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Lost in Space: The 60s TV Series

Updated on February 19, 2022
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The Lost in Space cast on the opening season.The cast of Lost in Space - 1967. The Alpha Centauri star system.  It was the destination of the Robinson Family in "Lost in Space".  They never reached the destination.
The Lost in Space cast on the opening season.
The Lost in Space cast on the opening season. | Source
The cast of Lost in Space - 1967.
The cast of Lost in Space - 1967. | Source
The Alpha Centauri star system.  It was the destination of the Robinson Family in "Lost in Space".  They never reached the destination.
The Alpha Centauri star system. It was the destination of the Robinson Family in "Lost in Space". They never reached the destination. | Source

A Rocky Liftoff

In 1965 there was an unaired pilot for “Lost in Space”. Mark Goddard didn’t want to act in the pilot. His agent explained there was no chance it would be picked up as a series and no one would ever see the pilot. Goddard’s agent advised him to play the role and take the money.[i] Mark Goddard played the role of Dr. John West[ii]. CBS, known as the “Tiffany Network” at the time, picked up Lost in Space. The series ran for three years. The series spawned a movie in 1998 and a Netflix series in 2018.

The premise was a family is sent into outer space and crash lands on an uncharted planet. The family was the Robinsons. It was an apparent reference to Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe”. Producer Irwin Allen wanted to get the help of NASA. NASA also wanted to assist with the production until they spoke with Irwin Allen. NASA concluded Allen wasn’t interested in scientific accuracy so NASA lost interest in the project.[iii] In 1965 a New York Daily News critic bashed the show, and many other TV shows that began that season. The critic pointed out it had childish science fiction. William Paley, CBS Chairman, hated the show because it didn’t fit the CBS brand of quality programming. He instructed the executives to cancel the show as soon as its ratings dropped.[iv] This article has spoilers for some of the episodes.

[i] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

[ii] The pilot credited Mark Goddard's character as Dr. Don West. In the series the character was credited as Major Don West.

[iii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058824/trivia, last accessed 1/28/20.

[iv] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058824/trivia, last accessed 1/28/20.

Cast and Characters

Guy Williams, who played the title character in the TV Series “Zorro” (1957-61), played Professor John Robinson. June Lockhart, who played Ruth Martin on the TV Series “Lassie” (1958-64), played John Robinson’s spouse Maureen. Marta Kristen, who had 14 TV guest star appearances and two movie credits[i], played the John and Maureen’s adult daughter Judy. By coincidence or design the daughter in the animated science fiction comedy “The Jetsons” (1962-63) was named Judy. Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta in “The Sound of Music” and played Linda Williams in “The Danny Thomas Show” (1957-64), played the tween daughter Penny. Bill Mumy[ii], had many TV appearance including three appearances on “The Twilight Zone”. The most memorable appearance was on “The Twilight Zone” episode “It’s a Good Life”. In that episode he played an evil child who had godlike powers. He played Will Robinson, the tween son, and youngest child.

In 1965 the average family in America had 3.2 children. The Robinsons had a typical American family structure. The Robinsons were an ideal family. The parents and children were all highly intelligent and the children were well behaved.

Mark Goddard played Major Don West, the ship’s pilot. Goddard had previously played Cully in the TV Series “Johnny Ringo”, Detective Sergeant Chris Ballard in the TV Series “The Detectives”, and Bob Randall in “Many Happy Returns”. Don West, Maureen and John Robinson were billed in the pilot with the honorarium “Doctor”.

Dick Tufeld was the narrator and the voice of the Robot and Bob May wore the costume.

Jonathan Harris played Dr. Zachary Smith. Harris was Mr. Phillips in the TV Series “The Bill Dana Show” and Bradford Webster in the TV series “The Third Man”. Harris invented the idea of having a regular on a TV Series billed as a “special guest star” in his negotiations for acting in “Lost in Space”. [iii] Dr. Smith evolved from a nemesis to a nuisance.


[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0471549/?ref_=tt_rv_t3, last accessed 1/28/20.

[ii] He was billed as Billy Mumy in the “Lost in Space” credits.

[iii] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

The Episodes, Development, Life and Times

The series setting begins on Earth at Alpha Control on October 16, 1997. The Robinson Family and Major Don West are going on a mission to colonize Alpha Centauri. They are to be in suspended animation for the 5½ year journey. A newscaster, gives some technical details of the mission and points out the mission is part of a plan to deal with the Earth’s overpopulation. The newscaster points out there were other countries in this space race. Sabotage by these enemy counties is a possibility.

The ship has an environmental control robot. Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Zachary Smith programs the Robot to destroy the space ship, the Jupiter 2, 8 hours after liftoff. Dr. Smith kills a security guard with a karate chop. His timing is off and the Jupiter 2 is secured before he could get out. Dr. Smith’s motive is greed.

Dr. Smith’s weight causes the Jupiter 2 to go off course and into a meteor storm. To fix the navigation system they have to turn off the gravity control. At the time meteor storms and temporary weightlessness was a staple for space movies. The Robot attempts to destroy the Jupiter 2 on schedule. The Robot had an external powerpack that is easily removed. Major West incapacitates the Robot with John Robinson’s assistance.[i] John goes on a spacewalk to make a repair. His tether line snaps. When Dr. Smith refuses to attempt a rescue, Maureen suits up and goes out to rescue her husband. The episode ends as a cliffhanger. Every episode in the first 2 seasons ended as a cliffhanger. In almost all of them the cliffhanger was a snapshot like preview of the next episode.

In the second episode, “The Derelict”, a giant space ship opens up and captures the Jupiter 2. The capture was similar to what happened in the 1967 James Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice”. Inside the large space ship Will and Dr. Smith find a bubble-like being. Will tries to communicate with the creature but Dr. Smith shoots it with a laser pistol. The Jupiter 2 and its occupants make a quick escape from the large space ship.

Episode 3, “Island in the Sky”, Professor Robinson is pulled down to a planet while he’s on a spacewalk. Dr. Smith uses the Robot to threaten the rest of the crew to abandon Professor Robinson and return to Earth. Major West grabs Dr. Smith and forced Dr. Smith to have the Robot return to its compartment. The Jupiter 2 crashes on the planet. Dr. Smith gives instructions to the Robot to kill any of the Robinsons the Robot finds alone. The episode ends with the Robot attacking Will.

Episodes 4 and 5 used much of the footage from the series pilot, “No Place to Hide”. Dr. Smith and the Robot weren’t in the pilot so Episode 5, “The Hungry Sea”, involved Major West and the Robinsons going south in an amphibious vehicle called, “The Chariot”. Dr. Smith refused to go and stayed on the Jupiter 2 with the Robot.

Johnathan Harris was concerned Dr Smith was too evil a character to remain on the show for long. Dr. Smith’s demise would mean unemployment for Johnathan Harris. Harris decided his only chance was if Dr. Smith was a comedic villain. He inserted comedic bits into his performances.[ii] Irwin Allen liked what Harris was doing with the character and encouraged Harris to add more comedy to the character.

“Lost in Space” being a family show with children as a target audience meant the romance between Major West and Judy Robinson never went anywhere. Judy Robinson was an underutilized character in the show. Dr. Smith and the Robot were the only characters that had episodes with flirtations.

With Episode 6, “Welcome Stranger”, the series became like a “Gilligan’s Island”[iii] in space. Guest entities would come to them or they would find an entity within walking distance of the Jupiter 2. Some characters were good others were up to no good. None of the characters took them to Earth or let Earth know the Jupiter 2’s status or whereabouts. There were also the household tasks that were performed with high tech appliances. The most amusing was the washing machine. All Maureen had to do was dump the clothes in the machine and moments later take them out. The clothes would come out clean, dry, folded, and wrapped in plastic.

The Robot character evolved from an automaton to a character that would make wise cracks, usually at Dr. Smith’s expense, was capable of jealousy and other emotions, and could often explain a new entity to the others, and by extension the audience.

With children being the target audience, most of the shows revolved around Will and Penny. Episode 7, “My Friend, Mr. Nobody”, revolved around Penny’s invisible friend. In Episode 8, “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension”, aliens wanted to use Will’s brain, as Dr. Smith suggested, as a computer. “Star Trek” used a similar premise in the 1968 episode “Spock’s Brain”.

Since the target audience was children some stories were based on children’s stories. The first of these was “Wish Upon a Star”, based on the Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. A hat enabled the wearer to get whatever they wished for. Only one wish a day was granted. This caused problems between Penny and Will. Similar problems with a “gift” occurred in the 1980 movie, “The Gods Must be Crazy”.[iv]

Dr. Smith evolved into a character who was incompetent to lead, unwilling to follow, and too stupid to get out of the way. In Episode 13, “One of Our Dogs Is Missing”, Major West, John and Will Robinson are away. Dr. Smith, decides he is in charge and wants to clean the weapons. He talks apart the entire arsenal but has no idea how to put them back together. The Dr. Smith character eventually morphed into a character afraid of firearms.

In the episode “War of the Robots” the series coined the phrase “robotoid”. The logic is a robot follows specific instructions while a “robotoid” follows general principals. Robbie the Robot, the most used robot character, played the Robotoid. The series didn’t use “Robotoid” again and the tern wasn’t used in other science fiction genres. In the episode the humans, except for Will, liked the robotoid and the robot suffered by comparison. This premise is similar to “The Simpsons” episode “The Canine Mutiny”.

In season 2 “Lost in Space” was in color. In the season opener, “Blast Off Into Space”. the Jupiter 2 took off right before the planet exploded. The Jupiter 2 was space borne for two more episodes then it crash-landed on another planet. The crash was the same footage used for the pilot and first season crash. The Jupiter 2 didn’t fly for the rest of the season. The stories became zanier. The series became a science fiction comedy. The series revolved mostly around Dr. Smith, Will, the Robot, and to a lesser extent Penny.

For the third season there was a change in the opening and closing. The opening title sequence had a countdown and the music was more up-tempo. The closing had previews instead of a cliffhanger. The Jupiter 2 had to make an emergency takeoff on the first episode of season 3, “Condemned of Space”. The main plot revolved around them finding a prison ship rather than escaping from the planet in a space ship that had been disabled. The prisoners were in suspended animation. Keeping prisoners in suspended is a premise in the 1993 movie “Demolition Man”.

In the third, and final, season the Jupiter 2 was spaceborne. This was similar to the “Star Trek” format of landing on a different planet or meeting another spacecraft each episode. The Jupiter 2 has a landing module. This has a likeness to the Apollo’s Lunar Module. Dr. Smith, Will, and the Robot are still the main characters but other characters get more of a role. In the series last episode, “Junkyard in Space”, the Jupiter 2 had a weapon system, rockets.

[i] Dr. Smith pointed out the powerpack should be removed. Maureen, Judy, and Penny were just hanging on during the struggle. Will was on the lower deck.

[ii] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

[iii] “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-1967) was a TV situation comedy about 7 people shipwrecked on an island. Its episodes usually revolved around people or things that come, or are found, on the island.

[iv] In “The Gods Must be Crazy” a discarded soda bottle had many uses for a native family. The catch was only one family member could use the bottle at a time.

Episode
Children's Story
Wish Upon A Star
Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
The Magic Mirror
Alice in Wonderland
All That Glitters
The Midas Touch
The Lost Civilization
Sleeping Beauty
Princess of Space
Princess and the Pea

Familar Plots

Episode
Plot
Familiar Subplot
The Space Creature
Ten Little Indians
 
The Space Croppers
Gothic Character
 
West of Mars
Dopleganger
Wild West Setting
The Hungry Sea
Camping Trip
 
Visit to a Hostile Planet
Time Travel
 
A Visit to Hades
Afterlife
 
The Deadly Game of Gamma 6
Gladitorial Combat
 
Curse of Cousin Smith
Visiting Relative
 
Fugitives in Space
In Prison
 
Space Circus
The Circus
 
Space Beauty
Beauty Contest
Character Cross Dressing
The Anti-matter Man
Doppleganger
 
Attack of the Monster
Doppleganger
 
The Promised Planet
Hippies
 
Collision of the Planets
Hippies
 
Time Merchant
Time Travel
 

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

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