it's been folded into the J. J. Abrams vision.

    Hell, never mind what you're planning for Berman; I want to see what you're planning for 1977 when Star Wars hits.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    June 26, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    I think the position Star Trek is in now is somewhat unique among genre fiction. It's been able to become, partially by its own volition and partially through how people like Abrams and his corporate overlords have appropriated it, something that is at once the most logical endpoint for Soda Pop Art like it but also something no other franchise like it has managed to attain. This has both positive and negative connotations, but I can't quite elaborate on what I mean at this time. I'm sure you understand 🙂

    I agree with you about Enterprise to a point: Your reaction to the show is the exact same one I had to it long about the end of Season 3, which is when I finally gave up on it pretty much for good. That said, I think the War on Terror parallels are just about the least interesting thing to focus on IRT Enterprise, just behind Season 4's gratuitous continuity porn.

    Star Wars will naturally get coverage in the late-70s, alongside just about every other movie you can probably think of that it's important I mention that came out around then. In terms of if or how that's going to play into the way I explore the narrative for Star Trek's future? Well…Stay tuned.

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  10. Ununnilium
    June 27, 2013 @ 6:41 am

    You are engaging with the things I find most fascinating and most frustrating about modern-day fandom, and also referencing the New Gods. AWESOME. <3

    That said, one nit to pick: an antimatter universe is not at all a silly concept. Indeed, there's no known reason why our universe is mostly matter and not 50/50 matter/antimatter; a universe that was mostly antimatter seems like a pretty reasonable extension of that.

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  11. Josh Marsfelder
    June 27, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    Please forgive me for not being entirely up on the physics side of things in that case: I've heard a lot of snarking from various critical sources about concepts like antimatter universes so I was responding to that primarily.

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  12. Ununnilium
    June 27, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    Quite all right! To be fair, the episode does seem to have kind of a wonky idea on how matter/antimatter collisions work.

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  13. Josh Marsfelder
    June 27, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    By the way, I want to apologise to Adam for calling him Alex in my first reply. I had been out all day and was coming off of a lengthy stretch of writing and operating under four hours of sleep last night, so I wasn't as cogent as I perhaps probably should have been.

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  14. Cameron
    February 7, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    That's interesting, 'cause TAF and APLW are to me the two most dour and grim episodes in all of the original Star Trek. And yes, Little War does end up with a pro-Vietnam message, though it's not gunh-ho; rather sober and resigned.

    I give credit to TAF for a disturbing resolution that I've never been able to shake – if the episode were better-written, with a stronger story arc, and a more compelling reason why the two Lazarii have to be trapped in the corridor for eternity … I still don't know that I could "enjoy" the harshly disturbing ending it has.

    Reply

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