|Lost In Space - The Complete First Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 13 January 2004|
On October 16, 1997, a full thirty-two years into the future from 1965 when the television series first aired, the Robinson Family blasted off from Earth and commenced their journey through space to colonize Alpha Centauri. The journey lasted three years on television before a disastrous remake of “Cleopatra” cost 20th Century Fox tremendously and ate into the TV show budgets. Irwin Allen, the producer, creator and director of the series, decided not to return “Lost In Space” for a fourth season because he felt the requested cuts would hurt the quality of the show.
Allen had already enjoyed great success with “Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea,” another blend of adventure and science fiction that television audiences eagerly tuned in for each week. Allen and his chosen team of directors and writers exercised the same command over the new addition.
In 1965, “Lost In Space” wasn’t far removed from the halcyon days of old-time radio, where listeners kept up with such shows as “X Minus One,” “Dimension X,” “Flash Gordon,” “Superman” and “Space Patrol.” The cliffhanger endings at the close of the show each week pay homage to the science fiction serials that showed in movie theaters during that same time period.
With Allen producing the show, science fiction fans could at last see the incredible stories of far-off places and strange aliens like the ones they had been reading in pulp magazines and comic books, or listening to on radio, or if they were old enough, had watched in the movie theaters. Every week, “Lost In Space” fans tuned in to see how the Robinsons were going to get out of the last bit of trouble they’d run smack into, knowing full well that they’d be left on the edges of their seats waiting for the following week’s show.
Allen produced a 45-minute pilot for the show that was never intended to be aired. This disc set of the first season includes the episode. Allen wanted to wow CBS programming directors, and did, with both his vision for the show and the then cutting-edge effects. Amazingly, that unaired pilot did not include one of the regular cast members. Dr. Zachary Smith, whom every fan loved to hate, was among the missing. Jonathan Harris wasn’t added until later, serving first as a threat, then becoming much of the show’s comic relief with his whimpering and outright pleading for his life. Dr. Smith became such a big part of the show that most fans can’t imagine what the series would have been like without him.
Episode 1, “The Reluctant Stowaway,” opens with what was then an impressive news conference. Despite Allen’s impressive imagination, even he couldn’t imagine how far technology would jump during the ensuing 32 years. Watching the technology, viewers just won’t feel like it’s 1997. The devices are huge and clunky, not the streamlined equipment in use today (or in 1997). The black and white presentation makes the show seem much older, and probably will strain the attention spans of younger audience members used to bright, quick-moving cartoons. Chapter 2 reveals the fact that Dr. Smith was a spy working for an enemy power that is never named during the life of the show. He uses a karate chop to put a security guard down, something much more physical than viewers tuning in to the show only a few weeks later would ever believe. Once aboard, Smith reprograms the robot to kill the Robinson family eight hours after the launch. Unfortunately, Smith isn’t able to get out of the ship before it blasts off and ends up shot into space along with everyone else. Once out in space in Chapter 5, the Jupiter 2 gets slammed by the meteor shower crossing its path. Panicked and not knowing how to handle the ship, Smith deactivates the sleep chambers the Robinson family was supposed to stay in for the first five years of their journey. Although presented only in stereo, enough noise exists aboard the spaceship to keep the viewer audibly tuned into the action in Chapter 6. In Chapter 7, the family learns that Maureen (June Lockhart), the mother, won’t be able to go back into the sleep chamber because of medical complications, and some viewers may think it’s funny how quickly Smith makes that diagnosis without a proper lab or equipment. The robot goes on a killer rampage in Chapter 8, and the viewers are treated to one of the voices that indelibly marks television science fiction. The robot voice speaks distinctly and clearly, though it will be some episodes before the familiar “Danger, Will Robinson!” is uttered. In fact, late arrivals to the series will probably experience some surprise at the fact that the robot was the Robinson’s enemy long before it became their faithful companion. In Chapter 11, John (Guy Williams) has to spacewalk in an attempt to fix the ship. The clank of the tools sounds ponderous and eerie, although there is no sound in space. When John slips free of the ship and starts to drift out into space, Maureen has to don a spacesuit and go after him, bringing the viewers to their first cliffhanger of the series, with the instructions to tune in to the “same time, same channel” next week. Again, the cliffhanger and the ominous voice talking directly to the viewers smacks of science fiction’s radio roots.
In Episode 2, “The Derelict,” John is saved by Maureen. Viewers will notice how much the dialogue carries the action, describing what is going on outside the ship so much like the radio programs. Then, immediately, another crisis occurs as a meteor comes close to the Jupiter 2. The music in Chapter 3 during the tense rescue of John and Maureen could have come directly from a radio drama program, but it renders well through a surround sound even though it’s only in stereo. Young Will (Billy Mumy) also steps to the forefront, coming up with a scientific way to rescue his parents and stepping into the role of boy genius that will carry throughout the rest of the series. Chapter 4 shows the search back on Earth for the Robinsons, a subplot that will be seen less and less as the show moves forward. In Chapter 5, John writes in his journal, again a voiceover bit that could have been lifted from a radio program to summarize events. The alien spaceship the Jupiter 2 encounters in Chapter 6 comes across as eerie on one hand, but on the other shows how cheaply made all the sets for TV series were back in the day before computer-generated special effects. Kids raised on today’s science fiction epics won’t be impressed, but the younger set will enjoy the sense of menace. In Chapter 7, viewers get to hear Dr. Smith’s famous line, “Never fear, Smith is here” for the first time. Will reveals his interest in the robot in Chapter 8 and demonstrates how he can alter his speech patterns to mimic those of Smith to control the robot. At the end of this episode, the characters discover a planet that will become their home for the rest of this season.
Episode 3, “Island in the Sky,” shows John’s use of suit-mounted jets to land on a planet (the friction of re-entry would have burned him up, but that was never mentioned) after Smith sabotaged his suit. Dr. Smith’s training as an environmental control specialist is also mentioned. In Chapter 3, the show still uses old-time radio techniques to depict action taking place off-stage as exploration of the planet is mentioned, but also again, it works. The Chariot gets introduced in Chapter 6, and if merchandizing were tied as tightly to kids’ television then as it is today, the Chariot would have been an instant hit. In Chapter 7, Penny (Angela Cartwright) befriends a monkey with ears that look so fake the image is immediately laughable. Of course, her mom says she can keep the strange creature for a pet. In today’s world, moms tend to panic if Junior is outside playing with a strange dog or even a squirrel in the back yard. Dr. Smith and the robot start arguing in Chapter 10, setting the stage for the ongoing verbal brawl that takes place throughout the rest of the series. Again, Smith attempts to use the robot to kill the Robinsons.
Episode 4, “There Were Giants in the Earth,” uses one of the old standbys to forestall the robot from killing Will while it is operating under orders from Smith. Will plays chess with the robot to check its logic circuits until his parents can find him and disarm the robot. In Chapter 3, the Robinsons hunker down and set up camp. The scenes of the family going about their tasks as if this is an everyday routine is warm and friendly and really takes the suspense out of what’s taking place. Of course, back in the 1960s, with the Space Race going on, most school-age children were being told they’d be working on the moon after they graduated high school. Chapter 4’s example of the interaction of Earth seeds with alien soil is hilarious without meaning to be. Smith’s pea seed hatches into an alien creature several feet long, requiring the Robinsons to blast it with their laser rifles. Later, the Robinsons encounter a giant Cyclops and have to move their base camp because the planet grows dramatically colder.
Several things are changed and set into play in Episode 5, “The Hungry Sea.” While trying to outrun the freezing cold overtaking the planet, the Robinsons cross a frozen sea of ice. Smith and the robot stay behind. Not believing the catastrophe that’s overtaking him, Smith starts bickering with the robot, launching into a tirade of name-calling that every longtime “Lost In Space” fan remembers fondly from the series. Smith also manifests some feelings for the Robinsons. When he realizes the cold is going to be followed by intense heat, he sends the robot to warn them. John and Don (Mark Goddard) get into an argument over Don’s decision to blast the robot instead of hearing it out, showing that the group does operate as a family and isn’t perfectly matched. Later, after taking shelter from the intense heat, the family tries to return to their spaceship only to find that the frozen ice they crossed earlier has become a giant inland sea. They nearly lose the Space Chariot and Don to a huge whirlpool. Allen loved filming disasters, and a whirlpool obviously caught his attention. By the time they reach their journey’s end, the family and Don are all friends again. This episode is the perfect example of one of the main plots of science fiction: the big planet, where the heroes have to travel from one point to another across hostile territory.
Episode 6, “Welcome Stranger,” stands as a bit of a letdown. The episode features a Houston cowboy who blasted off into space in 1982 and lives pretty much on his own. The Robinsons plan to send Will and Penny back to Earth with Jimmy Hapgood, but Smith’s machinations make that impossible. Also, neither of the kids wants to leave their parents or older sister Judy (Marta Kristen). The episode smacks too much of a Western in feel and execution, although those television shows were doing extremely well in the ratings at the time.
Another science fiction standby comes into play in Episode 7, “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,” when Penny shows up with a new friend that her family believes is an imaginary playmate. The “imaginary playmate” actually is a disembodied alien with power enough to destroy the planet.
Episode 8, “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension,” begins what will be a regular plot hook for the “Lost In Space” episodes by introducing an alien race to interact with the Robinsons. This episode was particularly chilling because the aliens attempted to use Will’s brain to replace their damaged computer. Smith again shows himself to be a weasel by convincing the aliens to take Will instead of himself.
Episode 9, “The Oasis,” reiterates how strange the worlds will be Out There, at least to the populace of the 1960s who believed that aliens probably lurked on every planet. The plot in this one is a little weak, though, because it has Dr. Smith turning into a giant after eating some alien fruit. A physics student will wonder where all the additional mass came from so quickly.
The tenth episode, “The Sky Is Falling,” touches on a plot that will later become a standard on the “Star Trek” series. An alien family comes to visit the planet but the suspicions between them and the Robinsons make any kind of friendship impossible. Some tense, realistic moments based on social interaction take place. The aliens also leave a matter transfer unit that gets used again in the series, demonstrating how far Allen and his team thought ahead while developing the series.
Episode 11, “Wish Upon a Star,” hits yet another familiar science fiction premise, the miracle device. While ostracized from the Robinson for his nefarious doings, Smith discovers a machine that can make anything anyone could desire. The power temporarily causes several rifts among the Robinsons.
In “The Raft,” Episode 12, Will and Smith “accidentally” take a small spaceship John and Don built to take Don back to Earth so the family can get rescued. The ship looks like a bathysphere and floats into space with the aid of a balloon. Lifeforms that look like muck monsters follow Will and Smith around the new planet.
Episode 13, “One Of Our Dogs Is Missing,” showcases the female characters in the series. The alien in the episode features another of the increasingly bad costumes that come to plague the show.
Episode 14, “Attack of the Monster Plants,” is hokey science fiction at its best. After Smith gets thrown out of the family group again for not coming to John and Don’s aid, he puts on a tearful farewell. Smith, however, connives his way to sending the robot back and forth to get everything he needs. He also maintains a garden that is sentient and begins encroaching on the Jupiter 2 and has made a doppelganger of Judy.
Episode 15, “Return From Outer Space,” features the matter transfer unit left from an earlier plotline. Will manages to get himself sent back to Earth. Ironically, the picture of small-town life Will encounters is almost as alien to today’s audiences as the various creatures encountered in the series.
Episode 16, “The Keeper Part 1,” was the first true two-part story in the series. An alien zookeeper arrives on the planet to collect specimens and ends up taking Smith, Will and Penny. Don’s use of a slingshot after the laser rifles fail to injure the Keeper is hilarious. The story finishes up in Episode 17.
Episode 18, “The Sky Pirate,” is immensely kid-friendly. A pirate of the Caribbean taken by aliens over two hundred years ago arrives on the Robinson’s planet in a stolen spaceship. Alonzo takes a shine to Will and wants him to join him in his piratical pursuits. The mechanical parrot on the pirate’s shoulder is a hoot.
Episode 19, “Ghost In Space,” features a return to straight comedy after a freak accident unleashes a disembodied presence that Dr. Smith believes is his uncle. The scene of the séance next to the spaceship and the various attempts to communicate with the dead are funny. Will’s revenge on Smith is great.
Episode 20, “The War of the Robots,” showcases Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet.” Will repairs a robot he finds, setting up another old science fiction plot regarding alien devices that are beyond the understanding of humans. The battle sequences between the ship’s robot and the new robot plays funnier than it should, but there is a sense of drama, although it’s hard to find while the Robinson family watches the combat. The robot also delivers a comeuppance to Dr. Smith.
In Episode 21, “The Magic Mirror,” focuses on Penny and a romantic riff on “Peter Pan.” Penny enters another dimension, Mirrorland, and finds a boy there who promises that if she stays with him she’ll never have to grow up. The sets are fairly elaborate in the other world, and the special effects work even if they’re a little creaky by today’s standards.
Episode 22, “The Challenge,” pits first Will, then John, against an alien father-son team. The story is basically suspense and adventure, but it features a very young Kurt Russell. Unfortunately, the script could almost just as easily have fit an episode of “Bonanza” or “The Rifleman.” It’s also amazing to see Dr. Smith with paint, an easel and a canvas.
Episode 23, “The Space Trader,” shows just how backward the series is when it displays the wares featured by the title guest character. Today’s world with all the miniaturized tech is vastly different than the future envisioned by “Lost In Space.”
In “His Majesty Smith,” Episode 24, Dr. Smith takes to opportunity to become a king. Unfortunately, the planet he’s going to be king of routinely sacrifices their leaders. Again, Smith’s whole character lends itself to the episode. If Dr. Smith had not been in the series, the Robinson family would never have found as much trouble as they did.
Episode 25, “The Space Croppers,” took a riff from another popular CBS television series, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” by introducing a family of alien hillbillies. Pure science fiction is totally out the window in this episode as it goes straight for the jugular of popular comedy. The daughter’s mention of Earth spurs Smith’s interest in the family. A very inelegant werewolf puts in an appearance as well, revealing the low costume budget the show suffered through. The hillbillies also carry some dark secrets.
Episode 26, “All That Glitters,” spins on Dr. Smith’s greed when he acquires a magic disc that gives him the Midas touch. Again, Dr. Smith becomes the focal point of the episode, with the rest of the Robinson family playing supporting roles. No real science fiction shows in the episode at all except for the trappings.
Episode 27, “The Lost Civilization,” returns somewhat to science fiction, but has fantasy overtones of “Sleeping Beauty.” Once the sleeping princess has been awakened, she has an army of soldiers ready to take over the universe. This episode centers primarily on John, Don and Will, and feels a little “off” without Dr. Smith in the mix.
Episode 28, “A Change of Space,” actually lays a little of the groundwork for the “Lost In Space” movie that was recently released. Transported to the Sixth Dimension, Will becomes a genius for a short time while Dr. Smith becomes a very old man. The fish costume of the alien is horribly ridiculous.
Episode 29, “Follow The Leader,” comes back strong, delivering a well-thought-out plot and great acting. In this episode, the sheer magic of science fiction vibrates through the episode, and the threat of an insane father venting his wrath on his family delivers the chills to the family audience. One of the most intriguing choices made in the episode was the decision to show the teaser for next season’s opening show in color. The transition is jarring after watching all of the episodes in black and white.
Overall, “Irwin Allen’s Lost In Space: The Complete First Season” is a decent collection. However, only longtime fans of the series will be interested in picking the collection up. Most of today’s kids won’t be interested in the old-time science fiction offered here. Still, for those who made the journey into outer space with the Robinsons, the trip back through memory lane may well be worth the purchase price.