Season three of Lost in Space included one of its most infamous episodes: “The Great Vegetable Rebellion,” one so truly awful that it has achieved almost cult status and has been named as one of the hundred most memorable TV shows ever by TV Guide. Actor Jonathan Harris recounted in several interviews how Peter Packer had gone to him with a script that he was reluctant to hand over, saying that he just hadn’t had a single idea left to write about. After writing almost one-third of the series himself (25 out of 83 episodes), one can perhaps understand the well running dry.
The eight other episodes Packer wrote for season three are much better, and strongly in his personal tradition of producing more dramatic stories. “Condemned of Space,” “Visit to a Hostile Planet,” and “Flight into the Future” are good examples of tightly told stories with a minimum of campiness or comedy. It is interesting to note that of these three episodes (among the best of Packer’s season three writing, in my opinion) only one, “Flight into the Future” follows the pattern common to most of the latter half of the series’ run, stories centred around Will, Dr. Smith, and the Robot. Although all three characters are prominent in each of these episodes, “Condemned of Space” and “Visit to a Hostile Planet” are not “buddy adventures.”
“The Space Primevals,” “Castles in Space,” and “Target: Earth” form another triad of episodes. “Primevals” features a very sustained and moving reconciliation scene between Don West and Dr. Smith, but having the Robot do magic tricks, as well as the resolution of the episode being rather tacked-on, count against ranking this episode very high. “Castles” is similarly faulted in that it seems to lack any thematic unity; it has also been criticised for the ethnic stereotyping in the character of Chavo (itself utterly unnecessary to the story). “Target: Earth” is probably the best of the three, and is a “Will-Dr. Smith-Robot” story (the rest of the crew being in tubes for most of the episode). At the same time, what is almost Packer’s hallmark of more balanced screen time for all the cast is seen in this episode too, the rest of the cast (obviously) playing their replicas.
“Collision of the Planets” and “The Promised Planet” both show Packer drawing on the zeitgeist of the 1960’s counter-culture for inspiration. These two episodes contrast nicely in that the space hippies of “Collision” are consistently portrayed as shiftless lay-abouts throughout the episode who learn nothing from their experience; in “The Promised Planet,” however, there is a brief note of pathos when Bartholomew seems to consider John’s advice before returning to his dancing. It may have just been a hold-over from the age of “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best,” but in both of these episodes the Robinsons are firmly judgmental: the lifestyle of the aliens has no redeeming qualities; the Robinsons are right and the aliens are wrong, full stop.
Despite the occasional dodgy entry in season three, and a few near-misses in season two, Peter Packer was a remarkably consistent writer over the course of Lost in Space’s three year run. Given the high proportion of stories he wrote for the series, I think he may be judged to have been a major contributor to the unity of the underlying look and style of the programme, a not inconsiderable achievement considering the scandalous lack of continuity in the third and final season.