Among the script writers on Lost in Space, Jackson Gillis is best known for his stories focusing on the character of Penny Robinson. Of the seven scripts written by Gillis over the series’ three year run, five are definitely Penny episodes, and the remaining two feature Penny far more prominently than most episodes by other script writers.
The two season one episodes, “My Friend, Mr. Nobody” and “The Magic Mirror,” are among the best of the first season, and indeed, of the entire series. Both are dark and atmospheric episodes that center on the character of Penny. Both highlight the struggles she experiences as the middle child as she begins to grow up in a strange and hostile place. In both episodes, Penny’s innate good nature is the reason for the emotional pain she suffers as new-found friends are wrenched away from her at the end of both episodes. It is worth remembering that while the issues are resolved on screen within 50 minutes or so, in reality, such jarring emotional trauma would have taken far longer for Penny to cope with.
“The Thief from Outer Space” (season two) and “Space Beauty” (season three) are Gillis’ two stories where Penny is prominent, although not the central character of the story. In the former (which must have been a lot of fun for Angela Cartwright to shoot) Penny has a number of scenes that range from hilarious slapstick through to melodrama. In “Space Beauty” Penny does not actually have any integral part of the plot, but nonetheless appears throughout. This may partly have been due to Guy Williams and June Lockhart having been suspended for two episodes after their uncontrollable laughter disrupted the filming of “The Great Vegetable Rebellion” (“Space Beauty” was the next episode filmed)—that is, Penny may seem more visible because there are fewer cast members shown.
Gillis contributed three scripts to season three of Lost in Space, “The Haunted Lighthouse,” “A Day at the Zoo,” and “Princess of Space.” In “Princess,” Penny is the subject of an adventure that comes almost in answer to her interest in romantic fairy tales. One is almost tempted to think that the entire episode is merely a fantasy, but there are too many clues that it is not.
“The Haunted Lighthouse” and “A Day at the Zoo” (along with “The Magic Mirror” in season one) are interesting studies because in each episode Penny is paired with a boy near her own age. Of course, each episode ends in a parting, but in “The Haunted Lighthouse” it is not as traumatic as in “The Magic Mirror.” In the season three episode, Penny is portrayed as genuinely sad and wistful at leaving J5 aboard the lighthouse, but more importantly, she is shown to have grown up a great deal. Penny is much more in charge of their relationship (although originally duped by J5) and is not a passive party in any respect. Similarly, in “A Day at the Zoo” Penny stands up for herself much more effectively than in the past. Also, as in “The Haunted Lighthouse,” we are treated to a charming scene where Oggo the cave boy speaks his only lines in the episode as he gives her a flower on parting.
Jackson Gillis is to be best remembered among fans of Lost in Space and Angela Cartwright in particular as the writer who contributed most to the definition and the development of the character of Penny Robinson.