Episode 19 – Ghost in Space

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While hammering in a sign warning of the presence of ionized gas, Professor Robinson is overcome with noxious fumes released from a crack in the ground. He passes out. Dr Smith meanwhile has been told to lay some dynamite charges in a drill site. Instead  he tosses them in a marshy bog, leading to some kind of chemical reaction. These events together form the basis of the ‘scientific’ natural-causes explanation for the creation of the ‘ghost’ that will terrorize the Robinsons later in the episode.

Dr Smith looks for some scarlet paint to decorate his Ouija board. He is trying to contact the spirit of his great-uncle Thaddeus. Will thinks it’s very silly. Maureen ridicules the Ouija board, saying “It’s quite obsolete in the world of computers”. Smith holds the séance. Creepy organ music plays in the background. The Ouija board begins floating in the air.

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The mat in front of Dr Smith is a Ouija board. The looks on the faces of Don and the Robinsons? That’s polite skepticism or what’s known as ‘humoring’ a person.

But a mere handful of the many, many Hollywood films over the years that have featured the use of Ouija boards

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The next night strange happenings commence. Outside the spaceship objects are tossed about as if by an invisible hand. Giant three-toed footprints are seen on the ground. John and Don are both attacked by an invisible creature that consumes energy. Smith insists the unseen force is his great-uncle Thaddeus who has been offended by the Robinson’s denying his existence.

Dressed comically like a monk, Smith attempts an exorcism equipped with mystic charms including a ceremonial dagger and a clove of garlic. The Robinsons have their own plan to rid themselves of the creature using a cage fitted out with electronic components. In the end neither method is required. At daybreak, in classic vampire tradition, the creature instantly vaporizes.

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The apparent effect of Ouija boards (first ‘invented’ in 1890) as a fanciful communication device can be explained by science with something known as the idemotor effect. You can read more about that HERE.   To see how ineffective Ouija boards are when the participants are blindfolded check HERE

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Check out this classic picture from 1962 of actress Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) meeting The Beatles.

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Episode 18 – The Sky Pirate

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Dr Smith and Will encounter a space pirate who goes by the name A.P. Tucker. Will befriends the pirate, who always has a mechanical parrot perched on his shoulder that lights up whenever it detects danger. Smith orders the robot to kill A.P. Tucker but he doesn’t succeed.

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John: What do you want?

A.P. Tucker: Fix my ship so I can leave this blasted planet.

John: We don’t know anything about your ship. You’ve got an alien drive.

A.P. Tucker: Well you just come up with the parts and I’ll show you where they go.

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Yep, life’s tough when you’ve got an alien drive.

 

While repairing the space pirate’s ship Don and John discover the spacecraft is capable of travelling at speeds faster than the speed of light. John remarks that they all could be back on Earth within seconds. However the space pirate is being pursued by an alien bounty hunter from the planet Signant 4.

A.P. Tucker has a future-reading device called “The Forecaster”. When the bounty hunter gets it he leaves. Soon after it is time for the space pirate to say his goodbyes as well. This causes Will to shed tears of sadness and he is forced to farewell his newly found friend whom with he shared the Pirates oath.

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** It was a tragic end to the life of Albert Salmi, the actor who portrayed the Sky Pirate A.P. Tucker. In 1990 at the age of 63 and whilst suffering a bout of clinical depression, the actor, who had appeared in over 150 film and television productions (including the classic 1980 comedy CADDYSHACK) fatally shot his wife in the kitchen of their Washington home before several hours later turning the gun on himself whilst in the den. The bodies were discovered by a friend of Salmi’s wife who had stopped by to check on her.

 

 

Episode 17 – The Keeper (Part 2)

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This episode begins with a giant iguana (the same lizard seen normal size in Part 1) menacing John and Don. They retreat back to the safety of the Jupiter 2’s force-field. The Keeper appears and brings the giant lizard under control with use of his magic staff.

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(**Footnote:  Apart from anything iguana-ish about the clip above, I’m gonna count myself as a fan of the living room decor seen here. The flame-orange cushions with stag motifs are a particular standout for me. Six seasons of watching THE BLOCK and other assorted home renovation tv shows has definitely done something for to me).

The Keeper then calmly walks straight thru the ship’s force-field. He repeats his demand  he wants Penny and Will for his specimen collection. Maureen says he can’t have them and he couldn’t show them any love anyway. The Keeper replies he believes love is a weakness.

John and Maureen go to The Keeper and offer themselves as substitutes for the children. Independently Judy and Don have the same idea and also go to The Keeper,  making the same offer.

After a few more dramas including The Keeper being attacked by one of his own creatures, The Keeper pauses to reflect. He decides he is impressed and actually touched by the Robinson’s generosity of spirit and self-sacrificing ways. He agrees to leave the Planet without Will and Penny, taking the rest of his collection of animals with him.

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The boy in this picture is actor Jonathan Harris (Dr Smith). The girl in the picture was Harris’s future first and only wife of 64 years. Gertrude Bregman.

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More than one person over the years has suggested The Keeper could easily have taken Dr Smith as his Earth specimen but instead chose not to as a form of punishment for the Robinson’s not allowing him to have Will and Penny.

Punishment? They got that right! Cruel punishment indeed.

 

Episode 16 – The Keeper (Part 1)

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The Robinson’s meet a humanoid carrying a glowing staff who collects the creatures of the Universe – two of each kind. At first he is friendly and charming, arriving at the Robinson’s spaceship bearing a bouquet of flowers for Maureen. Pretty soon though his real intentions become clear.

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A colorized still showing The Keeper meeting the Robinsons for the first time.

First he approaches Don and Judy, complimenting them at what a handsome couple they are and inviting them to become members of his collection. When they decline he urges them to “Think about it”.

Next he invites Penny and Will to his spaceship to view his collection. When the children enter The Keeper‘s spaceship they view all variety of birds, carnivores and what The Keeper refers to as his ‘masterpieces’.

There are also two empty cages (‘thermogenetic units’) When he urges Will and Penny to step inside them they run out of the spaceship. But The Keeper ‘summons ‘ them using his magic staff  (made of ‘weightless cosmic matter’) and Will and Penny begin walking back. Smith appears and causes The Keeper to inadvertently drop the staff. This breaks the spell and the children run to safety.

But The Keeper has not given up on his plans to add two humans to his collection. The next day he summons Will and Penny again using his magic, pulsing staff. Don and John go to The Keeper’s spaceship to get the children back. Their laser guns are  ineffective against The Keeper so Don uses Will‘s sling shot, shown earlier, to send a stone that hits the head of  The Keeper‘s staff, smashing it to bits. This again breaks the spell. John references the story of David vs Goliath when The Keeper asks “What just happened?”.

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A futuristic laser rifle or an old-school slingshot. What would be your weapon of choice against a goatee-beard wearing, pulsating-staff-carrying alien? In this episode old school comes out on top.

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In this episode, Will wants to know how The Keeper (Michael Rennie) is able to speak English. He says that he learned it from listening to broadcasts he had picked up from Earth.

Coincidental or not, this is identical to an explanation the character of ‘Klaatu’ (also played by Rennie) gave in the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

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Michael Rennie (1909 – 1971) as he appeared in the film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL fourteen years before playing the title role in the Lost In Space episode THE KEEPER.

Episode 15 – Return From Outer Space

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Penny discovers a machine that transports her and Debbie to another world. The robot adjusts the controls of the machine to bring them both back. Will uses the machine to send himself back to 1950’s era Earth. There he tries to contact Alpha Control to send a rescue team back to find the rest of the Robinsons.

Will meets up with a boy named Davey and his aunt Clara who invite him to be a member of their family. They serve him a glass of milk and a slice of apple pie. Others are not so welcoming. Will confronts a group of teenage boys who are naturally skeptical when he claims to have come from the future. Will is asked three questions by the youths to establish he is who he says he is –

(1) What’s a stellar interfermeter? (Will correctly answers it’s an instrument for measuring the diameter of stars).

(2) How many miles in a parsec? (Will answers 19 million). The correct answer is closer to 19 trillion miles.

(3) How far is it to Alpha Centauri? (Will answers 5.3 light years). Today scientists more closely estimate the distance between Earth and the star system known as Alpha Centauri to be 4.3 light years apart – that’s roughly 40 trillion kilometers. No current technology can propel an object or spaceship that distance. However back in 2016 Russian high-tech billionaire Yuri Milner announced a new initiative called Breakthrough Starshot, which intends to pour $100 million into proof-of-concept studies for an entirely new technology for star travel, aimed at unmanned space flight at 20% of light speed with the goal of reaching the Alpha Centauri system – and, presumably, its newly discovered planet Proxima b – within 20 years.

When he’s asked by Davey – “What’s space like?” Will answers –

“I do know that everything in the universe is made of the same molecules we are – they’re just rearranged differently that’s all”.

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Will must position himself on a snow-covered ledge next to a tree (the same place where the machine deposited him the previous day) at precisely midday in order to be beamed back to the planet on which the Jupiter 2 is marooned. He takes with him a bottle of carbon tetrachloride  (a colourless liquid with a sweet smell that used to be used in fire extinguishers and is still today a key ingredient in lava lamps, adding weight to the otherwise buoyant wax) which is needed for the Jupiter 2’s fuel supply.

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Actor Billy Mumy who played Will Robinson rates this episode as one of his Top Three Favourites of LOST IN SPACE.

I agree. This really is one of the standout episodes from the First Season.

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Episode 14 – Attack of the Monster Plants

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This episode is most definitely from the horticultural canon of LIS, of which there are at least a few.

Things kick off in dramatic fashion when Professor Robinson is pulled by the ankles by a leafy vine into a pit of quicksand. Major West comes to his assistance but is soon dragged in as well. Will comes to both of their rescues.

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Smith is again thrown out of the Robinson’s camp. Something about missing detronium canisters. He takes the robot with him. He encounters giant plants and discovers if he places an object inside them it can be duplicated. What he doesn’t realise at the time is that though the duplicates look identical to the originals, they are of poor, flawed quality and soon fall apart.

Meanwhile Judy falls asleep in one of the giant plants. She returns to the Jupiter 2 but it is the duplicate Judy. This imposter is very glum and quiet and acts strangely. Next morning the family wakes up to discover the ship is enveloped by a literal jungle of oversized plants. John and Don proceed to zap them with the lasers.

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Zap away!

Judy tries to intervene and in the struggle Professor Robinson finds marks on Judy‘s arm that show she is not the real Judy. They force Smith to take them to the real Judy. They rescue her from where she is still sleep inside the plant and return her to the camp.

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Marta Kristen (1945 – present), the Norwegian-born American actress who portrayed Judy, frequently cited this as her all-time favourite episode of LOST IN SPACE since she got to extend herself by playing ‘bad Judy‘.

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Twelve years after LOST IN SPACE ended, Marta Kristen appeared in a sci-fi movie called BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). I remember seeing this film at the cinema because unusually, it featured an actor with a not-so-attractive mole on his right cheek (that would never, ever be allowed to happen nowadays). The film included special effects created by James Cameron, four years prior to him directing THE TERMINATOR.

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This rundown of the film is given by British born director, screenwriter and editor Neil Marshall, who amongst other projects has helmed the forthcoming HELLBOY (2019) reboot as well as two episodes of the 2018 Netflix series LOST IN SPACEMarta Kristen can be seen in a 17 second segment that begins from the one and a half-minute mark where she is seated next to actor George Peppard (1928 -1994) looking at a… hot dog!

Episode 13 – One of our Dogs is Missing

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John, Don and Will travel away in the chariot and are soon hit by a meteor barrage.

Maureen, the girls and Smith are left to fend for themselves in the Jupiter 2. Maureen tries to rally the troops when she says -” We’re not going to start acting like helpless females.”

They soon acquire a little dog. Penny names him ‘Fella’. They conjecture how a dog got on an alien planet and wonder if it may be one of the dogs from the first test flights of the U.S Space Program (from as early as the late 1940’s).

Proving he and mental health have a very on-again off-again relationship, Smith believes the dog is an intelligent alien spy disguised as a dog. He starts talking to it about plans to return to Earth.

Meanwhile Smith disassembles all the laser guns but despite trying is unable to piece them back together. We then see a fang-toothed furry creature emerge from a sandpit-like swamp. I remember thinking as a child at this point, “They’re in serious trouble now”. 

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Smith can pull the laser guns apart in order to clean them but putting them back together again will take the brain power of the boy genius Will Robinson.

After a call on the two-way radio transmitter John, Don and Will cut their mission short and return in the chariot to the Jupiter 2. Will reassembles the laser guns and Don and John use them to subdue the creature who returns to the depths of the sandpit from which it came.

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The dog used in this episode of LOST IN SPACE bears a passing resemblance to the three-year old terrier named ‘Laika’ sent into space by Russia aboard the Sputnik 2 Soviet spacecraft on 3rd November 1957.