Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: Lost in Space

Lost in Space was an American science fiction television series created and produced by Irwin Allen, filmed by 20th Century Fox Television, and broadcast on CBS. The show ran for three seasons, with 83 episodes airing between September 15, 1965, and March 6, 1968. The first television season was filmed in black and white, but the remainders were filmed in colour. In 1998, a Lost in Space movie, based on the television series, was released.

Though the original television series concept centred on the Robinson family, many later story lines focused primarily on Dr. Zachary Smith, played by Jonathan Harris. Originally written as an utterly evil but extremely incompetent would-be saboteur, Smith gradually becomes the troublesome, self-centred, incompetent foil who provides the comic relief for the show and causes most of the episodic conflict and misadventures.

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Smith was not in the un-aired pilot and neither was the robot. In the unaired pilot, what causes the group to become lost in space is a chance encounter with a meteor storm, but in the first aired episode, it is Smith’s sabotage and unplanned presence on the ship that sets the ship off course into the meteor field. Smith is thus the key to the story.

In the unaired pilot, the ship was going slow enough that the crew wondered if they were on Mars, while in the first aired episode, just seconds of hyper-drive caused them to be lost, unknown light-years from Earth.

The show begins on October 16, 1997 – “30 years into the future” from 1967, the United States is about to launch one of history’s great adventures: man’s colonization of deep space. The Jupiter 2 (Gemini 12 in the pilot episode), a futuristic saucer-shaped spaceship, stands on its launch pad undergoing final preparations. Its mission is to take a single family on a five-and-a-half-year journey – stated as 98 years in the pilot episode – to a planet of the nearby star Alpha Centauri. The pilot episode refers to the planet itself as Alpha Centauri, which space probes reveal possesses ideal conditions for human life.

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The Robinson family was selected from among two million volunteers for this mission. The family includes Professor John Robinson, played by Guy Williams, his wife, Maureen, played by June Lockhart, their children, Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and Will (Billy Mumy). They will be accompanied by their pilot, U.S. Space Corps Major Donald West (Mark Goddard), who is trained to fly the ship. Otherwise, the Robinsons and West will be in freezing tubes for the voyage; with the tubes opening when the spacecraft approached its destination. Unless there was a problem with the ship’s navigation or guidance system during the voyage, West would only take the controls during the final approach to and landing on the destination planet while the Robinsons would strap themselves into contour couches on the lower deck for the landing.

Other nations are racing to colonize space, and they would stop at nothing, not even sabotage, to thwart the United States effort. Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), a psychologist and environmental control expert, is also a foreign secret agent. He reprograms the Jupiter 2’s B-9 environmental control robot, voiced by Dick Tufeld, to destroy critical systems on the spaceship eight hours after launch. Smith is trapped aboard at launch and his extra weight throws the Jupiter 2 off course, causing it to encounter a meteor storm. This plus the robot’s rampage causes the ship to become lost.

The Robinsons are often placed in danger by Smith, whose self-centred actions and laziness endanger the family. In the second and third seasons, Smith’s role assumes a less evil overtone – although he continues to display many character defects. In “The Time Merchant”, Smith travels back in time to the day of the Jupiter 2 launch, with hope of changing his fate. He learns that without his weight altering the ship’s course, it would be destroyed by an uncharted asteroid. In an act of redemption, Smith elects to re-board the ship, thus saving Major West and the Robinsons’ lives.

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