Despite being a outgoing ten-year-old with TWO older sisters (enough to break any boy’s spirit!) Will Robinson has a number of opportunities to engage with boys (albeit mostly alien boys) around his own age in the course of the three year run of Lost in Space. We have ample examples of how he relates to his sisters in the series—generally quite well, with what anyone would call a normal amount of give-and-take—but how well did Will do with other boys?
We hear Maureen and John reflect on their decision to bring their children with them on their mission on several occasions throughout the series. Interestingly enough, these discussions are usually of a type; they voice their misgivings or regret over their decision, and often enumerate what they have made their children give up, and, without ever stating it explicitly, they seem to arrive at the conclusion that whatever is done, is done. Only in “Welcome Stranger” do they actively attempt to return Penny and Will to Earth, although their plans are ultimately thwarted by Dr. Smith. In “Follow the Leader,” there is a very touching scene between John, who has not yet fully succumbed to the influence of Canto, and his son. John makes his longest and most cogent speech about why he regrets bringing Will along on the mission.
But there you have it: Will is on the mission, cut off from the life enjoyed (figuratively and literally) by most other boys his own age on Earth. Will himself doesn’t seem to regret his parents’ decision (listen to his answer to John’s speech in “Follow the Leader”), but then, given his situation, it might be just sour grapes if he did… there just aren’t any other boys his age on the mission, so why regret it?
Nonetheless, Will meets and engages to a significant degree with boys his own age at least five times in the course of the series. Curiously, three of these relationships occur in the first season, with two in the third. Each time Will meets another boy, the result is different; they range from near tragic (Lunon in “The Sky Is Falling”) to antagonistic (Bartholomew and Edgar in “The Promised Planet”), and everything in between.
In “The Sky Is Falling” Will and Lunon meet, apparently by accident at first, but later by design. It is actually a very normal phenomenon that despite their language barrier they manage to communicate to a far higher degree than their elders; children often play better together than their parents do. The tragedy of this promising first encounter is that Will infects Lunon almost immediately, prostrating his new friend with his sneeze. Despite only having just met, but still in the manner of boys, Will feels a commitment to his new friend and takes care of him, eventually returning him to his parents. It is with visible sorrow (mingled with resignation) that the episode ends with Will dealing with the loss of his first friend in outer space.
In “Return from Outer Space,” Will’s pool of potential friends at once overflows, but at the same time he is cut off from the potential of new friends because of the nature of his own mission to rescue his family. Despite being out of practice in socialising with peers, Will is able to strike up a relationship with Davey right off the bat, and with the sudden devotion of boyhood, Davey is willing to help Will as much as he can. When Will is to be sent to the county boys' home, though, that is another story. Will is teased by the boys waiting to leave (one of whom will also taunt him as another character, Edgar, in “The Promised Planet”). Here, despite a plethora of potential friends, Will is overwhelmed, defensive, and out of place. I think the contrast between Will and Davey (and his Aunt Clara) on the one hand, and Will and the lads of the boys' home on the other, is significant. Will seems to do much better when he has the security of his family (or a surrogate for that) behind him. On his own, isolated, he has trouble coping.
Quano in “The Challenge” is a few years older than Will, but they are near enough in age that they are able to strike up a relationship that may charitably be called “friendly-adversarial.” This is not as odd as it sounds; ask any parent of at least two boys. At every stage, the older Quano calls the shots and manipulates Will, but Will is a willing participant for his own motives, whether base (the need to prove himself to a peer) or noble (sticking up for humanity). Note that neither of these motives is unique to Will; all boys want to prove themselves as individuals; all boys stick up for their group against outsiders.
In some sense, Will’s relationship with Quano is very typical of acquaintances (as opposed to closer friends) of that age, and possibly the most nearly normal ongoing relationship he has in the series with another boy. But that first test… I mean really… Quano was two years older and had a good six inches on Will! In the end, I was always proud of Will for ending up tied with Quano before it was decided by their fathers to settle the contest themselves.
Near the beginning of season three, the Robinsons depart a planet taking along the rather ominous space-waif J-5 (“The Haunted Lighthouse”). Although the others fall under his spell, Will doesn’t really like him that much (and J-5 knows this, as we see when the plot develops). There is almost a sense of rivalry between them; is Will jealous of the attention J-5 is receiving from the others, especially Maureen? To give him credit, Will does try to reach out to J-5, as we seen in the scene where Dr. Smith is sent to give the new addition a physical, yet the two just don’t seem to warm up to each other. This is really J-5’s doing; he has his own agenda, and neither Will nor is anyone else except Penny is part of it. There’s something off-putting about a boy who is willing to murder, or at the very least strand, other people in order to be with the one he loves. Incidentally, the scene where Will is confronted with the lion in the lighthouse dining room and scrambles backwards across the fully laden table was wonderful.
In “The Promised Planet” Will has his last encounter with potential male friends. Unfortunately, they are malevolent to start with, and have a lifestyle rather unattractive to the 12 or 13 year old Will (although not to Penny, who is two years his senior). Worse yet, they are all smarter than Will is. Will is all for competition when the playing field is level, but he is visibly frustrated when he is at a disadvantage (especially in areas where he has every right to believe himself rather stronger than other boys his age) or handicapped (by the background noise and speed during his training sessions).
Although Will makes a half-hearted attempt to help the Deltans and to prevent his parents from returning to the planet, in the end he is in over his head, unable to cope, and must be rescued by his family. In this episode, any potential possibility of relating to peers is scuttled by several factors, some of which are not Will’s doing, but some of which emerge out of his character.
What can we learn about Will from his interactions with boys near his age? First, and perhaps most importantly, Will is most successful when he is secure, either because his family is there for him, or because he has (a not unreasonable) confidence in his abilities. When the security of his family is absent, or when others are smarter (or don’t care that Will is smarter than they), he is adrift. Secondly, to some extent, Will has to feel sure of his own rôle. When his place as the Only Boy Genius in the crew is supplanted by J-5, he reacts with suspicion and jealousy. It is important to realise that neither of these factors mark Will as having innate socio-developmental problems; they are common among all children as they grow up. So I think Will is a pretty normal boy in the way he socialises—the product of his nature and his environment; when opportunity arises for him to proceed on his own terms, as with any child, he does well.