Lost in Space
The Complete First Season

Starring: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard and Jonathan Harris
20th Century Fox
RRP 49.99
Certificate: U
Available now

In 1997 the Robinsons, the first "space family" of interplanetary colonists, blast off in the
Jupiter 2 bound for a new home on Alpha Centauri. However, the mission is sabotaged by Dr Zachary Smith, an agent of a foreign power, who reprograms the ship's environmental control robot. When Smith is trapped aboard the Jupiter 2 just prior to launch, his additional weight sends the ship hurtling off course...

Lost in Space was never going to go down in history as an example of high-quality science fiction, with its array of daft-looking aliens, mom's space gauntlets, space chowder and space cookies, cosmic storms (whatever they are) and a comet that generates heat (see The Derelict), but nevertheless it's mostly great fun.

The original, unaired pilot, No Place to Hide, which is included on the final disc of this eight-DVD collection, attests to the vital contributions made by Dr Smith (Jonathan Harris) and the Robot (an uncredited Bob May). These characters are absent from the pilot, which takes itself a little too seriously and is somewhat lacking in terms of character interaction. Though expensive to produce, No Place to Hide couldn't pull off the illusion of a giant Cyclops, which ends up looking not very terrifying at all. The jaunty theme tune composed by John (then Johnny) Williams is also conspicuously absent, and instead we have a far moodier piece provided by the legendary movie musician Bernard Hermann.

With its now familiar music in place, together with the devious Dr Smith and the suspiciously emotional Robot, Lost in Space is a more easily digestible concoction. Smith's self-interest, cowardice and avarice are constant springboards for story development, comic relief, and tension between the characters. He manages to annoy each of his fellow travellers to one degree or another, though Major Don West (Mark Goddard) remains his most overtly hostile opponent.

This is not to say that the characters are incapable of dynamic interaction in the absence of Smith. For instance, tempers fray during The Hungry Sea, which depicts a bitter dispute between Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams) and Major West.

Nor is the series an entirely light-hearted affair. Dr Smith's potentially murderous actions in episodes such as the opening instalment The Reluctant Stowaway, Island in the Sky and Attack of the Monster Plants are truly despicable, while some of the alien creatures, most notably the guardian of the wishing machine in Wish Upon a Star, are genuinely creepy. Some episodes are quite moving too, including My Friend, Mr Nobody, in which Penny (Angela Cartwright) befriends a disembodied life force that learns to love her back; War of the Robots, in which the Robot confronts a deadly rival; and the final episode, Follow the Leader, which is boosted by an excellent performance by Guy Williams as the alien-possessed Professor Robinson.

Other highlights of this season include Return from Outer Space, a refreshing Christmas episode in which Will (Billy Mumy) is transported to small-town America. The Challenge is a pre-Star Trek tale of honour and endurance within a patriarchal culture, guest starring Michael Ansara as an alien ruler and a young Kurt Russell as his son. His Majesty Smith contains many classic scenes, with a duplicate of Dr Smith perplexing the space family by being hardworking and selfless!

On the other hand, the least impressive instalment in this collection is by far The Space Croppers, which features a party of hillbillies... and a werewolf that seems like a last-minute addition to the plot. One of Our Dogs is Missing isn't much better, featuring a monster that abruptly buggers off at the end of the show for reasons that aren't fully elaborated, and a space-travelling dog whose absence from subsequent episodes is entirely glossed over. The Lost Civilization is let down by a distinctly Flash Gordon look to its costume design and especially its moustachioed villain, Major Domo (Royal Dano).

One of the shortcomings of the series, which can actually be rather fun to watch out for, is its cost-cutting reuse of costumes and props, which can range from inventive to downright desperate. The Space Trader is one of the more desperate examples, making obvious reuse of not only the space capsule from Welcome Stranger but also the wishing helmet from Wish Upon a Star. Watch out also for the very familiar creatures that escape from the zoo in the two-part The Keeper. These include a man-sized version of the Cyclops from There Were Giants in the Earth and the alien from Wish Upon a Star, with added eyes. (The same creatures exit the Keeper's ship repeatedly, in a failed attempt to swell the ranks of the escapees.) More creative reuse takes place in His Majesty Smith, which recycles the impressive alien spaceship from The Derelict as a smaller piece of technology.

The quality of the presentation is mostly superb, though the enjoyment of The Oasis and The Keeper - Part 1 is let down by out-of-synch sound, while The Lost Civilization is marred by some uneven sound mixing.

As a point of interest, the print of Follow the Leader included in this box set is the version whose cliffhanger ending leads into the first episode of Season Two (the first one to be made in full colour), rather than the version that originally led into a rerun of the black and white Attack of the Monster Plants. Consequently the final few minutes of this season abruptly burst into brash and vivid colour - you may wish to turn down the colour on your TV set to lessen this shock to the senses!

There isn't much in the way of special features, but what we do get is essential viewing. The Smith-less unaired pilot is a fascinating item. In its desire to impress network executives, it crams in an array of threats to the survival of the Robinson family, including a meteorite shower, a crash landing, a giant Cyclops, freezing temperatures, creepy crumbling ruins and choppy seas. Most of this material was subsequently incorporated, not always seamlessly but often ingeniously, into the first five episodes of the series' broadcast run. The original five-minute promotional reel is also included.

Even without extras, there's no shortage of viewing pleasure to be had with this box set. The running time is longer than any season of more recent TV series because of the sheer number of episodes - 29 as opposed to the more common 22 of shows nowadays - and the duration of each episode - 49 minutes, which is considerably longer than the mere 42 minutes we so often have to make do with from programmes these days.

Whether you remember this show from the 1960s or from Channel 4's Sunday morning repeats in the '80s, this is a trip down memory lane that is well worth taking.

Richard McGinlay

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