Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Discuss: Lost in Space

Karen: Welcome to the first in a series of discussions that look at some of the science fiction shows we watched as kids. I've skipped biggies like Star Trek, Dr. Who, Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits, as we've already talked about these in the past. Feel free also to suggest topics for future discussions. We have a few lined up but we can always add more.

Karen:What do you think of Irwin Allen's 1960s TV show, Lost in Space? Has your opinion changed over the years?

Karen: I found the bright colors, explosions, special effects, and especially the robot very attractive as a kid (seeing it in reruns) but I knew it was not as good as Star Trek, and it was a bit of a guilty pleasure. It seems like the first season or maybe first few episodes started out as a serious SF show and then the stories seemed to become more kiddie-oriented. And of course you either love or hate Dr. Smith. But let's hear what you think.


William said...

I used to watch LIS religiously when I was a kid. I remember I had a crush on the blonde girl (I think her name was Judy?). It's just like how I especially loved episodes of "Batman" that had Batgirl guest starring in them. Hmmm, very strange.

It's funny how when you're a kid, things like "Lost In Space" and "Batman" seemed like "high drama". I always felt like the characters in those shows were constantly in mortal peril.

On a side note, I never trusted Dr. Smith always hanging around the boy. "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!!"

J.A. Morris said...

Maybe it's because I was born too late, but I never got into this show. But I always thought the robot was cool, that's about it.

david_b said...

Gene Roddenberry was concise when he respected LIS for 'telling stories', while he focused on sharing morality plays.

Sure, we all grew up with it. I'm typically pulled more towards the initial episodes of the first season and likewise to the third season.

The first season ones had that 'Outer Limits' charm all it's own, with much more subtle humor. The Michael Rennie 2-parter was awesome.

The third season..? Well, the heart was in the right place. Based on the complaints of Williams and Goddard, the stories initially were to return to more action, with various cast members having their 'own shows' mixed in for variety, hence the occasional 'Penny as princess' episode, or the ones with Don and Zachary kidnapped on the caveman planet, to reduce airtime from the 'Will-Robot-Smith' trio seen too often in the 2nd season.

With the GREAT new music/intro, costumes, the ultra-cool spacepod (yep, still a sucker for cool shuttlecrafts..), and back in space, there was great hope. Certainly the ratings improved and it had far better ratings than Star Trek. But, with that new burst of creativity, you still got the 'Great Vegetable Rebellion'.. I love how the remaining cast members cite that as their favorite episode (tongue firmly in cheek).

(Actually, both Williams and Lockhart were written out of the next few episodes because they couldn't stop laughing/complaining during the taping of that episode..)

Best episode that year was easily the 'Anti-Matter Man'.. Great intensity, wonderful action sequences by Williams and Goddard.

There were apparent plans for a fourth season, easily supported by the ratings, but as Wikipedia will attest, there were various reasons contributed to why it was cancelled.

I don't recall the names of the episodes, but I certainly liked the youtube episode link, and 'space hippies' one (with a young 'Daniel J. Travanti' in a bad wig..). Who could not laugh at the end bit where the "bike riders" over-take the Jupiter 2, "Get that heap off the road, little masters".

Oh, and lest we not forget that creepy, counter-culture 'Promised Planet' ep with Dr. Smith doing the frug in a wig and beads. Interesting to see the Beatles SGT Pepper poster in the background and the teens hooking Will and Penny up on operating tables to extract their blood.

"Oh, the pain.."

humanbelly said...

It's been a LOOOOOONG time since I've even seen re-runs-- but am I remembering correctly that Dr. Smith in fact murdered (or caused the demise of) a launch-station technician in that first episode? And that fact kind of got forgotten as the character became more detestably popular-?


Anonymous said...

IIRC, Karen is right. Lost in Space began as a straight science fiction/action-adventure series, but became increasingly silly and juvenile by the end of the first season. The same thing happened with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Wild Wild West. The success of the campy Batman TV show was evidently a big influence.

Lemnoc said...

The infantilization of Dr. Smith is a topic all its own.

I think Smith (and Jonathan Harris) was bright enough to understand he could not endure as a murderous plotter and schemer, and IIRC the early episodes explored this and gave the character reason to modulate his tone... or be marooned or exiled.

Don't know if he actually killed that technician. Karate chopped him, IIRC, a bold action figure manuever we'd seldom see from him again.

Interestingly, Smith wasn't cast in the original pilot, but I think in the retooling Irwin Allen understood the Space Family Robinson needed a bit more spice. Not too much spice, though!

Smith quickly became the show's built-in plot device.

The first half dozen episodes would make a good little feature film in their own right—dark and a bit spooky.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember reading somewhere (probably Starlog) that, in the original pilot script, Dr. Smith murdered someone. IIRC, he tricked a young woman into walking into a force field to short it out so that he could sneak into the launch area. That scene was either deleted or maybe never filmed. I also seem to remember actually seeing a scene in the pilot episode where Smith knocks out a security guard and dumps him down a garbage chute, but I don't remember any explanation whether the guard survived or not. Some sources say that Smith was intended to be killed off during the first season; if so, his being a murderer would not be a problem. But some accounts say that Jonathan Harris was intended to be a permanent cast member from the beginning, so I just don't know. As the series progressed, Smith became a bumbling comic relief character, and the earlier depiction of him as a sinister villain was pretty much forgotten.

Lemnoc said...

I still have a couple of the old Space Family Robinson comics from Gold Key. They pre-date the series, and so seem to be the inspiration for it.

"Will" and "Penny" were, instead, twins Tim and Tam.

The were pretty educational science-y with all kinds of hazy speculation about domed cities and jet packs in the far distant year of 1990: Y'know: The Future.

david_b said...

Famously.., According to Harris, Allen called him into his office to confront him on his initial leanings toward buffoonery during the latter half of the first year.

Supposidly, Allen said 'Ah, I see what you're doing.. Keep it up.'

I do believe he could have stayed cold and still created a deeper character, sort of along the lines of an Winchester character later seen on M*A*S*H, but as mentioned, with the advent of the Dozer influence, a lot of shows catered to the common denominator.

Still loved Tybo, the talking Carrot.., who kept himself moisturized by using a gasoline pump-looking water source.

As much as I still enjoy LIS, Land of the Giants was more a favorite for it's character relationships and in-fighting.

William Preston said...

I loved the show as a kid (and even had a View Master set of discs with the episode of the prison spaceship; I watched it on my projector!), but I didn't see those B&W first-season serious eps until, one summer, home from college, they rebroadcast them. Then I realized what had been lost, and the show's later formulation seemed merely, as has been mentioned, a rehash of the fate that befell Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Sad.

Did love that third-season retooling of the theme (John Williams?) and credits. Loved to play that over and over in my head.

And I'm unashamed to say--as a straight man--that I probably had just as much of a crush on Don as I had on Judy. Like David Hedison on Voyage, he had those compelling (and vaguely ethnic) good looks and trim fitness that boys find engaging in their heroes.

Dougie said...

I remember having a hardback annual of "Space Family Robinson, which incorporated Gold Key material. I must have been about four years old but the pictures were mesmerising.

My first memories of LIS are when it was in reruns in West Central Scotland around 4.50 on Thursdays. I associate the show with Kirby's Fourth World comics so that suggests 71/72. The first episode I can recall is The Girl from the Green Dimension. I was too young to realise it was a campy send-up; I just accepted it as a psychedelic kids show.

I think it was the late 80s when Channel 4 in the UK started repeating it on Sunday afternoons. I remember the first season being a bit dull. By contrast, the theme music for the third season is the best: hugely exciting.

Ram said...

Loved this show..I'm not old enough to have watched the original broadcastings... but watched some reruns and liked them a lot... specially the Dr. Smith and the robot..

Anonymous said...


david_b said...

Hey, William, no worries here.. I watched the show more for Williams and Goddard and the dramatic action stuff than any other cast member. The fight scene with Goddard and Warren Oates in the first year was a classic.

'Course Penny was nice eye-candy by the third year.

Anonymous said...

AFAIR, Land of the Giants was generally played straight, but maybe I was too young at the time to know the difference. And maybe if it had lasted longer, it would have degenerated into camp like Irwin Allen's earlier shows. Or maybe not, since the Batman fad had passed by then.

Anonymous said...

I googled Marta Kristen and found (1) she still looks good (2) she has an official web site (3) she sometimes appears at conventions and signs autographs. Unfortunately, Judy Robinson got pushed into the background as the series turned into "The Will, Smith, and Robot Show."

Anonymous said...

Lost in Space was on in the afternoon when I got home from the first grade, and I was hooked. Of course, I took it soooo seriously. Star Trek wasn't syndicated yet, so this was my intro to sci-fi. When I grew up a little, I became a serious sci-fi snob, and looked down my nose at LiS. But now I see it as a goofy and entertaining show from my childhood.

How maturity changes our perspective;
Favorite character in 1st grade- John Robinson
Favorite character now- that crazy robot

James Chatterton

Fred W. Hill said...

Y'know, I remember watching Lost in Space as a kid -- I'm sure I saw it before my family moved to Japan in 1967, when I was 4 years old, and I saw it in syndication after we returned to the states in 1970, but I can't remember any details from any of the shows other than the weird interaction between Will, the Robot and Dr. Smith. In my memory it was less serious than the original Star Trek but not as intentionally amusing as the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I did enjoy Bill Mumy's grown-up career as half of Barnes & Barnes. In looking them up for giggles, I discovered that one of their albums was titled "Amazing Adult Fantasy" and featured one of Ditko's covers for the comic on the album's front cover.

Anonymous said...

Almost forgot...my favorite Lost In Space mantra when I was a kid:

"Crush, kill, destroy!"

James Chatterton

Anonymous said...

IIRC, the B9 robot appeared in a 1970's lawn mower commercial. The robot was a museum tour guide and was explaining how this mower was used back in the 20th century. None of the tourists understood what "grass" was. BTW, Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet) made two appearances on LIS. One was in that space station-prison episode that was adapted for View Master.

Rip Jagger said...

I enjoyed the show as a kid, then grew weary of it as a teenager and young adult, but came to love the camp nature of it later.

It's full of solid performers and less than solid stories sometimes. The Saturday morning feel to later seasons has a charm but its more pure fantasy than sci-fi.

Great music!

Rip Off

Anthony said...

I remember enjoying Lost In Space. All time favorite episode was the 2 part The Keeper. I'll echo David B's sentiments. It was awesome. I know they looped the scene where the creatures escape but I still loved it. Some other favorite episodes include The Golden Man and Trip Through The Robot. All silly fun.

Dougie said...

That's one I remember! Trip through the Visio- sorry, the Robot!

Lost in Space Movie said...

Think it started out as a serious TV series but then became more of a comic strip.

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