Don West had a lot in common with Maureen Robinson: both were strong, dependable people who had earned the trust of John Robinson. And also as with Maureen, Don West never (quite) got an episode of his own in which to shine. That said, Don did have significant rôles in a number of episodes throughout the series and generally enjoyed a great deal of screen time.
As early as “The Reluctant Stowaway” Major West seemed destined to be a central character in Lost in Space, with depth and complexity. Unfortunately, the reality was that he quickly fell into the rôle of second-in-command and back-up, a position from which he rarely had a chance to rise over the show’s three-year run.
There really weren’t any Don-centred episodes (which distinction he shares with Maureen), but at least Don had a shared central rôle with Dr. Smith in two episodes, “The Space Primevals” and “Fugitives in Space.” Both of these episodes showed Don as more than the one-dimensional foil of Dr. Smith; indeed, in both he is seen to have a distinctly human side—not merely the by-the-book, hard-boiled character who sees everything in black and white, as he so often seems.
Viewers should not be surprised at seeing another side of Don. During the show’s run there were a number of scenes showing his tender side toward Judy. We even see that Don didn’t feel that Dr. Smith was his implacable enemy in “Wild Adventure,” when Don, unbidden, suits up to rescue Smith from outside the Jupiter 2 where he has been lured by Athena. In his own words (admittedly tongue-in-cheek—you can’t expect a man like Don to actually admit to having feelings) “Somebody’s got to do it… and I’m his buddy, aren’t I?”
“The Anti-Matter Man” was one of Mark Goddard’s favourite episodes because he got to portray his anti-self, paranoid, insecure and unkempt, having a screaming melt-down. In truth, that was a fantastic scene! Perhaps most interestingly, in seeing the dark side of Don, we are almost forced to see that ‘our’ Don may be hard-boiled and a a tough-guy, but he is essentially good; those traits are not flaws in him.
There are numerous episodes in which Don plays a pivotal or prominent rôle in the plot (“A Visit to Hades” and “Space Beauty are examples). But, like the early episodes of season one, these do no really show us much of Don’s character that we don’t already know. In “A Visit to Hades,” for example, we see Don’s tragic flaw (either being a tough guy or being soft on Judy) exploited by Morbus with a hilarious fight scene between the two.
In an interview Mark Goddard once mentioned that he would sometimes show up on set to perform a scene only to find out that it had been rewritten for Guy Williams. For whatever reason this may have been done, I can only feel that we might have learned even more of Don’s character if it had not been so.