With a show set in a future that is now the past, it would be easy to simply pick apart the inaccuracies and laugh at the technology (and ask the age-old question, “Where is my jetpack?”) But I won’t do that. I’m going to examine the pilot of Lost in Space for what it is—a first episode designed to introduce the premise for a series.
Okay, I lied. First I have to make fun of one thing.
It’s 1997 as the Robinson family is being loaded aboard the Gemini 12 for a 100-year voyage to Alpha Centauri where they hope to colonize a sort of overflow zone for the bustling Earth. By setting this technologically advanced endeavor in 1997, the creators showed great faith and ambition in the abilities of mankind. Not so much for womankind. This is “the first time in history that anyone but an adult male has passed the International Space Administration’s grueling physical and emotional screening.” They could foresee space colonization but not female astronauts? Crikie.
Dr. John Robinson (Guy Williams), his wife Dr. Maureen Robinson (June Lockhart), their three children, Judith, Will, and Penny, and their assistant Donald are put into suspended animation and launched into space. An 11-minute introduction explains all of the circumstances, narrated by a news anchor. The mood is ominous as the world watches a historic moment. The set is a busy space station, filled with tense-looking individuals and complicated-looking machinery. The mood as the ship lifts off is more somber than celebratory. Shortly after launch, the ship encounters an asteroid field, it’s passengers are jostled around in their slumber, and the Gemini 12 is reported lost in space.
The tone then shifts as we jump ahead to 2001 and find the Robinsons surviving on a distant planet. The set up for this section is also narrated, as Dr. Robinson reads from a journal. At last, 12 minutes in, we hear the characters speak on screen and finally start to get a sense of their personalities.
Spooky music continues the air of foreboding introduced in the opening, but there are moments of levity. The children bicker and goof off, like any siblings. The whole family falls instantly into societal patterns recognized by the show’s 1960s audience. Mother and older sister prepare dinner and do laundry, the younger kids play with toys and pets, and the menfolk work outside the home.
What we know about the planet is that it has extremes in temperature, a variety of flora and fauna, and at least one sea. And as in nearly all science fiction shows, the air pressure, oxygen level and gravity are exactly comparable to Earth. We can assume it’s not Alpha Centauri, since our heroes have journeyed for just three years to get there (and because Alpha Centauri is a star system, not a planet, but there I go nitpicking). Nevertheless, the Robinsons seem to have brought all the right equipment.
The homestead is complete with appliances and alien pets. Things are powered with solar batteries. (Why couldn’t Gilligan’s castaways have thought of that?) The show has fun demonstrating the fantastical advances of the future. The washing machine, for example, washes, dries, and packages clothes in plastic wrapping all in seconds.
Naturally there is a hook-up in the works between 19-year-old daughter Judith and the hot young Ph.D. How could her parents not have seen that coming? Shark jumping is inevitable with a cast of six.
By the end of the episode, the travelers have stumbled upon some kind of tomb that suggests other human-like beings live here, or did. So, it looks like they will have plenty left to discover, enough to last a few seasons. The action is intense and some of the special effects aren’t terrible. The episode leaves us in suspense, always a strong move for a pilot. This is actually an unaired pilot, so there is a character not introduced until the actual pilot. Either way, it stokes the imagination—even today—and sets the stage for high adventure. And unlike its contemporary Star Trek, it introduces characters for each member of the family to relate to. So if you can suspend your disbelief in accept it as fantasy, it’s pretty fun.