Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Lost in Space, the popular television series which aired between 1965 and 1968, was intended as an outer-space adaption of Swiss Family Robinson. Set in the “distant” future of 1997, Irwin Allen’s show was unfairly viewed as an infantile version of Star Trek. Allen never sought to match the philosophical tone of Gene Roddenberry’s series, however, and both producers considered the comparison unfair. Allen was a storyteller, and the tales sprung from his studio were frequently imaginative and quite good.
Lost in Space starred Guy Williams as John Robinson; June Lockhart was featured as his wife, Maureen; their three children were Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and Will (Billy Mumy). They were accompanied on their mission by Major Don West, portrayed by Mark Goddard.
After the pilot was filmed, it was decided the show needed a regular antagonist and Jonathan Harris was cast as Dr. Zachary Smith. Smith was originally written as a villain, but Harris slowly molded him into a lovable troublemaker.
Another addition to the cast was an “environmental control” robot. This machine started out as mere equipment but morphed into a member of the family, replete with a personality capable of love and pathos. These two late additions to the cast teamed with Billy Mumy and became the de facto focus of the program, much to the chagrin of Guy Williams and the other actors. This shift in focus recast the series into a fantasy/farce, but one still capable of producing many fine moments.
My 10 "Best" Lost in Space Episodes
The Reluctant Stowaway (Episode 1): This episode describes earth’s dangerous overcrowding and introduces us to the first family to reach out into space in search of habitable worlds. It tours the ship that will transport them to another world while the family sleeps in suspended animation during their five year journey. Dr. Smith attempts to sabotage the mission by reprogramming their robot to destroy the Jupiter II eight hours after launch, but is trapped on board at lift-off. His weight throws the ship off course and into the path of a meteor shower. He awakens the family in time to save the ship from both the meteors and the robot, but the ship is now hopelessly lost in space. A lot happens for a first episode, and this show was as good as nearly anything the original Star Trek offered. The Jupiter II and the Robot had a sophisticated look and the special effects were good. The ghostly howl of the ship in flight, coupled with the family frozen in their cryogenic tubes, provided a particularly haunting image.
The Keeper (Parts I and II): The Robinson’s face a powerful humanoid called the Keeper, who collects two specimens of each type of creature in the galaxy. He views humans as a primitive species and hopes through trickery to add Will and Penny to his collection. Dr. Smith inadvertently releases the Keeper’s entire collection, and the Keeper demands the children in return for recapturing the dangerous creatures with his cosmic-powered staff. The Robinson family’s compassion and spirit eventually convinces the Keeper that humans would never adjust to captivity, and he departs. This episode makes use of virtually every monster in the Lost in Space catalog of aliens, and it is a chilling sight watching this collection of creatures leave the Keeper’s ship. This is the only two-part episode throughout the run of the series.
Visit to a Hostile Planet: The Jupiter II exceeds the speed of light and propels the Robinsons back to Earth, but to their dismay they have traveled back in time to 1947. The locals consider them aliens and form a posse to capture them. Dr. Smith, delighted to be back on Earth in any time, dons a disguise and aids in imprisoning the Robinson family. The Robinsons only want to leave without incident, and Will finally convinces Smith to let everyone go. Fearing the loneliness he would endure stranded in Earth’s past, Dr. Smith reluctantly abandons his plan to stay and rejoins the family. The mixture of futuristic and mundane images is captivating, with the Jupiter II sitting in a parking lot and the Robinsons wandering about a saw mill in their flight suits inspecting old cars and trying to use a telephone.
Follow the Leader: John Robinson’s body is possessed by a long-dead alien named Kanto. As Robinson, Kanto reveals plans to repair the Jupiter II and leave the planet. He is oblivious to the strain he places them under as he mercilessly pushes for completion of the project. The Robot concludes that Robinson is possessed but the family finds this difficult to accept. Kanto eventually reveals his purpose first to Dr. Smith and then Will, just before intending to kill the boy. Will manages to reach out to his father and John Robinson frees himself from Kanto’s influence. Guy Williams does a masterful job of portraying an “evil” Professor Robinson, and one feels a true sense of menace as the personality of John/Kanto dominates the rest of the family.
Condemned of Space: The Robinsons repair the Jupiter II and return to space, lifting off just before a comet destroys the planet they inhabited. After accidentally losing the Robot in space and dodging a supernova, they rendezvous with an alien space station in hopes of finding equipment to salvage and use in the Jupiter II. As they explore the station they discover it is a prison ship, filled with convicts frozen in suspended animation. Dr. Smith frees one of the prisoners who, upon learning the station’s clock monitoring their time served has malfunctioned, attempts to liberate the other captives and stage a revolt. John Robinson repairs the clock, and the prisoners are freed to pursue new lives as rehabilitated citizens. This episode includes the second appearance of “Robby the Robot” from the movie “Forbidden Planet”.
Flight into the Future: The Jupiter II approaches a bright green world while Will and Dr. Smith check the systems in their space pod. Smith accidentally launches the pod and Will is forced to land on the mysterious planet. The Robinsons swiftly follow in the Jupiter II. After their landing, Will and Smith succumb to fatigue and stop for a nap. When they awaken they find themselves 270 years in the future. There they discover the remains of the Jupiter II, a statue of the Robot, and their own descendents, including a look-alike of Judy. The three learn they have been subjected to illusions created by a mysterious computer designed to frighten away intruders. The Robot blasts the computer with a bolt of electricity, and the danger is ended. The vision of the rusted, abandoned Jupiter II is an interesting sight, and the costume provided Judy’s “descendent” showcased Marta Kristen’s considerable beauty.
Space Creature: The Jupiter II is trapped in the gravitational field of a mysterious planet, its atmosphere a strange mixture of methane and an evil, living organism that feeds on fear. A mist forms over the ship’s viewport and the Robinsons are frozen into immobility. While suspended, a giant claw moves across the viewport, the airlock is opened, and some of the mist enters the ship. As the family goes about their business, they begin to disappear. Maureen first, then Judy, and next Penny all vanish into thin air. At first Dr. Smith is relieved to believe only the women were vanishing, but Major West also disappears and finally all are gone but Will. Dr. Smith inexplicably returns to the ship, but is possessed by the malevolent force attacking the family and menaces Will. Will learns the creature is his own inner, evil instincts and realizes it cannot hurt him. He forces it to flee Dr. Smith’s body and finally tricks the creature into venturing too close to the ship’s power core, where it is destroyed. This episode had the mood and feel of Agatha Christie’s popular novel, “And Then There Were None”, with the inevitable disappearance of the family.
The Anti-Matter Man: The John Robinson and Major West of an alternate universe seek a means to escape into the Robinson’s world. The evil John does exactly that, physically forcing our John Robinson to replace him in the anti-matter realm. Convincing the family he is one of them, he pushes to make repairs on the Jupiter II and blast off. The Robot determines what has happened and joins Will in trying to rescue his father. The alternate John forces Will to aid him, but the real Robinson escapes and catches up with them. A battle ensues, and the evil John falls into a realm between universes. This episode was similar in tone to “Follow the Leader”, with Guy Williams again portraying an evil John Robinson trying to repair the ship and leave before the truth about him is discovered. An “anti-matter Robot” was an intriguing sight to behold.
Collision of Planets: A group of alien “Hell’s Angels” are assigned the task of blowing up the planet Chromo because of its unstable orbit. Unfortunately, the Robinsons land there to make repairs on the Jupiter II. John Robinson and Major West approach the hippie demolition team to explain their predicament, but they are unfazed. If the family is on the planet when it explodes, that’s just too bad. Meanwhile Will, the Robot and Dr. Smith find a case filled with demolition materials and open it. A strange gas seeps out and initially appears to kill Dr. Smith, but instead turns his hair green and gives him superhuman strength. With his newfound power Smith confronts the hippies, but they discover the source of Smith’s strength is his hair and cut it off. John Robinson finds the trio and blasts the hippie’s bikes with his laser pistol. Since the bikers are now trapped also, the Robinsons have time to make repairs and depart. Dr. Smith is an amusing mixture of Samson and the Hulk in this episode and the bikers are entertaining throughout.
Revolt of the Androids: Dr. Smith is searching for rubies when he’s attacked by a furry monster. As he explains his story to Will and the Robot, an immobilized super-android named IDAK (Instant Destroyer and Killer) materializes near them. Will repairs its controls and it attacks, but is easily evaded as the android stumbles over a rock. IDAK explains its purpose is to destroy another android but its powers are malfunctioning. Meanwhile, Judy and Penny find the android Verda (first featured in the episode “The Android Machine”), who is actually IDAK’s target. He confronts Verda but the others convince IDAK she is human. A second, more powerful IDAK is sent to complete the mission, but the first IDAK joins the Robinsons in defending Verda. IDAK was made to resemble Superman with red and blue tights and an emblem on his chest. The Robot even references Superman as he jokingly states that IDAK (tripping over a rock at the time) won’t leap over any tall buildings in a single bound. This is the only episode from season two to make my favorites list.
Lost in Space didn’t gain a cult following as Star Trek did, but garnered acceptable ratings over its three year run and was actually renewed for a fourth season. It was a fun, enjoyable program in the ‘60s that never got the respect it deserved.
Posted by Bob at 8:29 AM