Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lost In Space S1 Ep15: Return From Outer Space

"Bye Ant Clara, thanks for everything."
-Will Robinson leaving Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont to return home away from home-

The latest covered installment of Lost In Space, Season OneEpisode 15, Return From Outer Space actually arrives amidst an air of sadness within the Lost In Space family with the passing of actress Sheila Mathews Allen (1929-2013).  Allen, the wife of the late Irwin Allen, passed away on Friday, November 15, 2013.  She was 84.  Oddly enough, I actually penned this entry on Saturday, the day after her passing with no knowledge that she had gone.  It was all purely coincidental. And I add this preface after the fact having discovered this information via the Lost In Space Mailing List.  I simply had no idea.  It's nice to be able to acknowledge that loss here.  She makes her first of three appearances in the Lost In Space series beginning here with Return From Outer Space.  Hers is a small role, but she does add a touch of class to an exceptional entry from the series.

To begin, it's always a pleasure to see the return of Debbie the Bloop who muddles along with a series of her trademark 'Blips' as she returns for a brief moment from her appearance in Attack of The Monster Plants.

Penny Robinson, Debbie and the others happen upon the Taurons' Matter-Transfer Unit.  The alien Taurons family appeared in Lost In Space, S1, Ep10, The Sky Is Falling.  So there is indeed a nice bit of serial continuity there.

Performances are universally solid and natural here led by what amounts to a Billy Mumy star vehicle rather reminiscent of those wonderful slice of sci-fi life The Twilight Zone episodes.

Penny and Debbie inadvertently trigger the Matter-Transfer Unit and disappear only to fortunately return a very short time later with no recollection of leaving unlike the escapade Will Robinson himself would soon experience.  The juxtaposition of those two disappearances and Penny and Will's personal experience with them doesn't stand up to reason, but we accept it.  Penny doesn't recall leaving her family, but Will makes an adventure out of it.

Perhaps my memory alludes me, but Return From Outer Space may be the first time the planet of Priplanis is mentioned as the home of the stranded Robinson family.

Before long Will working with The Robot vanishes utilizing the Matter-Transfer Unit.  He disappears and travels all the way to the fictional town of Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont. Vermont rocks. How and why Will landed there we will never know.  He tells a young boy, Davy Simms, upon his arrival that he travelled all the way from Priplanis. The Simms role was originally slated for Kurt Russell but instead Russell would later appear in Lost In Space, S1, Ep22, The Challenge.

Will attempts a call to Alpha Control. Hardly a soul believes any of Will's story which comes off like a wild little tall tale.  The episode plays a bit like It's A Wonderful Life (1946), Lost In Space-style as Will attempts to convince the locals of who he is in much the same way George Bailey made efforts to convince those in Bedford Falls of who he was. Will arrives and snow is abound along with Christmas trees.  It's all doubly fitting and even gets you excited about Christmas.

Davy's Aunt Clara attempts to humor and placate Will. She even reminisces about the Robinsons' big take off a year earlier from the overcrowded, overpopulated Earth - but apparently not in Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont.  God blessed all those syrup-lickers and cheese-eaters and if things get ugly on this here planet you will find The Sci-Fi Fanatic there clutching a plastic bottle of dark amber and homemade root beer.  Simply no one believes Will is a Robinson family member or that he arrived via maser beam. It may seem hard to swallow that people don't recognize a member of this relatively famous family, but memories are indeed short so I might be able to swallow that.  Do you remember the crews of a given NASA space flight?

The locals perceive Will to be spinning a pretty interesting "yarn."

A local reporter even plans to run Will's cute and crazy little story and perhaps caution parents to guide their children to steer clear of excessive science fiction stories or serious consequences could ensue like this.  I know I missed the memo on that one. Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic would be in a great deal of hot water in 1965.

Back on Priplanis, the Robinsons are concerned about Will's whereabouts but also intend on destroying the Matter-Tranfer Unit.  The Robot confirms he must maintain a fixed position with the Tauron unit (or he knows Will may never return from Earth). It is imperative Robot not abandon his post.

Back in Vermont, Will is dangerously close to becoming a new addition to the Hatfield Home for Boys.

A gang of those troubled boys quiz Will too disbelieving he is actually part of the first space family.  Will answers everything with sharp scientific accuracy.  He's a boy genius remember yet no one believes him. It does speak to the difficulty one has of proving something know to be true to others when people have a predetermined set of established beliefs.

Will is desperate to make a phone call to Alpha Control with the coordinates of his family's location and time is running out. Will grabs any phone he happens upon, but with the great cost associated with phone calls he is often intercepted from making that call.

Will proves that adults can be pretty close-minded or at least have difficulty believing the truth from a young person.

The town council meets and no one is willing to trust Will Robinson to make a crackpot call they believe to be nothing more than a delusional or overactive imagination of a young boy who has read too many comic books and may be obsessed with science fiction.

Will, while not making much head way with the locals, happens upon a bottle of Carbon Tetrachloride (89 cents) at a local druggist shop and steals it for his family who need it desperately as a chemical for food preservation back on Priplanis.

The sheriff reckons Will is nothing more than the biggest storyteller and locks him up over at Ms. Simms' house in a bedroom.  Ms. Simms offers to make Will part of her family.

Will is simply beside himself Lost In Vermont so to speak and saddened without his family.

Doctor Zachary Smith's efforts to abscond with Robot and reprogram him to prevent him from reporting of his devious ways to the Robinsons continue to fail.  But really, like that really matters at this point. Smith outright lies to Mrs. Robinson at the beginning of the episode and is caught in the lie literally with egg on his face, an alien egg he lies about as he serves himself an omelet.  Smith cannot and should not be trusted him nor should Smith worry about his already incredibly stained and tarnished reputation or lack of character.

Definitely not The Little Rascals (1922-1944).

So Robot launches on back to the Matter-Transfer beam warning Smith to stay back with his fierce display of electrical charges. There is one moment when Robot is whisking away and it's the fastest I've ever seen him move. If you look carefully you can see the ground move a little in the sequence.  He literally is on a kind of board or track.

Thanks to the open mind of Davy Simms he connects with Will and sets him free and escorts him back to his departure point for noon.  He even runs in to the druggist to get Will his Carbon Tetrachloride.

Upon his return to his family back safely on Priplanis he informs his Robinson family of efforts he tried to call Alpha Control but they all thought he was "some kind of nut." Only the Robinsons are just like the folks of Hatfield Four Corners. They have difficulty believing Will was actually in Vermont and often chock up his stories to youthful imagination despite his honesty and impeccable character.  What is with these parents in the 1960s?  Poor Will just can't catch a break.  Bill Mumy was indeed an incredibly good and just adorable child actor.  He may not have it today, but as a kid Mumy just had such presence and literally owned the screen.  The kid was was working on a Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963) and My Three Sons (1960-1972) level for Lost In Space. He was just a pleasure.  No wonder the show acquired a loyal fan base.

Sheila Allen Mathews (1929-2013).

So, even returning with an actual bottle from a Vermont country store wasn't convincing enough for his skeptical family.

Ultimately, the Matter-Transfer Unit explodes, but not before Will has returned safe and sound.

The Epilogue sees the final minutes hint of things to come in the two-parter The Keeper.  Glass cages lure creatures from the planet including that animal Dr. Smith.

Return From Outer Space is like a breath of fresh air following the wilting Attack Of The Monster Plants.  There is some genuinely strong character moments for Will Robinson, Dr. Smith, The Robot, Maureen Robinson and even Major Don West. Not to mention the bulk of the episode takes place in the fictional town of Hatfield Four Corners Vermont with some wonderful interaction between Will and its colorful cast of guest characters that sort of transport us back in time to a period in the world when life wasn't so massively fucked up (excuse my French).  I mean simpler. Of course I wouldn't be writing on a computer either.

Again, there's an almost Bedford Falls-like quality to it and for that reason it's a joy to watch Will desperately struggle to get through to someone in that quaint little, quiet and beautiful town.

We identify with his exasperation in affecting a change in someone's mind that they might believe the plight of this young stranger.  Not only is he young but he's also a stranger.  No one remembers who was on that fateful Robinsons flight but they all understand and recall the magnitude of the event.  There is a real sense of struggle here as Will literally races against the clock.  When you consider the things he logically attempts within his allotted time it all makes perfect sense.

Though unable to contact Alpha Control he does make it home. After all home is where the heart is and his is with his family on Priplanis.  How fascinating he would feel more comfortable in alien space than amongst the strangers of Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont.  But isn't that true of anyone?  We are very much creatures of our environment.

It's unfortunate the entire family couldn't have taken the Matter-Transfer Unit a little more seriously.  It should have been studied, experimented with and ultimately utilized to transfer all of their asses back to Earth.  What is going on?  The Robinsons are scientists after all, but alas that would be the end of our Lost In Space story.

Plot holes like this one aside, Return From Outer Space is a terrific little entry proving that taking risks in science fiction like this one can pay dividends and lead to massive rewards.  Lost In Space and other science fiction stories genuinely succeed when they are willing to break from script and offer something original and refreshing like this.

Return From Outer Space is undeniably a solid entry from Peter Packer and one that, like the brief appearance of Debbie the Bloop at the beginning, blip, blip, blips its way onto the radar with something really unique and different before returning us to the world of Priplanis. It remains an absolute highlight from Season One and I cannot for the life of me remember seeing this one along the way. For awhile, through Will Robinson, it felt like we were home.  Psychologically, being back with family on Priplanis is more likely his personal return from outer space.

SORRY! To Be Continued. Same Unpredictable Time. Same Unpredictable Blog.

Return From Outer Space: A.
Writer: Peter Packer.
Director: Nathan Juran.

The episode is also notable for the first appearance of Irwin Allen's wife, Sheila Allen Mathews (1929-2013).  She would appear in one episode each season including The Space Vikings (Season Two) and Princess Of Space (Season Three). She was married to Allen in 1974 until his passing.  They were married from 1974-1991.

Oddly enough this post was originally penned on November 16, 2013.  Little did I know at the time of its writing that Sheila Matthews Allen had passed away the day before.  This is posted in her memory.


eddie lydecker said...

This is a great episode but ultimately it was still the hilarious antics of Smith and the robot that i remembered most.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Totally fair enough. This is so different from that dynamic, but that was certainly a winning formula.

steve said...

I remember watching this episode and thinking that Will had been transported 70 years back in time before Alpha Control even existed. I was shocked when it was revealed that the locals knew about AC and the Robinson family. Just didn't jive.

El Vox said...

I enjoy Lost in Space on occasion. It's too bad that they couldn't go beyond the formulaic trappings, however, it would have been a greater SF series had they attempted to have do so. Why if I had been the Robinsons I would have dumped Dr. Smith (without the robot) on a planet and left him early on.

My favorite Billy Mumy story is It's A Good Life on the Twilight Zone about a freakish kid with God-light powers. It also has that Bedford Falls feel to it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I love those Twilight Zone episodes and especially the Bill Mumy ones. Well said.

You know, I really loved Lost In Space as a kid, but as an adult I can see where Dr. Smith wears a little thin. He was never a distraction or a detractor for the series as a child of course which is why he was so popular but today I could with a little less Smith.

thanks El Vox.

And Steve, good point, I see what you mean.


Anonymous said...

Great Blog!

Interestingly, once Will arrives back on Earth (Vermont) the theme music played is from the movie, "Miracle on 34th Street."
I believe the episode was the 'Christmas episode' in the original 1965 CBS broadcast.


Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you Matt for the nice comment.

That makes sense. What a terrific little Christmas episode. Great stuff
from Season One.

all the best