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Classic Television Shows Analyzed for Modern AudiencesRSS Twitter The 10 Best Lost in Space Episodes September 21st, 2015 Posted in Lost in Space By Jon Davidson Write comment After reviewing every episode of Lost in Space this past summer, I thought it would be fun to create a list of my personal favorites while the show is still somewhat fresh in my memory. Below are my rankings for the episodes that are, in my opinion, the best in the entire series.
10) The Derelict
While this one isn’t usually considered to be among the greatest Lost in Space episodes, I decided to give it a spot on this list for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the slow pacing works quite well at acquainting the audience with the main characters and their relationships with one another. Whereas the action-packed pilot episode briefly introduces the Robinsons and Dr. Smith before delving into its riveting disaster elements, “The Derelict” explores the dynamics of this tight-knit family on a much deeper level. Additionally, Don’s implied romance with Judy is alluded to for the first time in this episode, while the meddlesome behavior that would become a defining attribute of Jonathan Harris’ irksome character is initially displayed during a frightening scene involving a botched communication attempt with a mysterious lifeform.
On a similar note, another reason why “The Derelict” stands out among the equally phenomenal first five episodes is because the antagonistic bubble creatures actually come across as convincingly alien in appearance. Not only do these bulbous beings bear a physical form entirely different from the humanoid races encountered throughout the series, the electrical impulses through which they communicate likewise represent a stark contrast to the more Earth-centric conceptions of alien speech shown in later episodes. Overall, this unique presentation of an extraterrestrial species along with the fantastic voyage through the eponymous derelict spacecraft makes this entry one of the purest science fiction themed episodes featured in this series.
9) Trip Through the Robot
Although the majority of episodes contained within the infamous second season of Lost in Space are downright unwatchable due to a bizarre combination of childish fairy tale elements and Dr. Smith’s asinine antics, this one manages to return the series to its science fiction roots by putting a clever spin on the concept first implemented in Fantastic Voyage. Of course, instead of traveling through a human body, Dr. Smith and Will take a trip inside the beloved B-9 Robot in a last-ditch effort to save the “life” of their dearest friend after the former character’s negligence results in permanent damage to the Robot’s diode timer.
It should be noted that, much like the surrounding season two episodes, this one will likely appeal more to younger viewers given that it centers primarily on the Will, Dr. Smith, and Robot trio that had become a hallmark of Irwin Allen’s captivating space adventure series at this point in the show’s run. That being said, the magnificent set designs and sound effects along with Barney Slater’s heartwarming story make this a worthwhile viewing experience for older fans looking for a nostalgic 1960s science fiction piece.
8) Return from Outer Space
In contrast to the dark tone of many episodes featured throughout the first half of season one, “Return from Outer Space” presents a touching holiday story reminiscent of a classic Twilight Zone tale. After Will utilizes a matter transmitter unit to travel back to Earth with the intent of replacing the carbon tetrachloride that Dr. Smith selfishly wasted on himself, the audience is treated to a change of scenery when the young lad winds up in a small Vermont town during Christmas time.
Much like the aforementioned “Trip Through the Robot,” this episode will probably be most interesting to children due to the fact that Will once again takes it upon himself to save the day. However, even though this series is supposed to take place in the late 1990s, the setting of this episode has a very quaint, innocent atmosphere that should appeal to the sensibilities of those who lived during this time period.
7) Wish Upon a Star
Although the Lost in Space creators managed to effectively incorporate creepy elements into a number of episodes throughout the show’s three-year run (“Cave of the Wizards,” “Space Creature,” and “The Astral Traveler” spring to mind), “Wish Upon a Star” is the only one that stands out as a perfect horror piece. Perhaps the main reason why this entry works so well at establishing a spooky atmosphere is because it starts off on a relatively benign note before gradually evolving into a nightmarish scenario by the final scenes. The striking contrast between the lighthearted fantasy of acts one and two and the almost surreal terror of the climactic finale demonstrates that, contrary to popular perception, the producers of Lost in Space were actually capable of capturing subtlety on rare occasion.
While it’s obvious that Universal Monster buffs and fans of classic horror in general will enjoy this terrifying tale for the above reasons, even casual viewers may appreciate this episode for its memorable morality lesson. As usual, Dr. Smith plays the perfect role of a selfish scoundrel who chooses to ignore Professor Robinson’s wisdom at all times, which nearly results in his demise at the clammy hands of the grotesque Rubberoid. For those looking for a good commentary on human nature without the goofiness of later episodes, this one is a must.
6) War of the Robots
Prior to this point in the show, the Robot was viewed as little more than a utility for the Robinson family. In fact, some may wonder why the Robot wasn’t simply destroyed after endangering the lives of others on numerous occasions thanks to Dr. Smith’s constant tampering in the first five episodes. However, this story serves as a nice turning point in which the Robot transitions from a mere machine to a member of the family. Not only are Will’s affections for the Robot demonstrated through his loyalty to the mechanical servant, it’s also indicated that John and Maureen harbor strong sentiments for the computerized character during a touching scene that occurs shortly after the nefarious Robotoid infiltrates the Robinson home.
In addition to its poignant aspects, “War of the Robots” contains all the workings of a classic 1950s science fiction film. Forbidden Planet fans will undoubtedly enjoy this episode for its inclusion of Robby the Robot as the primary antagonist, whereas those who appreciate the Robinson family dynamics should view this offering to develop an understanding of how the Robot went from a mindless killing machine to an endearing companion within the span of only twenty episodes.
5) My Friend, Mr. Nobody
This fan-favorite marks one of the rare instances in which Angela Cartwright was given an opportunity to showcase her acting abilities through her portrayal of the terribly underused Penny character. Unlike the dreadful “Princess of Space” and “A Day at the Zoo” episodes from season three, this one actually explores the personality of the young woman without devolving into another lame Will, Dr. Smith, and the Robot episode. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this narrative is the fact that Penny’s perceived isolation from the group is acknowledged through her decision to take solace in the companionship of an imaginary friend, whereas in later episodes Cartwright’s character seems content with the fact that Will receives far more attention from her family members than she does.
Something else worth noting is that the premise used for “My Friend, Mr. Nobody” borders more along the lines of fantasy than the hard science fiction of previous episodes. However, it should also be mentioned that, while the concept of a disembodied energy entity floating around in an ancient cave may be more far-fetched than the realistic bubble-creatures shown in “The Derelict,” the fairy tale inspired story of this installment never comes across as goofy or childish in its execution. This presents a strong contrast with many second and third season episodes, which frequently involve sky pirates, space Vikings, and anthropomorphic carrots roaming about the cosmos and causing mischief for the poor Robinson family.
4) The Reluctant Stowaway
While many television series start off slowly and take a long time to get interesting, quite the opposite can be said of Lost in Space. As evidence for this, one need look no further than the phenomenal pilot episode that introduced audiences to the world’s first family in space (not to be confused with the initial pilot entitled “No Place to Hide,” which remained unaired until it was broadcast during a Sci-Fi Channel marathon in 1993). All the elements of a perfect adventure are present in “The Reluctant Stowaway,” including loads of action, disaster, and strong family values that ultimately allow the Robinsons to overcome whatever hurdles stand in their way.
Another factor that adds to the conflict of this debut story is the presence of a genuinely intimidating villain. Whereas Dr. Smith would become increasingly less menacing as season one progressed before completing his transition into an emasculated buffoon by the end of the first year, Harris’ character exhibits a rather cold, calculating demeanor in this episode that allows the audience to feel greater sympathy for the protagonists upon realizing that their isolation is shared by a conniving psychopath. Even though “The Reluctant Stowaway” seems as though it belongs to a different series when compared to later episodes, this one is a must for fans of classic science fiction and traditional family values in television shows.
3) The Keeper (Parts 1 & 2)
This famous two-parter features The Day the Earth Stood Still actor Michael Rennie in the role of an intergalactic zookeeper who attempts to add Penny and Will to his collection of alien specimens against the protests of John and Maureen. Rennie’s performance as the main antagonist is remarkable, while the inclusion of several campy rubber monsters makes for a truly classic Lost in Space outing (of course, the lousy effects showcased during the notorious spider scene can be forgiven in light of the excellent story).
Although a memorable villain combined with a surprisingly effective use of the Dr. Smith character result in an all-around exceptional episode, perhaps the most notable aspect of “The Keeper” stems from the fact that the entire cast was given approximately an equal amount of screen-time and importance to the overall narrative. For viewers looking for a changeup from the usual Lost in Space formula which frequently relegates all but three performers to background roles, this fantastic two-part episode offers plenty in the way of balanced character development.
2) The Anti-Matter Man
After playing second fiddle to Harris and his hammy antics for two-and-a-half seasons, Guy Williams finally had the opportunity to employ his outstanding acting abilities in this phenomenal piece. Whereas practically every episode aside from “Follow the Leader” required Williams to portray an upright character devoid of any discernable personality flaws, “The Anti-Matter Man” allowed the late actor to really challenge his limits by placing him in the role of Professor Robinson’s diabolical doppelgänger from another dimension. Similarly, Mark Goddard has often expressed his appreciation for this episode because it gave him the opportunity to explore the evil side of Major West, who likewise comes across as a morally decent man save for his occasional outbursts directed at Dr. Smith.
While the twisted attributes of the anti-matter characters add a sinister edge to an otherwise benign show, the series creators should also be commended for creating such a harrowing shadow world to accompany the chilling performances of Williams and Goddard. The bleak backdrops combined with the dead flora of the opposite planet establish the perfect setting for this haunting tale, especially during the sequences in which Herman Stein’s powerful score from “The Derelict” is played over the action. The only minor complaint that can be lodged against this episode is that some of the third season goofiness is scattered throughout the story, though even this small flaw can be excused when considering the dramatic shift in tone that occurred over the course of this series. Overall, many Lost in Space fans will agree that “The Anti-Matter Man” is one of the greatest episodes this show has to offer.
1) Follow the Leader
It’s interesting to note that one of the darkest Lost in Space episodes is also considered by fans and critics alike to be the best in the entire series. Just like “The Anti-Matter Man,” this episode gave Williams the chance to portray a more conflicted character than what the role of Professor Robinson typically allowed. In this case, however, the abrupt personality shift that occurs when an evil spirit named Canto possesses John’s body has actually been viewed by some as a real-world commentary on the effects that addiction can have on men who succumb to various vices to the detriment of their own families. Whereas even the most serious of Lost in Space episodes tend to be relatively lighthearted, “Follow the Leader” deals with heavy subject matter that should strike a chord with victims of familial abuse who can relate closely to the premise of watching a loved one deteriorate over time.
Williams’ brilliant performance alone makes this episode an exceptional effort that stands out as a golden nugget in a series rife with childish nonsense. Of course, even casual science fiction fans should appreciate the fact that the poignant ending involving John’s redemption brought about by the unconditional love of his son bears a striking resemblance to the famous finale featured in Return of the Jedi. Who could’ve guessed that George Lucas looked to Irwin Allen for inspiration when searching for a conclusion to his original Star Wars trilogy?