Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lost In Space S1 Ep13: One Of Our Dogs Is Missing

"Guy Williams and I did have scenes of intimacy in the beginning. Great affection was shown, hand-holding and kisses-in the Pilot; it's all there. But the word came down from CBS that we were not to touch each other because, they said, it embarrassed children watching at home to see the parents kissing."

-June Lockhart [Starlog Magazine #198] recalling the cast's efforts to infuse the show with a family warmth she experienced growing up-

As if Mark Goddard and Marta Kristen ever had a chance.  I mean if John and Maureen were restricted from the occasional snuggle, there was no chance for Don and Judy fulfilling anything more than a hot glance. It would become increasingly evident which audience CBS was aiming the series at most.  In fact, physical interaction between Maureen and John as well as Don and Judy is kept entirely to a minimum and mostly through radio communications in One Of Our Dogs Is Missing.  Don was never given the chance to be a real dog.

Lost In Space is hands down a classic. It's a phenomenon that has stood the test of time. It may not have the same cryogenic legs of Star Trek: The Original Series, but as science fiction series go Lost In Space has maintained a certain stamina of its own. Star Trek legs have been big, strong and able to regenerate new muscles in the form of additional Trek enterprises. Lost In Space may have spindly, thin, chicken legs but those legs keep on huffing and remain mighty.

The fact is both series lasted three seasons and Lost In Space pre-dates Star Trek serving up some real inspiration for the imagination. I LOVE Lost In Space like a brother. It is a beautiful series in all its flawed splendor, but that's certainly part of its charm. The cast, the stories, the powerful scoring, the set details, the gorgeous black and white cinematography and that indefinable family magic. It's all there.

As the serial saga that is Lost In Space continues, it picks up where it left off at the end of Episode 12, The Raft with Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 13, One Of Our Dogs Is Missing. Professor John Robinson, Major Don West and young Will Robinson with Robot have work to do in The Chariot setting up microwave relay stations. The fateful battle cry of Robot, "DANGER!" rings out as a fiery meteor storm rains down upon them. It takes minutes before John's instruction to Don for him to finally take cover.

The "devious" Dr. Zachary Smith suspects, not a meteor shower, but a "barrage" or rather the first volley of a potential alien invasion. Maureen Robinson believes otherwise and plans to search for the men in the morning.

Maureen, Penny and Judy Robinson along with Smith explore steaming crater holes in their search for the others. The set is a glorious realization of the aftermath of a meteor shower made credible with terrific set designs. John is displeased they are far from the Jupiter 2. The Chariot has suffered some damage to its communications but everyone is fine.

After their goodbyes, Penny has stumbled upon an outer space craft of some kind. The wreck is warm but deserted. As they walk away [timing is everything], from deep within the sandy crater, a monstrous growl awakens. Upon returning to the Jupiter 2, Smith discovers the intruder has taken their... wait for it... "ham."

Once the ladies have set up the force field for the evening, they test its ability to protect by casting an object into it and watching it explode. God forbid someone sleep walks into that thing at night.

In the evening the ladies wake to the sound of a howling beast or dog. We even catch Maureen in a rare moment where her hair is straight down to her shoulders standing in a nighttime gown. Smith arrives adorned in a nightgown and holding a candle and a holster full of weapons. It is indeed official, if there was any doubt at all regarding Smith as the Lost In Space coward, he more than confirms it here. He races back into his room upon hearing the second howl of the beast.

The next morning Judy and Maureen are sporting ray guns and looking relatively bad ass. Apart from finding a sample of skin and fur, Maureen and Judy stumble upon a small dog. It's like Lassie [1954-1973; 19 seasons; co-starring June Lockhart 1959-1964] all over. Between Debbie the Bloop, llama-like creatures in their makeshift farm and this new dog, the space family Robinson really are beginning to look like that domesticated family set against a science fiction backdrop creators were shooting for.

As they exit the crater area, a beast, signalling a move toward the monster of the week formula, rises from the sand and ash of the crater hole.

Penny quickly moves to vote for keeping the dog. Penny is the family pet acquirer.  Every family has one of these.  My brother was this person.  Each week he would come home with a parakeet, snakes, fish, hamsters, chinchillas and dogs.  Warm-blooded wasn't a requirement, but if it had a heartbeat it might be living under our roof within hours.

The Robinson family is dubious, and the elusive question seems to be where did the dog come from? After some time, Judy finally asks. Maureen seems more than willing to accept they've come across a dog in deep space. Maureen does wonder who was on that discovered space capsule unless dogs can fly. I suppose we can be thankful that her inquisitive professional mind is still functioning normally alongside the need for her maternal instinct.

Smith is greeted at the Jupiter 2 by the incessant barking of the dog, a clearly sharp dog with a genuine instinct for distrust. Even man's best friend knows to question Smith.

Later Judy analyzes the skin/ fur sample and notes it's clearly not canine. Maureen refers to John's journals.  His diary reflects his fear of mutants on the planet. He also makes reference to the giants as witnessed in Episode 4, There Were Giants In The Earth, which is a genuine moment of real continuity for the series. John's journals discuss mutants with the ability to absorb and grow and potentially "absorb one of us." Okay.  Scary enough.  I'm not exactly sure where the professor came up with that hypothesis, but he did and he's got the girls a little on edge as a result. Maureen calmly calls it "only a theory" without "proof" and that's the most logical deduction to make on those journal entries. A little panicked the ladies check on the force field which is unfortunately drained and in need of a charge.

The dog has now gone missing and run off with one of the laser guns.  Was the intention of One Of Our Dogs Is Missing to have more than one dog?  Penny has given chase with a search for him. She is called back to the Jupiter 2 before bumping into the Lost In Space mutant, a man with fur and two plastic fanged teeth and horns. He's clearly not quite as scary as that bellowing growl would have you believe.  He looks a bit like the Cowardly Lion but without the budget or the details. In fact, June Lockhart once took a publicity photo with the actor in costume whereby the zipper was exposed.  Lockhart then referred to the monster as "The Horny Mutant," according to Lost In Space: The ultimate Unauthorized Trivia Challenge written by James Hatfield and George Burt.

Darkness is falling and Maureen wants Judy and Penny back home. Inside the Jupiter 2 Smith has disassembled all of the weapons and Maureen is rightly mortified. Smith asks if she thinks he's some kind of "fumble-fingered recruit." The scene is actually quite ridiculous and a sign of the antics and tomfoolery to come by Smith. Smith has left the family completely defenseless. The scene ends with the mutant at the Jupiter 2 window, but then cuts to his pursuit of Penny who is searching for the dog. And for a ferocious beast it sure does a fine job of hiding behind rocks in relative fear for much of the episode.  Apart from the identifying growl, the creature is far from bold in its efforts to hunt down prey.

Once Penny has the dog it's actually quite nasty and tries biting her to be free. Good grief.  Lassie come home indeed.

John reports to Maureen they have a "little mechanical genius for a son," because he has rigged up a makeshift transmitter to The Chariot.

Now this is the closest Lost In Space gets to a genuine emotional connection between John and Maureen. He's proud of his wife and is sure everything on the home front is fine and it's fun to watch Maureen put on a brave face amidst conflict so as not to disappoint John.

It's an impressive, small scene that really offers some big insight into the Maureen and John Robinson characters.

Nevertheless, John senses something might be wrong and in an odd, little moment suddenly snaps and starts barking orders at Don.

Meanwhile, Smith continues to fill the minds of Judy and Penny with loads of nonsense surmising that the dog is no dog at all, but rather some kind of mimicking alien life form. But when you think about it, why not? Why in space would there be a dog? Smith thinks it may be an "alien spy" noting the dog stole a laser gun. He believes the dog may be reporting back to the alien base. Of course, how would an alien even know to mimic a dog?  The wonderful accompanying score continues to propel the drama in each episode and you would be remiss not to try and score yourself one of these Lost In Space Soundtracks.

Now Maureen has given strict orders not to leave the ship. Yet, Penny wants to look for the dog. Judy tells her no, but then Judy offers to look for the dog. Argh! Well, Don, John and Will return, with guns, only to discover Judy is missing.

Strangely, no one in the Robinson clan ever actually hears the mutant when its close despite its fierce and deep growl.  It's really not fair to poke holes in Lost In Space.  It is certainly exposed at times.  It's a show to simply enjoy on its face as a space family adventure warts and all - and enjoy you will!

Dick Tufeld's Robot finally makes an appearance with the advice to Smith that he should form a "posse" around Will. Smith finds Will reassembling the guns Smith dismantled. Will is indeed a boy genius. Smith convinces Will they must find and kill the missing dog because it is an alien spy.  Forming a posse around Will is smart.  I love the word posse.  Everyone should have a posse.  I wish I had a posse.

This is the kind of Smith humor that would become a trademark of the series more regularly toward the future. And thus a posse was born.

So finally the mutant springs to vicious, ferocious life upon Judy no longer lurking about every set piece, but finally springing into intended lethal action. Fortunately for Judy the dog returns and leads John and Don to her rescue while the Apple Dumpling Gang posse is on a hunt of its own reminding us of the best of our own backyard posses of those by gone childhood days. Don grabs Judy and carries her away from the pursuing mutant but he falls dropping Judy onto the rubber rock set piece as they roll down the embankment and John fires upon the mischievous mutant disabling it. Through it all, Judy, for a helpless female, proves to be surprisingly resourceful against the over-sized teddy bear, a creature reminiscent of that beastie opposite William Shatner's entry, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet [1963] in The Twilight Zone directed by Richard Donner and written by Richard Matheson.

Elsewhere the posse sends out a patrol in the form of Will to scout for the dog. Will spots it and Smith's voice echoes in his mind instructing him to shoot first to kill, but he is greeted kindly by a submissive canine. Fortunately [for the dog], Will's childhood instinct to love dogs kicks in and he hugs the dog dropping his gun. Meanwhile our silly-looking mutant is alive and well and rears back for a great big growl.

As for the dog, Professor Robinson believes the dog may have been part of an early experiment in suspended animation and that the ship crashed and thus the dog lives. That's a reasonably good explanation considering all the questions I did have earlier however outlandish this whole thing really is.  We also get the first official "Never fear Smith is here" declaration, which speaks volumes about where this series is headed. Angela Cartwright shared her feelings on the subject.

In the final analysis the mutant runs back into the sand pit from whence it came. We never have any real closure as to what happened to the creature. We also never see the dog again. I mean, if you're going to introduce a dog, man's best friend, to a family series, you damn well better bring the dog back especially if you are keeping around a pointy-eared Debbie the Bloop. How do you not return with the dog?  The dog survives this amazing trip never to be heard from again.  Incredible. As Hatfield and Burt wrote in Lost In Space: The Ultimate Unauthorized Trivia Challenge a sequel might well be in order called One Of Our Dogs Is Still Missing.  If you're Irwin Allen bringing back the dog was clearly not a priority.  Turtles disappear.  Llamas come and go.  Debbie the Bloop would one day vanish never to be heard from again.  Where is the love for all God's creatures great and small here?  Continuity was never Allen's strong point, an obvious taskmaster with little patience for genuinely smart continuity. Of course, as creator Gerry Anderson [Thunderbirds] once reflected, show creators never imagined a day when their series would be seen again on DVD or in heavy rotation on specialized channels.  It was not something they had to think too much about.  It would be seen and maybe never seen again.

Epilogue: John Robinson is captured by a living plant and Smith yells like the helpless coward that he is.

Director Sutton Roley returns for a third outing and delivers some delicious close-up work on Smith and Will in the final minutes as well as some other exceptionally staged camera work. It's a good entry, but where oh where has my little dog gone?

One Of Our Dogs Is Missing: C+.  Writer: William Welch. Director: Sutton Roley.

Additional commentaryIt might seem awfully random to see a dog just show up on The Robinson's Jupiter 2 doorstep, but in 1965, the year this episode launched, there was indeed a sensitivity to dogs in space [not to be confused with the 1986 film of the same name starring the late INXS front man Michael Hutchence].  The dog in the episode bears a striking likeness to the Russian space dog, Laika, the first animal to orbit the planet and, sadly, the first to die there.

As a young teen myself I remember my first recollection of Laika, meaning Barker, was taking in director Lasse Hallstrom's wonderful, award-winning Swedish film My Life As A Dog [1985].    Honestly, the film was one of my favorites in my younger days about a boy named Inegmar who often contrasted his own life to that of a dog often citing Laika's fateful trip into outer space.  Ingemar said, "I should have told her everything. Mom loved stories like that. It’s not so bad if you think about it. It could have been worse. Just think how that poor guy ended up who got a new kidney in Boston. He got his name in all the papers, but he died just the same. And what about Laika, the space dog? They put her in the Sputnik and sent her into space. They attached wires to her heart and brain to see how she felt. I don’t think she felt too good. She spun around up there for five months until her doggy bag was empty. She starved to death. It’s important to have something like that to compare things to."

Laika was a female stray selected as an experiment for the hastily assembled Sputnik 2 in 1957 under the pressure of then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  Unfortunately it was a one-way ticket as de-orbiting technology had not been completed and it was revealed Laika would not be coming home.  It is believed Laika probably died hours following lift off.  How and why exactly remains a mystery much like the mystery of the missing dog from One Of Our Dogs Is Missing.  Obviously the Russians were looking to use Laika to pave the way for human occupants.  The Russians used mongrel strays under the belief that they had already been subjected to and endured harsh external extremes on the streets of Moscow.  Laika was trained for days in preparation for the launch with Mushka and Albina, but Laika was selected for the flight.

In an article posted for MSNBC in 2008, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky called Laika, "quiet and charming."  The scientist brought Laika home to play with his children just hours before the flight.  Yazdovsky said, "I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live."  That's the kind of thing that would melt the coldest of hearts.  So it was on October 31,1957 that the roughly three-year old terrier mongrel was sent into space widely reported then to have lived for days, but believed to have died from overheating [due to an insulation failure] and psychological trauma hours after launch as reported in 2002 by scientist Dr. Dimitry Malashenkov who worked on Sputnik 2.  Additionally, Laika had to wait in its extremely small cabin for three days prior to launch due to technical problems [after weeks of training in confinement].  But life signs ceased hours after lift off despite reports to the contrary years earlier the she lived any longer than that.

Years later, Sputnik 3 disintegrated with two more dogs in December 1960.  Of thirteen canines, five gave their lives in the service of their country.  In 1960, Strelka, who orbited the Earth 18 times, was one of the first canines to survive.  She had a litter of six puppies and one, Pushinka, was given to President John F. Kennedy as a gift.  It is said Strelka's bloodline lives and remains through other litters within the Kennedy family.  In part, thanks to the sacrifice of these dogs, the Russians had their first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961.

Dr. Oleg Gazenko [1918-2007], a scientist who trained Laika and handled the Soviet animals in space program, expressed real humanity and some regret in 1998 when he told moscowanimals.org, "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog."  A statue of a dog on top of a rocket was built to honor Laika in 2008 near the dog's Russian Cosmonaut training facility in Star City, Russia.

Perhaps, however unintended, in some small way Irwin Allen memorialized the spirit of those years in space travel with his episode, One Of Our Dogs Is Missing, given the swirl of questions and unknowns that existed in those days.  Maybe the dog in Lost In Space represented a safe landing and a spirit of freedom and survival for Laika.  At least I like to think of it that way even if we don't know what became of the dog.  In the 1950s and the 1960s answers weren't always made clear either.  Science fiction like Lost In Space and events like the one surrounding that special dog certainly allow me to muse and remember.  Whilst not of Laika's making or design, how ironic that a sweet little, stray from the streets of Moscow, Russia would achieve heights of immortality as a symbol of pioneering space exploration.  Looking at Laika you can't help but imagine she deserved a better fate.


Anonymous said...

I recently bought the Lost In Space blueray set. I'm revisiting the series for the first time since childhood. I've really enjoyed reading ur episode recap after I watch each episode. It has really enhanced the experience! Now that it's been a few years I wish u would come back & review more episodes. I would love to see u review the whole series but I know that would be a grueling amount of work. Hope u do review more episodes one day soon. And you're totally right about Lost in Space being like a bowl of delicious ice cream. It may not be the best food, but you can't stop!
-Cameron Jones
Twitter @Para_Mystery

SFF said...

Thanks for the kind words. They are much appreciated.
Yes, I'd like to get back to this ice cream some time
in the future.

I'm hoping to land a Blu-Ray box set at a reasonable price
and go from there. Fingers crossed sooner than later.

Thanks Cameron
take care

Art Vandelay said...

Wonderful article, Lost in Space is still one of my favorite shows. Oh and poor Laika, such a sad story but fortunately her end wasn't as horrible as starving for five months alone in a little capsule. In fact she only survived a few hours, dying from stress and over heating. Still a terrible thing to happen to a little dog.

SFF said...

Very true Art. Thanks so much for writing.

Anonymous said...

Lost In Space is still my all-time fave more than 50 years after the premiere. Thank you.

SFF said...

You're welcome. It's a classic. Doubtful Netflix will come close with the 2018 reboot but hopefully they can create something special in its own right but it will no doubt lack the charms of the original.

Unknown said...

Interesting obsevation. The dog in this episode looks very similar to a dog that was in an episode of Hogans Heroes. Wouldnt be a bit surprised to find out that he was one and the same.

SFF said...

Hi Dee. Great comment. Love these kinds of thought links.
Given One Of Our Dogs Is Missing aired in December 1965 and Hogan's Heroes began airing that same year I think the probability is high! Thank you so much.