Lost in Space??? What can I say?
This was the VERY FIRST space-dedicated action-adventure show ever done in television history.
The format was simple, America's First Space Family was on its way to set up a colony on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri when sabotage by an agent of a foreign power spirals the Jupiter 2 & her crew into unknown & uncharted territories of the galaxy.
Each week's show would end with a cliffhanger to the next episode & highlighted by the onscreen legend 'To be Continued Next Week... Same Time... Same Channel!'
The show was conceived as 'Swiss family Robinson in Outer Space' which was reflected in the 3rd episode's title 'Island in the Sky'
Soon to be famous soundtracker John Williams was asked to perform scoring duties and he went way outside the limits of regular TV series scoring to provide a superior set of scores which would become the signature of the series through regular tracking at suspenseful moments. John's approach was provide superior quality to show what he could do even on a TV Budget & his track record since speaks for itself.
The hardware of Lost in Space was also above average in appearance. The Jupiter 2 looked the part, spacey but functional. It's smooth treks across alien landscapes (in reality the Trona Pinnacles) prior to crash landing look impressive even by todays standards. Maybe as an homage to Bill Mumy who played the Minbari, Lennier, the sleen blue saucer-spacecraft designed for the Minbari seemed to be very similar to the Jupiter 2.
The Space Chariot is an awesome all terrain amphibeous vehicle that took the Robinsons for treks around their planet (Trona Pinnacles again) in sadly too few episodes. A ground trekking craft similar to the Space Chariot appeared in the original Battlestar Galactica complete with more trips through the Tronas (and also Jonathan Harris as Lucifer).
The Space Pod made it's first appearance in Season 3 & was a nifty mini-spacecraft for short scouting missions that had more than a passing resemblance to the Apollo program's 'Eagle' landing Module.
Lets not forget Robot B-9, the huge Robotic Servant of the Robinsons whose memory banks were sophistated enough to allow enough sensory learning for the ability to become an intelligent & aware entity to develop. The Robot's personality development was mimicked on many later shows, Star Trek TNG's Data, Star Trek Voyager's Holo-Doctor to name two.
The Rocket Belt used in the series was an actual flying belt, although in reality it only flew for a very short time before running out of fuel.
The Gadgets of LIS were impressive. Maureen's washer presented cleaned garments in vacuum-sealed plastic wrap, The Robinson's 'Potato Chipulator' provided instant snacks and the Hair Do machine dialled up impressive styles for the ladies, all by numbers, of course.
The Water Collection unit was an impressive beast as was the Force Field generator and the show's war-worthy laser arsenal.
Many other impressive gizmos came and went throughtout the series. The hardware was awesome & gave the show credibility in it's campest moments.
The characters of the Robinsons themselves had great potential and the last minute added Dr Smith character was a snarling villin to behold & be wary of.
The first half season of Lost in Space started out with a 5 episode story arc that launched the show onto an environmentally hostile planet that experiences close together freeze & heat ranges due to an unviably erratic orbit.
Despite an obvious lack of actual space knowledge in the scripts the stories stood well. Although solar systems were often referred to as galaxies and other questionable logic problems appeared to escape detection by the script editors, the show was a hit.
The first half season of stories concentrated on the Robinsons survival 'out yonder' with realistic issues such as climate hassles & water shortages, not to mention the self-serving Dr Smith's chicanery.
It could be argued that the show 'jumped the shark' in episode 6 with a storyline that involved a lost space cowboy, Jimmy Hapgood, in a cramped rocket ship that would have been claustrophobic at the best of times. Jimmy hapgood's reason for getting lost was lamer than Tybo the Sun-Burned Space-Carrot but the episode was fun, otherwise & had a great fight sequence. 'Welcome Stranger' also offered the first of LIS's many satirical scenes with a hospital operation sendup as Dr Smith removed the Robot's internal guidance system as a gift for good ole' Jimmy.
The Robinsons later named their planet Priplanus, no doubt after the planet's goofy orbital tendencies as established in episode 5.
'The Sky is Falling' is a great LIS story where the Robinsons meet their alien counterparts as in another family of non-speaking colonists who were testing Priplanus as a potential home. The story focuses on how mistrust and misunderstanding can easily cloud the real truth as scared parties on both sides fear the worst.
However, after the two part 'The keeper' episode in mid season Lost in Space changed it's approach & from then on the formula was 'alien of the week' and the show almost unnoticably slipped into comical farce episodes complete with a 'sleeping beauty' spoof near season end.
Year two took the show to color and changed its adventure style to an approach of high-camp. The stories became comical & childish, survival issues gave way to space pirates, flying winged horses, norse gods, wooden dragons and even Dr smith's cousin chasing him to claim an inheritance. The 'serious' approach to the show had almost gone. Why??
All this had come about by Jonathan Harris deciding the evil Smith Character he was playing was 'too much' in the sense of too hardcore evil & was worried he'd be killed off or written out. With his Smith-like instincts for self-preservation and, as a character actor, he decided to play Smith as a 'Comedic Villian' which he felt would enforce his ongoing job prospects. Jonathan 'slipped in' the comedy 'bits' and when the ratings came in Irwin apprached Jonathan and said "Do More!"
Subsequently, the almighty Neilson ratings had shown that the characters of Smith, Will and the Robot were the most popular. Not realizing that while this may have been true their popularity still relied on their involvement within their part of the overall group. The 60's were fickle, however, & the popularity assessment suggested the show would become even more popular by 'giving the audience more of what they want' & Irwin Allen, the shows producer instructed writers to concentrate stories around 'the Kid, the Tin Man & the Old Coot'
So, from the beginning of season 2, the Robinsons & Don West continued to be straight and serious as they always were but the aliens & situations they encountered became so unbelievable & whacked-out they may have felt they were on a psychedelic acid trip for the remainder of the show. They also had to deal with the now-effeminate over the top Dr Smith who had become nothing short of insane & totally detached from reality as he almust sung his words rather than spoke them.
However, despite becoming the 'First Gay of Space' personality wise Dr Smith always seemed to 'get the girl'. He scored himself a 'Space Hillbilly' in season one & almost got married to her, In season 2 he scored himself the same Space Loreli twice, as well as an android servant & an Amazon Queen. In year 3 he woo'd alien human girls in his Space Hotel' as well as a pretty Zaybo girl. Camp or not, Dr Smith did OK with the ladies.
However, watching the straight-as Robinson Clan & Major West try to act completely normal against the 'insane pirate of the week' or 'huge talking carrots with human faces in them' was pure fun in itself.
Year 3 brought about further changes as the core cast, unhappy with being relegated to being 'window dressing' for Will, Smith & Robot, had shown their annoyance at being downrated and Irwin started to centre the stories around different cast members. Each character got a chance to be in the spotlight.
Gone were the cliffhanger endings & Dick Tufeld's 'Last week, as you recall' narrative.
The opening teasers now built up to a Freeze Frame of the action over which a 7-1 countdown hammered out before launching into new title imagery with actual clips of the cast to replace the original animation styles used in years 1 & 2.
John Williams created a dynamic new theme tune to replace the original one that Bill Mumy once commented 'sounded like a circuit-board' The new style & direction breathed new life into the series, which had been hard hit by the dreary blandness & obvious comedy of the year 2 episodes.
Replacing the cliffhangers were compilations of the next weeks show complete with Dick Tufeld's dramatic narratives.
The Jupiter Two got more space time and visited a number of alien worlds, even with the same rocks around the ship. Maybe the J2 was simply dimension-jumping to the same planet & landing spot each time with just a few rocks moved around. 'Hunter's Moon' however added a cool 'Space Critter Skull' to the planet set.
The Space Pod added a new element with all the male cast members taking off in it on various occasions. The women of the show weren't game to enter the Space Pod on air, it seemed, as not one of them appeared in it.
A by-play by one of Irwin's newest writers even resulted in Irwin begrudgingly creating a 'Judy' episode to keep Marta Kristen happy and Penny's 'Princess of Space' was hastily reworked & squeezed into the schedule to become Judy's 'Space Beauty' episode.
The show did improve and started to get back to the first season's action adventure style although campy aliens did return in force. The aliens must have all been related though as they tended to look alike, just different color jobs from time to time.
It was a great source of fun to spot which prop was from which episode as Irwin tended to portray alien hangouts with 'a spread of gizmos', in either a black room or a cave, to show their 'alien presence. In any alien encounter the LIS castmember(s) would walk past these arrays and pretend not to notice their familiarity or plain silliness & non functionality. They looked cool, though.
On no other show was an entire insane 'over the top' universe represented totally from what must have been a small collection of interlocking space props & costumes.
The NGS scanner from ep one, for example, became an evil alien robot in Year 2 and even that got a paint job to become an evil alien robot again in year three while being a stand for other things along the way. It didn't seem to appear in later episodes of Season 3 though. Could that have been due to becoming an exhibit in writer Elliot Klass's office while the last part of Year 3 was being produced?
The fun came to an end in 1968 when Irwin refused to cut LIS's budget further than it was. Fearing he may not now be able to afford even to re-spraypaint the small selection of alien suits they had Irwin decided to let it go & get on with the NEW Lost in Space that had actully begun production during the last part of LIS's 3rd season.
They gave the Jupiter 2 a red spray job, renamed it 'Spindrift', scored another 7 actors to be castaways even with a Dr Smith type of their own (without the comedy) and crashed them on another unknown planet but this time the planet was inhabited with giant human beings. As the guest stars were so tall they decided it would be a very good idea to change the name of the show from 'Lost in Space' to 'Land of the Giants'
And the rest was, as they say, history.
Lost in Space was redone as a poor quality cartoon in the 70's with only Jonathan Harris reprising his role as Dr Smith. Angela Cartwright appeared in the 'Logans Run' ep 2 'The Collectors'
Marta Kristen appeared in 'Battle Beyond the Stars' with 'John-Boy Walton'. Guy Williams sadly died alone in his home.
Bill Mumy (Will) tried to resurrect Lost in Space for a wrap up in the 80's but Irwin decided HE'D be the one to bring LIS back when he felt he was ready to do it. So that went nowhere.
The early 90's saw Innovation Comics creating a Lost in Space comic with Bill Mumy as 'Alpha Control' which picked up on the Robinsons three years after the series ended & developed the characters much further, even to go as far as set up a love triangle between Judy, Penny & Don. It also introduced us to the 'Aeolis 14 Umbra', Smith's alien spy-bosses, in 'reality, huge slithering Space-Slugs with a really bad attitude.
I, myself, submitted a 2 part script for this comic in 1992 which had the Robinsons taking refugees to a planet which ultimately turned out to be prehistoric Earth & the Jupiter 2 thus becoming the 'Ark' bringing humanity to Earth. It wasn't produced, though.
The comic ended in the middle of year two and halfway through Bill Mumy's year long 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul' adventure when Innovation bankrupted.
Irwin Allen finally had plans to reunite the remaining Robinsons once again when he sadly died, co-incidentally within a few moths of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's passing.
I, personally, loved the Lost in Space Music and during the 80's had managed to track down the location of the master tapes of this music in a major phone-around. In early 1992 I passed on the location of these tapes to Neil Norman of Crescendo records who was keen to produce albums of the music.
Crescendo produced 3 albums of Lost in Space scores, including 'The Derelict' & 'My Friend Mr Nobody' in their entirety.
The show became a multi-timeline movie in the 90's with an all new cast with most of the originals in guest star roles but with Dick Tufeld reprising the voice of the Robot again to utter the warning "Danger Will Robinson" for the 2nd time since the original series year 3 episode "Deadliest of the Species". Blawps anyone?. A great opportunity was lost, sadly, amongst the 4 timelines of the movie, by not casting Bill Mumy as 'Older Will' which would have been a great merge of the two versions of LIS. A movie sequel never materialized, sadly.
The 90's show 'Earth 2' had more than a passing resemblance to Lost in Space, clearly taking on a number of elements from the original show, right down to a spiky version of the bloop, as in Space-Critter-Pet. The Chariot had multiplied & become a selection of huge 'Space-Hummers'. The Dr Smith character was split up into 2 'E2' characters, one a spy and another a self-serving coward.
The original J2 exterior was rebuilt for the Irwin Allen retrospective 'The Fantasy worlds of Irwin Allen' which was LIS intensive in style, props & music & ended with an LIS cliffhanger as the now aged Dr Smith instructs the robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 & "get it right this time" after Bill Mumy & June Lockhart enter the ship.
Bill Mumy wrote a Star Trek comic 3 parter called 'the Return of the Worthy', the 'Worthy' obviously being a nod to the LIS Robinsons with whom Bill still has a very strong connection to.
"Lost in Space Forever" showcased the series, rebuilt the J2 interior upper deck set, and ended with a short story & cliffhanger where the 'Older Kid, The Tin Man & the VERY OLD Coot' got lost in Space again FOREVER.
Bill and 'LIS Mom' June Lockhart both appeared in an ep of 'Babylon 5' both despite Bill's hopes he and June never appeared together, sadly.
The early 2000's saw a plan to wrap up the original series in a TV Movie but this sadly died along with actor Jonathan Harris.
In 2003 a pilot was remade, again with a different cast, no original cast member cameos but Dick Tufeld got to be the Robots' voice & again utter that famous warning "Danger Will Robinson" for the 3rd time in an excellently produced pilot. Sadly, the new show, which added the older brother 'David Robinson' and had Penny as a baby & no Dr Smith, didn't get picked up despite it being an excellent production.
In 2005 LaLaLand Records produced an LIS double soundtrack album which contained selections from a number of LIS scores including unreleased cues of previously released scores and also the 'Welcome Stranger' score in it's entirety.
Billy Mumy finally managed to complete the story he started with innovation in the early 90's by presenting the complete story in a graphic novel format.
The spirit of Lost in Space just keeps on keeping on and will no doubt continue to do so.