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The History of That Classic Show Lost in Space

Lost in Space cast

The 1960s is a great and fascinating decade for early sci-fi television shows, which have now become camp favorites and cult classics. One of them is Lost in Space, which was originally broadcast on CBS from 1965 to 1968.

Lost in Space is about a pioneering family, the Robinsons, who get stranded in outer space after their spaceship Jupiter 2 was sabotaged and got thrown off-course. The series follows the family’s everyday lives and struggles to survive in the depths of outer space.

Origins

Lost in Space was created and produced by Irwin Allen. This sci-fi series was a loose adaptation of the 1812 Johann David Wyss novel The Swiss Family Robinson, and a sci-fi comic book Space Family Robinson, which was likewise influenced by the same novel. Throughout its three-year broadcast, the show aired for 83 episodes.

The series was conceptualized in 1965 with the filming of a pilot episode, “No Place to Hide,” which remained unaired. The plot of the unaired episode begins with the mission of a spacecraft, named Gemini 12, which was to take a typical suburban family on a 98-year journey to an earth-like planet that was orbiting the star Alpha Centauri. But the spacecraft encountered an asteroid and got thrown off-course, and the subsequent story followed the lives and adventures of a regular American family in the outer space.

CBS turned down Star Trek in favor of Lost in Space. Because of the limited budget, a considerable part of the unaired pilot episode was carefully reworked into the early series episodes.

At one time, the show competed with ABC’s Batman head-on, as it also aired on the same time slot. To keep up with the ratings, Lost in Space season two began to copy Batman’s campy humor with bright and garish outfits, over-the-top action scenes, and outrageously preposterous villains. The rest of the season remains whimsical as Jupiter 2 starts to become functional again, enabling the Robinson family to fly from one planet to another. After the series was canceled, it went on to enjoy successful reruns and syndication airings.

Main cast

Here is the series’ cast of characters and the actors who played them:

  • Dr. (or Professor) John Robinson (played by Guy Williams) – the expedition commander, astrophysicist and the family patriarch.
  • Dr. Maureen Robinson (played by June Lockhart) – a biochemist who is the wife of Dr. John Robinson and mother of the Robinson children who also does the typical housemaker duties. She is also seen as a sympathetic character.
  • Major Don West (played by Mark Goddard) – the pilot of Jupiter 2.
  • Judy Robinson (played by Marta Kristen) – the eldest child of the Robinson brood.
  • Penny Robinson (played by Angela Cartwright) – the middle child who loves animals and classical music.
  • Will Robinson (played by Billy Mumy) – the youngest child who shows prodigious abilties in electronics and computers technology.
  • Dr. Zachary Smity (played by Jonathan Harris) – Alpha Control’s flight surgeon (in the first episode) and later referred to as “Doctor of Intergalactic Environmental Psychology.” He is also an expert on cybernetics and is also an enemy agent.
  • The Robot (played by Bob May) – The nameless control is known for its superhuman strength and futuristic weaponry, and is also capable of exhibiting human emotions.

Although the series primarily focuses on the Robinson family, many of its later storylines centered on Dr. Zachary Smith (played by Jonathan Harris). Dr. Smith was originally written as an evil doctor who sabotaged Jupiter 2 but is later portrayed as the ineffectual troublemaker who provides comic relief for the series and causes much of misadventures and conflicts.

As character development in the show unfolds, Dr. Smith becomes the show’s pivotal character, despite being credited as “Special Guest Star” on each episode.

Props and costumes

As typical with sci-fi movies and television shows during that time, props and costumes were recycled due to budget considerations. For instance, a sea monster outfit that had been used in another sci-fi series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was simply applied with a spray paint to be used for Lost in Space. Conversely, the Lost in Space space monster costumes would be recycled and reused as Voyage sea monsters.

Spacecraft models were also extensively reused. For instance, the stranded Jupiter 2 spaceship in the first season was later re-designed as Vera Castle in the third season. The fuel barge in the second season was re-used as Space Lighthouse in the third season. Jupiter 2 was repainted with a different color to be used for the third season.

Legacy and cultural impact

Lost in Space was one of the most popular shows during its original broadcast and continues to enjoy favorable reception on its reruns and syndication airings. One of the famous catchphrases come from Robot’s oft-repeated lines like “Warning! Warning!” and “It does not compute.” Smith’s frequent jibes of the Robot, such as “You Bubble-Headed Booby!”, “Cackling Cacophony,” and “Tin-Plated Traitor,” etc. were also popular.

Smith seems to have thrown the most popular catchphrases in the series, for instance, his trademark lines such as “Oh the pain… the pain!” and “Never fear, Smith is here!” Another famous catchphrase is “Danger, Will Robinson!”, which the Robot would say whenever he warns the young Will Robinson about an impending threat.

The original series has been adapted a few times. A 1998 theatrical film adaptation was directed by Stephen Hopkins and featured an all-star cast, which included Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, and Heather Graham. A more modern version of the original TV series, also titled Lost in Space, premiered on Netflix on April 13, 2018, and is still running as of this writing.

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