There are surprisingly few episodes of Lost in Space which actually feature Will Robinson as the central figure driving the plot forward. Although many fans might disagree with this assertion, a moment’s reflection would reveal that many of the “Will episodes” are actually “Dr. Smith” episodes. I don’t deny that Will had a larger rôle than most other members of the cast, both in terms of dialogue and screen time, but I do maintain that there are relatively few episodes over the course of the series where Will is the primary focus.
The first of these episodes was season one’s “Return from Outer Space.” After “My Friend Mr. Nobody” and “Attack of the Monster Plants,” this was the third episode of the season to focus on one of the Robinson children. “Return” presents us with several of the standard tropes associated with Will, particularly in the first season. First, he disobeys a direct order. Second, he risks himself for the well-being of his family. Third, his parents doubt his story (at least initially, in this instance).
The Tauron maser transporter from “The Sky Is Falling” has been made off-limits by John Robinson because of the dangers it poses. Nonetheless, faced with a severe food shortage, Will chooses to disobey his father’s order in an attempt to engineer the rescue of his family from their plight.
At some personal risk, Will (rather impulsively, I think, but then again, he is only ten years old) has the Robot send him to Earth using the device. Although the imminent failure of the machinery (stranding Will on Earth alone) is an element of the plot, the real risks Will ends up facing are all unknown and unimagined at the outset. When he arrives, he must face doubt, ridicule, and house arrest, then make a last-minute dash in order to reach the spot from which he will be returned to Priplanus and his family.
In the end, he fails in contacting Alpha Control in order to arrange a rescue of the Robinsons, but Will does manage to bring back a litre or so of carbon tetrachloride necessary to purify the crew’s food supply. His parents doubt his story of a trip to earth, but the bottle of the chemical he hands them give them second thoughts.
In “The Sky Pirate,” we see the same three tropes reworked. Rather than actually disobey an order, Will acts rashly, resulting in his being kidnapped by Alonzo P. Tucker, the eponymous pirate. Although he does not place himself at risk for the sake of the others, his actions do cause anxiety to his parents. Finally, rather than disbelieve Will’s story, his parents watch as Tucker comes clean to Will at the end of the episode, destroying all of the boy’s illusions. Although this is not the start of a newer, more cynical Will, we do see the starry-eyed, trusting, naif little boy grow a great deal over the next two seasons. After the heart-break of learning that his idol is not a glamorous pirate, Will stops wearing his heart on his sleeve quite so blatantly.
Season three’s “The Space Creature” is one more Will-centred episode. As with any good episode centred on a particular character, we are treated to glimpses into the soul of the character. By season three, the use of the stock character tropes of Will as plot devices has pretty much disappeared, and in this episode we have a true psychological horror story.
Everything the creature says to Will (or puts into Dr. Smith’s mouth) could well be a mere attempt to manipulate Will into providing the hatred and fear it craves. However, it is apparently near enough the knuckle that Will is indeed terrified—not by the monster as a monster, but by, perhaps, his deep suspicion that what the creature says is true: it is the future Will, hateful and angry. What a stunning confrontation for a boy to contend with.
Bill Mumy once analysed Will as the boy who was smarter than all the adults and knew it; he knew the answers even when the adults did not; he was torn between acting as he knew he must and acting as he was expected to. Worst of all, Mumy said, Will was always right. Bearing in mind the justice of Mumy's analysis of the character and looking at its development over three seasons, and we see a boy who has not followed his selfishness, relied on his own judgement, nor sought acknowledgement of his contribution to the group. Will in season three is certainly a good deal more self-assertive and far less naif than in season one, but he is still a far cry from the vision of his future presented in “The Space Creature.”