Monday, November 1, 2010

Lost In Space S1 Ep8: Invaders From The Fifth Dimension

"At the 1964 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Irwin Allen previewed his new science fiction show, and Gene Roddenberry previewed his. The fans yawned through Lost In Space, but they gave the Star Trek pilot a standing ovation- a fact which puzzled Irwin Allen to no end. He couldn't see the difference between Roddenberry's show and his own."
David Gerrold penned these words in his Foreword: The Trouble With Trek for the book Boarding The Enterprise. In fact, the shows are remarkably different and that fan reaction to Lost In Space speaks volumes about the sophistication of viewers even in the 1960s.

Star Trek, with all its glorious color [Lost In Space would follow suit primarily in Season Two and Three to keep up with Star Trek and Batman], struck the unique balance of sophisticated science fiction storytelling and genuine entertainment. Lost In Space catered to the family market, but was grimly black and white lending it a serious and creepy tone for us young ones. Star Trek was reaching for something much bigger in thinking. People recognized this depth and responded to it immediately. While Star Trek was uniquely Star Trek and would establish THE science fiction template stranglehold that would inform us to this day, Lost In Space still had its place. The black and white cinema of the series never distracted me, even as a child, but the stories were certainly far simpler. I recall finding both Star Trek and Lost In Space equally accessible, but Star Trek always pushed the envelope and was far more complex thus challenging my tiny little mind in ways Lost In Space could not. Nevertheless, Lost In Space had its creepy, eerie moments of atmosphere and challenged my imagination. While Irwin Allen's classic family drama would never achieve the kind of influence Star Trek achieved, it still remains a nostalgic classic with solid, simple little tales, some of notable exception especially throughout Season One.

As Robert Spinrad put it in Star Trek In The Real World in Boarding The Enterprise, "Gene Roddenberry, unlike Irwin Allen, took science fiction seriously." Therein lies the difference. But didn't we love Lost In Space for what it was warts and all? Wasn't the ocassionally silly humor, weird science and relationship drama all part of the allure?

Writer D.C. Fontana felt so strongly about what was being achieved over at Star Trek, she and others referred to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Lost In Space as Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sink and Last In Space respectively in her article I Remember Star Trek... from Boarding The Enterprise. She admits, likewise, the folks behind Lost in Space probably had their names for Star Trek.

What's most interesting is that Lost In Space had a more definitively sci-fi approach in its first season. This is best exemplified by the scriptwriter behind Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 8, Invaders From The Fifth Dimension. Writer Shimon Wincelberg would make his final appearance for Lost In Space with this installment. It would be his sixth writing assignment. Wincelberg also penned two entries over at that OTHER show Star Trek: The Original Series with Dagger Of The Mind and personal favorite The Galileo Seven. It's worth noting that he penned those stories under the name S. Bar-David rather than Shimon Wincelberg as implemented here. Clearly Wincelberg had a hand in some of the finer stories to this first season of Lost In Space alongside his two Star Trek classics. Competetive streaks aside, this writing element is one point of fact the two shows shared in common early on.

Our fearless family, minus Dr. Zachary Smith, continues with their epic struggle of survival in space. An alien observes the family from a remote location. An incoming object is picked up on radar and Judy Robinson alerts her mother Maureen who alerts Major Don West. Don checks out the radar and the object is gone. The ladies are made to look silly and chalk it all up to their eyes playing tricks on them.The object lands and Dr. Smith observes it from a rock over yonder. The object scans the terrain. The cowardly Smith runs off after exposure to a high pitched sound, but is halted in his tracks by Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 8, Invaders From The Fifth Dimension.

Caught up in the beam an alien speaks in foreign tongue to Dr. Smith. The creature who lacks a mouth asks if he is “native” to the planet. Smith informs the creature he is not, but can take it to the Robinsons. As my son, the boy wonder pointed out, Smith “throws them under the bus.”

The alien needs a humanoid brain and tells Smith his primitive brain will do. All he needs is a portion of it. Such a move normally spells death.
Smith is transported instantly onto the alien probe vessel for examination. I love the simple effects back in the day when people were simply removed from the camera frame to convey the effect of teleportation.

Smith tries to manipulate the situation by offering a small, “marvelous” brain in the form of Will Robinson. He asks that they allow him a chance to deliver the brain. They tell Smith he exhibits “treachery and cunning” as he tries to shoot his ray gun on them. They simply take his gun away. Perhaps they don't want Smith's brain. That's not the smartest move.

Wisely, and somewhat unintentionally funny, the aliens allow Smith to get the smaller brain. Clearly a good decision. They beam him off the ship and back outside laying in the dirt. Why not just beam him out standing up? These aliens must have a sense of humor. He is given a metallic ball to guide him back to their ship. To ensure he does not cheat them they place a metallic band around his neck for control of their prey. Clearly their powers are limited in range otherwise they would simply beam whomever they'd like aboard their ship. Oddly, they have a much greater control of their victim via bracelet? It does appear to be slightly illogical. The logic must have been over at that OTHER show.
Will visits Robot who is acting as a “scarecrow” in the garden. Apparently there are birds on this alien planet. Alien birds of course, like those ostrich-like creatures spotted in Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 4, There Were Giants In The Earth. Smith approaches Robot and flinches in pain as his neck device flashes. More pain affects the evil Smith as he attempts to have Robot remove of it from his body.

Smith approaches Penny Robinson to lure her into his little plot. Since Will Robinson is unavailable, Penny will have to do. Don threatens Smith to stay away from the boy. “There is no hatred in my heart, only pity, sadness and pity.” He attempts a handshake and Don tells him to “just go.”Professor John Robinson returns and he is notified of the radar blip. Speaking of blips, where is our alien monkey friend lately? John wants to know why Robot didn’t stop Will and he gets a nice, fresh ass response. “I am not programmed for babysitting.” Ouch. Okay. Well, maybe you'll be deprogrammed. Careful there big fella. I also loved the brief spat between John and Don. They are both friends, but uneasy partners who are at each other's throats from time to time. They are indeed two strong, alpha males. The family separates in search of Will who is out seeking mineral resources. Smith is nearby Will when the old paingiver goes off. Smith needs to bust a move and acquire Will for the aliens if he plans to survive.

Smith begins to dramatically manipulate Will like a wounded animal ready for the kill. Smith informs Will that his family is in trouble by these alien invaders. An anxious Will inquires what they need to do to save them. Will suggests getting Don, but Smith frowns upon that idea. The element of surprise is the only option.

Professor Robinson calls out from the loudspeaker of the Chariot as they search for their son. Smith continues to play young Will like a fiddle. I can’t understand why he wouldn’t respond to his father over the advice of the diabolical, scheming Smith. The Chariot crew cannot find them. Maureen spots the alien vessel and points to it. It immediately disappears and John does not see it. Her eyes playing tricks on her again no doubt.

The aliens contemplate destroying the Chariot but a second alien voice cautions, “wait.”

The distance that Chariot travels must pack on the miles. Will would have had to walk for miles based on the evidence of its travels here. How far did Will go? Will begins to come to his senses and reckons he should contact his folks. Yes, that's a safe bet. Hanging out with Dr. Smith is tantamount to being abducted by a stranger. Smith takes Will’s walkie talkie and throws it into some quick sand or something. Meanwhile John is out searching with his jet pack at this point with no results.

After a time Will begins to catch on to Smith’s game and figures he is being duped. He still winds up apologizing to Smith for being suspicious of his behavior. Boy that Smith is good. He can turn the tables at the drop of a hat.

Elsewhere, Robot determines an alien presence. Robot tells John and Maureen it is an “anti-human” presence. “Destroy now?” asks one alien to another. “Not yet.” As odd as "anti-human" sounds, these aliens are clearly "anti-human."

Will asks Smith what the metallic ball is? It disappears. It would seem Smith and Will have arrived. Smith pushes Will toward the spacecraft and tells him to be brave. Clearly bravery is something with which Smith is in terribly short supply or flat out empty. Smith is pleased his plan is coming together, but he is zapped just the same. The aliens indicate Will’s brain is the perfect size, but has not been tested and they may need both brains. Oh, boy there goes the Smith plan. Smith convinces them to take off his neck harness, but he remains outside their ship.

Will is now on board the vessel. He is surrounded by Christmas tree tinsel. It is the kind we used to decorate our tree when I was a young boy. This show spares no expense with its effects and set decoration department. That's a joke, but in all seriousness the creators behind the show really did a splendid job with the look of the series back in the day. It's simple, but foreign and creepy enough to sell it. Inside the alien vessel it’s like the Dr. Who Tardis in there. It is much bigger inside than the outside would have you believe. Of course, this is the fifth dimension where size does not matter. The aliens note Will’s moral fiber is admirable. The aliens need Will’s “youth,” “freshness,” and “curiosity.” Will ensures he’s none of those things. I would too. Good call Will.

The Robinsons find Smith who tells them “they’ve got Will.” John knows Smith is a slimy snake in the grass and wants to know why the Robot’s brain wasn’t offered to the alien creatures. Well, maybe because Robot doesn't really have a brain, but I think I know what the professor means. John, Maureen and Smith, with Robot in tow, look for Will in the Chariot. Then a few moments later Don comes along in the jet pack. This is a full on kids’ episode as fas the excitement factor goes. The foursome has found the spaceship.

Classic lines:
Don: “So that’s the monster?”
Smith: “Now that doesn’t look very monstrous does it?”
Don: “Neither do you.” Nice one Don!

Robot alerts the group that the craft is surrounded by a force field in the fifth dimension that is “mathematically impossible.” John wants Robot to intervene and try to stop them. This is clearly an advanced group. Robot fires electrical charges at the ship and they bounce back and disable Robot. Will speaks to his family and tells them not to worry everything will be fine thanks to Dr. Smith. How Smith gets away with his shit week after week is a major miracle. He's like the ultimate escape artist.

The aliens demand Will do their bidding, but he is crying and the tears flow. The teardrops are affecting the consoles of the alien craft. Love, once again, saves the day for Will. The aliens call it a form of “madness.” He is considered useless by one of the aliens and will be released against the wishes of the other alien.

Will is left behind after the ship vanishes in an explosion. Will basically saves Dr. Smith by saying their plan worked. Smith runs off. The family laughs about the fact they wanted to take his brain. Yeah, funny stuff. Paraphrasing John Candy from Planes, Trains And Automobiles, 'We can laugh about it now we’re alright.' Seriously, you simply don't see these kinds of conclusions in a science fiction tale like the ones found on ST:TOS and that is because this is accessible, family-based, sci-fi drama with little to no desire to challenge the mind. This particular installment may want a brain, but the creators aren't entirely interested that we use them.

Back at the Jupiter II the family worries about their water supply given the planet's fluctuating heat extremes. As Don and Judy make efforts to insulate the water supply to prevent evaporation they hear something. No worries, that’s just a rock avalanche!

Lunch is ready and an earthquake hits. Here come the rocks. Now, in what appears to be one of Don’s less-than-genius moments. He refuses to take cover and get Judy to safety and continues to work on equipment that is clearly sure to be crushed by the wobbling rocks above. What the hell is he thinking? Just moronic. We are left literally with a cliffhanger or rather a cliff hanging and ultimately falling and we will need to tune in next week to determine whether Don wises up and actually survives or if the boulder crushes him and his foolhardy decision.

In the end, we really don’t know all that much about the invaders fromt he fifth dimension. We don't know any more about them than we did when they arrived. We know they wanted a brain. They kind of look cool with the absence of a physical mouth. They are smart, they are powerful and they are from another dimension. They are from the fifth dimension. That about covers it. That’s all folks for Lost In Space and the latest exciting entry.

TO BE CONTINUED... Same Time, Same BLOG! [okay, not the same time]

Invaders From The Fifth Dimension: C+
Director: Leonard Horn
Writer: Shimon Wincelberg
Director Footnote: Leonard Horn [1926-1976]. The Director brings an eerie sensibility to the proceedings in his sole entry into the Lost In Space cannon here. That vibe is quite evident. He directed three entries for The Outer Limits [1963]. Horn directed four popular episodes of Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. He directed in police dramas like The Rookies and even an episode of The Mod Squad. Horn also directed the Pilot film for Wonder Woman [1975]. He passed away at a youthful 49 years old.

Writer Footnote: Shimon Wincelberg [1924-2004]. German born writer. Wincelberg also went by the name S. Bar-David and variations thereof. He penned classic Star Trek: The Original Series episodes The Galileo Seven [a personal favorite] and Dagger Of The Mind as S. Bar-David with the latitude to write solid science fiction. This entry, Invaders From The Fifth Dimension, would be the final of six episodes penned by Wincelberg for Season One of Lost In Space. His influence is significant on what is considered to be the best season of the series.


John Kenneth Muir said...


Another terrific, insightful post.

Lost in Space has its own charm, which distinguishes it from Star Trek in many meaningful ways. Not all sci-fi shows need to be identical. Thank Heaven.

Just as you aptly note, the black-and-white cinematography, the irrationality/fairy-tale aspects of some episodes, and the focus on the family all contribute to a unique and pleasant viewing experience. Especially the first season.

It's been fashionable in fandom for a long time to dismiss Lost in Space (ditto Space:1999), but LIS remains remarkably entertaining and my four-year old Joel and I enjoy watching it together when we can.

Great retrospective!


SFF said...

Thank you John.... and by the way, despite its shortcomings, and they are few, as you said "Thank heaven" science fiction isn't identical, Lost In Space is still infinitely more watchable than Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When you step back and consider how many times you've watched Lost In Space and how entertaining it is and then step back and consider re-watching Season One of ST:TNG.... shudder... perish the thought. And that is my only point, ST:TNG is sorely lacking on entertainment value.

Lost In Space, as you said, still charming after all these years.

John Kenneth Muir said...

SFF: You know, I couldn't agree more with what you just wrote.

TNG lectures viewers to the point of boredom and irritation; Lost in Space entertains...fancifully and delightfully (again, I focus this remark mostly on the first season, which is my favorite).


SFF said...

Absolutely John.

In fact, I base these comments exclusively on the evidence of both Season One of Lost In Space and Season One of ST:TNG in fairness.


le0pard13 said...

Fine post and examination of the episode and series. Especially with that first season, I was enthralled as a kid watching these shows each week. Heck, one only needed to wait a year till Star Trek:TOS debuted for more serious sci-fi. Still, like JKM said, it has its own charm. Thanks, SFF.

SFF said...

There's definitely a whole different vibe and speed to Lost In Space. You can see where Star Trek arrived in color that show must have seemed so vibrant and bursting with life in comparison in the 1960s.

Thanks so much L13.

Anonymous said...

I think it's best to look at Lost in Space as a space fantasy, and not so much as space sci-fi. Though, to be fair, it started out pretty well as a sci-fi show. In the end, Irwin Allen didn't give a damn about science. But what held the show together were the characters and the deeper themes the show explored.

Some of the episodes reach this "fable" level where moral lessons are taught through fairy tale-like stories. That's kind of what happened in this episode. Though it worked better in other episodes I think.

Follow the Leader is a particularly great example of this. I really love that ending where John talks about love being the most powerful force in the universe. It gets me right here, haha. But yeah, you've mentioned that the stories on Lost in Space were quite a bit more simplistic than those on Star Trek, and that that's a big part of the charm. I agree. Star Trek and Lost in Space are both great. Come to think of it, I think Lost in Space has a lot more in common with Star Wars than it does Star Trek.

Can't wait to see your review of the Keeper two-parter. Outside of the first 5 episodes, I think it and Follow the Leader are the best episodes of season 1.

Anonymous said...

Ah, didn't notice that John already mentioned the "fairy tale" aspect. Good call John.

SFF said...

Hard to argue with any of your commentary Crowmagnumman [that's a tough one to right]. Honestly you nail it!

Never mistake my comparisons as a slight on Lost In Space. I love it for its purity and its character/ family drama! Perfect. Very different in that way from ST:TOS. Both hold special places in my heart and I agree with you on that scene with John. John Robinson imparted some of the most tender words of wisdom on the show lending it a nice balance from the conniving Smith especially in Season One.

Glad you found this site and I'm simply thrilled to have you on board. It's inspiration my friend.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, no worries. I figured I was kind of preaching to the choir anyway. :)

I'm glad I found the site too. I'll definitely be checking your blog fairly regularly now.

SFF said...

Well, welcome then. I'm happy to have you contributing here. Thanks Crowmagnumman. Take care, SFF.

Anonymous said...

Lost in Space did not "follow suit" to keep up with Star Trek in its "glorious color." Lost in Space was on the air in the 1965-1966 season, a year before Star Trek appeared. The switch to color in season two had nothing to do with Star Trek as that show had not even been on the air yet (nor had Batman for that matter).

Also, David Gerrold is always so anti-LIS that anything he writes is suspect ("fans yawned through Lost in Space..."). The purported "fan reaction" speaks "nothing." During their respective three year runs, LIS was a modest ratings success and Star Trek had consistently poor ratings. LIS was set for year 4, but Irwin objected to CBS budget cuts and that was that. Star Trek, almost canceled after two years, was toast after three.

SFF said...

Thank you for the additional comments. I will definitely have to check my timeline on that one.

I suspected color was a huge influence on television at the time, but perhaps the dateline, as you mentioned, proves it wrong.

I knew about the Irwin Allen budget cutting, the ratings and the fact Star Trek was nearly cancelled a few times.

Thanks for your perspective on the Gerrold quote.

It was definitely meant as another interesting perspective. We can find flaw in all of these wonderful series, but I love them all for many reasons and Lost In Space is no exception.

Take care, SFF

CoCo99 said...

I have found the only place where THE robot is not called THE robot.

No flowing robes on these aliens, as Maureen herself exclaims, "No bodies!"

I have a question. Maybe a silly, stupid one, but here goes:

Do you remember a villain on the Underdog cartoon series named "Simon Bar Sinister"? I have never known what that was supposed to mean, and now your comments have me thinking it is some kind of pun on Shimon Bar-David.

SFF said...

Hello and my apology for the delay in writing but I needed the time to respond properly. Thank you.

First thanks for noticing. I try to remain true to source material and Robot was always Robot NOT The Robot and so I made every effort to articulate that correctly.

Will never summoned by saying "Have The Robot" do this or that. It was "Robot"

So, yes, I really like to see the proper references when I read something and I appreciate that you noticed.

We don't call this Musings Of A Sci Fi Fanatic for nothing right? Ha.

So, I remember Simon Bar Sinister very well. And I guess the answer to that would be to determine who was involved in the writing for Underdog. Therein lies the answer to that question I suspect or maybe some association of that series who also knew that person. You may very well be on to something.

I just don't know much about Underdog and the people behind it but I wonder if there is some information out there.

Thanks very much for stopping.

construct09 said...

Love the alien spacecraft, certainly looks like something H. R. GIGER would have imagined.
I wonder whos design it was?

SFF said...

Interesting. Good question. Imagine such designs may have inspired Giger himself.