Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lost In Space S1 Ep2: The Derelict

My love for the traditional flying space saucer was satiated each week with the appearance of the Jupiter II. The Jupiter II and The Chariot combined for some of my favorite sci-fi miniatures and full-on models ever created.

The beautiful black and white cinematography and film stock is a genuine highlight in this almost frontier-styled series. There is also something simple and pure about watching a show like Lost In Space all over again. It takes you back to simpler times. The world made sense. Everything seemed black and white. Right and wrong seemed a whole lot easier and more people than not seemed to come to the same conclusions regarding the definitions. There's a great effort today to blur the lines, make things grey, make excuses the facts are much clearer. We can excuse anything today. Well, right and wrong and black and white haven't changed. We have. I'm not saying there aren't exceptions. There are those, but people have clearly convinced and talked themselves right out of standards. Yes, there was a time when these things seemed more concrete. The more I learn the less I understand today.

The The's Matt Johnson once wrote in Slow Emotion Replay, "The more I see, the less I know about all the things I thought were wrong or right and carved in stone." That lyric always resonated with me. It's quite succinct really. Certainly today's programming is far more challenging and rewarding than these classics from the yesteryears. Still, I do love them. I enjoy looking back on the simple tales of Lost In Space. The crisp, black and white world is one such reason I enjoy it again and again. It not only works wonders for this show and gives it a kind of weight and gravity that it probably lost when it switched to color, but it works for me on a personal level. It takes me back to stable, simpler days [and I'm clearly in need of stable]. It's an escape from today's complex, sometimes amoral society. Truth is, even when Lost In Space was in color it was still black and white for me.
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Here we are with the next exciting installment of Lost In Space with Season One, Episode 2, The Derelict. The episode recaps the events of the series debut and makes every effort to ramp up the excitement with a replay of last episode's cliffhanger, but by today's standards it passes as fairly laughable. What do you expect from your 1960s science fiction? This is one of the trade offs of simpler times, but it does have its charms. Call it a precursor to serialized entertainment a la Lost without all of the confusion. The family-based science fiction adventure is still a treasure for the culmination of its character moments.
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Do I need to tell you that Maureen Robinson will save her husband with the rocket gun? I bet you figured out that might happen. I suppose that rocket gun trick works every time. What a snazzy little weapon to have around. Can you imagine? You're 11 years old and your buddy is walking down to the lake with you and he's like, "what's that!?" And you're all like, "That's my ass-kicking rocket gun!" You're the envy of the gang.
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'Hey, is that Dad dangling on puppet strings?'
John Robinson continues to make repairs to the scanner outside the Jupiter II on the ship's hull, while a comet closes in on their coordinates. Unlike today's tightly scripted science fiction, Lost In Space, perhaps logically, does have a tendency to meander and that's fine by me. I like the lived-in, day to day, family minutia of Lost In Space. It's part of the fun. John is outside the ship monkeying about with eerie space music backing his every move. Judy, Penny and Will look on intently through a Jupiter II window. Judy is such a significant Norwegian babe that I recall as a child wanting more Judy than the creators were giving me. They were constantly limiting my Judy input. They were limiting my pretty Penny input for that matter as well. I cursed the show for that. Boy, did I ever love Penny and Judy? The show's cast is simply flawless: Will, Robot, Don, John, Dr. Smith and Maureen. There wasn't a weak character in the bunch. Still, as a youngster, I did yearn to see the female contingent of Judy and Penny stripped out of their foil spacesuits. I was young and my black and white mind and hormones were raging.
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The heat of the comet is having an impact on our hero, John Robinson, and now he is unable to get back inside the Jupiter II with the metal of the hatch expanding. The tension builds. Major Don West heads into the airlock to help, but to no avail. John tells them to fire up the rockets and get out of the comet's trajectory. Will, the wizard kid, comes up with a plan using the cooling agent of the fire extinguishers to save his father. Maureen and John grow faint and begin slipping out of consciousness.
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The video quality may be a little rough around the edges but what do you expect? Besides, the picture quality is part of its allure and charm if you ask me. Still, for a series created in 1965 it's sharp enough to enjoy just fine. And know I don't need a Blu-Ray of it. I'd have to be smoking something to request such a format.
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Back on Earth, Alpha Control believes the on board environmental Robot may have activated prematurely and that foreign sabotage may have played a factor. I don't believe it's long before the series stops cutting to scenes of Earth's Alpha Control.
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On the Jupiter II, Don applies the extinguishing coolant and frees the hatch allowing him to pull John and Maureen back inside the ship. Oh, Lost In Space is wholly predictable by the way. You won't find many surprises when it comes to the outcomes. Despite its predictability we enjoy the journey. We enjoy the characters. We enjoy the new discoveries and the varied guests. We fully enjoy space family Robinson and their trials and tribulations.
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Will looks positively ferocious. You've got to love the casting of Bill Mumy as Will Robinson. It wouldn't have been the same without him. You could say that about each cast member.
Dr. Smith gets negative and Will lashes out at him, "do you always have to say things like that!" I mean Will gets royally pissed with him and so begins their sparring relationship that's part and parcel of the Lost In Space fun. Smith serves orders to Robot, which essentially jump starts the ongoing unhealthy relationship between the two. John Robinson refers to Smith as "our increasingly annoying extra passenger." It doesn't take long for anyone in the family to understand Smith's modus operandi.
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'You know I want you, but there are children watching.'
John records via a journal the status of their aborted mission following hyperdrive. Where they are is anyone's guess. Don and Judy flirt a touch. Sadly, because it was a family show, we never got to see any of the sexual tension develop between the two beautiful actors over the course of the three years. Even as kids we wanted to see more action between these two in the worst way. We knew it was there. We were kids, but we weren't completely clueless. I couldn't tell the difference between true terror and a man in a rubber monster suit, but I knew hot lovin'.
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This little exchange sets the tone for Smith and John Robinson's often combative and distrustful relationship. Like I said, John has his number.

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The face of fear? Never.
The funny thing is Smith is so sleazy in his attempts to 'suck up' whenever it suits his needs his disloyalty is so clearly obvious to the adult family members. Why he bothers is anyone's guess since it is clearly evident to everyone involved with the exception of the typically innocent, Will and Penny, that he is no freakin' good. He definitely burns his bridges of trust very quickly in the series. In more contemporary dramas his snake-in-the-grass personality would have been buried much deeper and revealed more gradually over the course of a series. Lost In Space lets it all hang out. The ulterior motives of Smith are often made clear especially going forward. So if Smith's motives are so clear to John why would anyone give this guy a gun? It stands to reason some level of trust in Smith is required given the family's circumstances. The Robinson family doesn't have a lot of options or able-bodied men for that matter whilst alone in deep space.
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Space family Robinson picks up a spacecraft through the windshields of the Jupiter II bridge. The family spots the Derelict. There are no view screens or electronic visual screens here as found on Space:1999 or Star Trek. Our heroes have an open view of space via ultra-thick, glass shields. The Jupiter II has a distinct look. For a simple, little, saucer design complete with its low-positioned spinning lights it is one cool, two-decker vessel. The Jupiter II is pulled inside the Derelict via tractor beam.
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With the atmosphere inside the Derelict dubbed sustainable, Don and John are heading out to investigate and Smith will join them. The sly, smug Smith suspects the craft to be that of an Earth vessel controlled by that of his seditious foreign employer. The Russians? Why the heck would he possibly think the craft an Earth vessel? It is a stretch. Webbing and decorative set materials smack of crystallized seaweed and covers the inside of the vessel. Smith is far too confident, and not as smart as one might expect, when all the signs point to the fact there is something entirely alien about their surroundings. Smith head's off to locate someone tied to his foreign agents. Yes, because an Earth craft would look like this on the inside. Don tells Smith insincerely not to get lost [aren't we already lost in space?] and Smith replies, "never fear." We almost get the trademark, iconic call signature of "never fear, Smith is here," but not completely, not quite yet. Smith is a conniving, slimy, disloyal weasel of a guest.
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"It does not compute." Actually, this scene doesn't compute. It's cute, but why would the artificial intelligence of Robot mistake Will's clearly horrid impersonation of Smith as Smith's actual voice? Come on really? Will is clearly learning the art of manipulation here, but I expect Robot to be a touch smarter. Still, I love it. It's hysterical.

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Set design: Pillows and strings and papier-mache, oh my.
Will heads off to find Dad. I can see where this show might have creeped and spooked kids sitting around the tube back in the day. It does have an atmosphere to it that no amount of special effects good, bad or otherwise would heighten. Kids relating to Will would definitely be worried about him. The nice thing is Will was always far smarter than Smith, more resourceful and downright charmed with good luck most of the time. He came out of tough scrapes often shiny as an aluminum foil spacesuit. Still, most of the episode we get shots of Will wandering around one sector of the Derelict and Smith in another with not much happening, but the accompaniment of weird sound effects. It's a bit of a snooze in portions.
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Finally, at the 39 minute point we get our first monster-of-the-week and Will attempts communication with it. The creature is certainly not designed to have the same allure as the colorful creatures found in Lost In Space Season Two and Three. It is by design this entry takes a harder approach to science fiction. The alien responds with arcing electrical currents and zapping charges. It's a fairly frightening concept really. Smith happens upon Will speaking with the creature and is horrified to find he is conversing with the beast. That's right Dr. Smith there are no Earth humans here you fool. Fear is here. What were you thinking? This is clearly an alien craft not some Russian Earth vessel. I merely theorize the former Soviet Union as a possible contractor based on the long sustained Cold War [1945-1990] between the Soviets and the United States. Anyway, Smith is surprised by his findings. Good Lord, it's a good thing John Robinson is in charge. Will figures maybe it can help them.
Maureen and Penny discover Will is gone.
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Will would like help in finding Alpha Centauri, while Smith wants help in returning to Earth. This is quite amusing by both principals. You have to love the Smith remarks like "passenger list."

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A graceful landing for the Jupiter II with legs extended. It's a rare and nifty shot. So how do they get all that equipment in there including The Chariot? Seriously?
The Robinson family stowaway, Smith, pulls one of his typically stupid moves and fires a laser at the creature merely angering it. John and Don hear Will's cry for help and proceed to run to his aid jumping over lumpy, spongy pillows. Honestly, we have pillows for our alien space set! The creature is electrified and very pissed off for what essentially amounts to a gigantic lump of papier-mache. John orders everyone back to the ship. He plans on blasting their way out of the Derelict. That monster is really quite unimpressive, despite the practicality of its design. It is only the second episode. The electrical papier-mache beast halts its aggression toward the Robinsons as John boards the Jupiter II shouting lift off!

The beast is an intriguing design if a bit odd. There is something uniquely alien about it. The first official Lost In Space monster.
It's a narrow escape as other papier-mache creatures roll by the pillows on the set and through the decorative webbing. It looks like the Robinsons will live to see another day as the craft opens its mouth allowing them to depart safely as if purging the Robinsons from its system. That's mighty nice of them. Huh? What the hell just happened? There is much mystery retained concerning our alien abductors. Much is left to our imaginations. I mean if derelict is defined as "abandoned" or "deserted" what were those heaps of paper and glue coming after them with the weird sound effects? We don't learn alot about these creatures, but we are alive. Much like Space:1999, this particular entry of Lost In Space captures the mystery of space surrounding our dear family. Adventures take a less serious, less mysterious bent going forward. We do know one thing. There are many perils and unknowns out there awaiting our dear space family.
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The Derelict is a great science fiction title. It says something about Season One's original plan too. This was a series and concept representative of its day. This was to be the pioneering space adventures of Space Family Robinson. The promise and hope of space wonder finally entered living rooms in a bold new way. Plans, while off course for the family, would remain on course for the series and its creators. Things generally don't devolve into space camp Robinson until much later. As for The Derelict, I can't help but imagine, in some cases, Lost In Space might have fared better with tighter editing. All in all, I wouldn't want to change a thing about the shiny black and white gem of Lost In Space, but I could see an entry like this one benefitting from a tighter structure and timeframe. Nevertheless, I love my 50 minute Lost In Space installments and I wouldn't change a thing. But why did those electric beasts let them off the hook so easily?
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TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK! SAME TIME SAME CHANNEL. SAME BLOG!
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The Derelict: C+
Writer: Peter Packer/ Shimon Wincelberg
Director: Alex Singer

Lost In Space: The Ultimate Unauthorized Trivia Challenge Interesting Fact: The paper mache alien bubble creatures are chasing Dr. Smith and Will and you can spot one of the stage hands in sneakers and jeans literally pushing the second alien from behind. An important point of fact, Dr. Smith had given orders to Robot to heed his commands exclusively, but we never see those orders rescinded in the series. A terrific observation and one that was gnawing at me until I read this entry.
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The Cast: Here are highlights of the impressive Lost In Space cast.
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Guy Williams [1924-1989]. American born. Professor John Robinson. The hunky Model turned Actor Williams is best known for his role on Lost In Space as well as the role of Zorro [1957-1959]. He enjoyed a brief stint on Bonanza in 1964. Surprisingly, Williams retired to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1973 until his untimely death. Williams passed away from a brain aneurysm in his relocated home of Argentina.
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June Lockhart [1925-presernt]. American born. Dr. Maureen Robinson. She was the recipient of a Tony Award [1948] on Broadway. Lockhart's telvision history is vast and impressive. Highlights include: Lassie [1958-1964] and Petticoat Junction [1968-1970]. Some pop culture appearances include: Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea [1964], Bewitched [1964], Adam-12 [1974], Happy Days [1976], Hardy Boys/ Nancy Drew Mysteries [1978], Magnum P.I. [1981], The Greatest American Hero [1981], Amazing Stories [1986], Babylon 5 [1994] and much more. Her daughter Anne Lockhart was a regular on the original Battlestar Galactica [1978-1979].
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Mark Goddard [1936-present]. American born. Major Don West. TV appearances include: The Fugitive [1963-1967] [starring Space:1999's Barry Morse], The Mod Squad [1968-1973], Adam-12 [1970] and The Fall Guy [1981-1986]. Goddard penned a memoir titled To Space And Back: A Memoir [2008]. He lives and teaches special education in Lowell, MA.
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Marta Kristen [1945-present]. Norwegian born. Judy Robinson. She appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo [1965]. She plays a mermaid. I can see why. TV appearances include My Three Sons [1960-1964], Leave It To Beaver [1961], Remington Steele [1982], Trapper John M.D. [1985] and Scarecrow And Mrs. King [1987]. She also appeared in Roger Corman's cult classic Battle Beyond The Stars [1980].
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Angela Cartwright [1952-present]. England born. Penny Robinson. Highlights include her role on Make Room For Daddy [1957-1964] and The Sound Of Music [1964]. TV appearances include: My Three Sons [1965-1969], Adam-12, Logan's Run [1977] and The Love Boat [1982].
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Bill Mumy [1954-present]. American born. Will Robinson. His career in TV has been vast and notable. Highlights include the long-running Babylon 5 [1993-1998] as Lennier, Twilight Zone [1959-1964] and an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [The Seige Of AR-558]. Mumy has been an active narrator in television for A&E. He's also performs with his own band.
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Jonathan Harris [1914-2002]. American born. The nefarious, often comical, Dr. Zachary Smith. He appeared on The Twilight Zone [1959-1964], Land Of The Giants [1968-1970], Get Smart [1965-1970] and Fantasy Island [1977-1984]. He was typecast as a result of his iconic Dr. Smoth role. He had a successful voiceover career including Battlestar Galactica [1978-1979] as Lucifer and A Bug's Life [1998] to name a couple.
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Bob May [1939-2009]. American born. Acted inside the suit of environmental Robot B-9.
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Dick Tufeld [1926-present]. American born. The voice of Robot & Lost In Space narrator. The voice actor has worked for Irwin Allen and others. The cast appeared in the Lost In Space [1998] film relaunch except Bill Mumy, Jonathan Harris, Bob May and Guy Williams.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love it !!! all these facts I did not know !!! Great :)

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks. More to come. : )

NINE9INCHE STUD said...

The bubble creature set,if you don't wear leftover sets from Fantastic Voyage.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

That makes sense. They certainly did a lot of recycling back in the day.

SpaceLove65 said...

Great job as usual. The bubble creatures are explained more in an episode from the 2nd season. They were actually hibernating, or in suspended animation just as the Robinsons were. They were also colonist like the Robinsons. The bubble creatures were a bit weak, but I have to give props that they were at least trying to go for something totally unhuman as they could get. Apparently, Will and Dr. Smith accidentally killed a few of the bubble aliens.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks as always for your input SpaceLove65.

I agree. I love that the creatures look entirely alien. There's nothing humanoid about them.

NINE9INCHE STUD said...

I'm told there more props from fantastic voyage.Anyone know?

Spacebird said...

I have some episodes on DVD and we mostly saw it in Black & White but seeing it in color makes it so diffrent and it came the year before Star Trek(1965)but the Jupiter 2 could be parked in the USS Enterprises Hangerdeck with the shuttlecraft

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Makes sense Spacebird. Very interesting. Given the Jupiter 2 is swallowed by The Derelict. It stands to reason the U.S.S. Enterprise is as big. Cheers.