Monday, May 9, 2022

Lost In Space S1 E13: One Of Our Dogs Is Missing

"Didn't they originally send animals up in space capsules?"

-Judy Robinson-

We reach a title for the latest installment of Lost In Space that may very well have been a headline proclaimed by the Soviet Union in 1957. And if one wondered what happened to Russian cosmonaut dog Laika aboard Sputnik-2 maybe Lost In Space answered that question with a little hope with its arrival in One Of Our Dogs Is Missing. And along with dogs Belka and Strelka who were also sent into space in 1960 (but unlike Laika returned home alive), these events were inspiration for writer William Welch who penned the outing among four episodes of Lost In Space (including E5 The Hungry Sea). It was indeed the more interesting element of the serial versus the natural inclination by Allen to continue toward his enthusiasm for more simplified monster of the week stories also included here.

Even better Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 13, One Of Our Dogs Is Missing might have been best applied to episode 14 as the dog that appears throughout this entry is entirely missing or absent with no explanation by the next episode. Strange times in the land of Irwin Allen. Author Marc Cushman noted the episode doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and that it was “missing much” including an ending. We could even call the entry One Of Our Endings Is Missing. I like that that. Nevertheless it’s a beautifully shot episode and once again is a delight to see and experience on Blu-Ray despite shortcomings. Lost In Space certainly applied selective continuity and memory throughout Season One. This writer must admit, it would have been great to see a little dog acquired as the family pet for the series to join Debbie the bloop. Who wouldn't have enjoyed this little dog in the background throughout the series? In truth the dog was intended to remain, but cost overruns ensured that Allen nixed that idea and the dog quickly went missing with no explanation. For those preferring a more palatable idea this writer offers this. It’s noted that the dog is missing by episodes end and instead of explaining where the dog went apparently the writers just gave the episode the rather appropriate title as there is no real explanation for it. Perhaps those animal enthusiasts out there with an eye toward history even in 1957 could rest assured in the subtext of it all that Laika was maybe somewhere out there in space safe and sound and quite possibly with the fictional Robinson family lost but not alone. If you were to look for a more sensible explanation then Cushman notes “just don’t expect it to make any sense.”

It might seem awfully random to see a dog just show up on The Robinsons' Jupiter 2 doorstep, but in 1965, the year this episode launched, there was indeed a sensitivity to dogs in space. With reason, 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. The pioneering mongrel/terrier that was canine Russian cosmonaut Laika (1954-1957) travelled aboard Sputnik 2, the first animal and female to orbit the Earth.

My first recollection of Laika was taking in director Lasse Hallstrom's wonderful, award-winning Swedish film My Life As A Dog (1985). The film remained one of my favorite foreign films for years about a boy named Inegmar who often contrasted his own wayward life to that of the missing Laika aboard that fateful trip into outer space. Ingemar would consider thoughtfully, "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 brutally using 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 the one 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." 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. Anyone who loves dogs can feel for Laika's sacrifice.

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, "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. This writer wanted to share some of that story as it is the most interesting component in the inspiration for this episode.

Given current events thanks to Russia, the aforementioned spirit of cooperation and a return to civility with cooler heads prevailing everywhere would be most welcomed.

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 years. As I say, maybe the dog in Lost In Space represented a spirit of freedom and potential survival for Laika in the minds of many. At least I like to think of it that way even if we do know what became of the dog. In the 1950s and the 1960s answers weren't always made clear either. 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 but she will be forever immortalized and certainly not missing from the hearts of dog lovers.

One Of Our Dogs Is Missing is a solid bit of Lost In Space despite its absence of logic or a real point. It still looks amazing and is infinitely more entertaining visually than most television. That cinematography in this first season is first rate.

In fact, there was a darkness and an exploratory element to Lost In Space that seemed more dramatically sincere then it did as it progressed. One can place those changes squarely on Allen’s involvement for good or bad, and the censors of the day which were obsessed and concerned with “unduly frightening the small children.” Some of the content and ideas found in Lost In Space Season One seemed to be generating inspiration toward more serious science fiction to come. The more serious, spiritual and philosophical lost in space approach in exploration would manifest more credibly or ambitiously years later in Space:1999 (1975-1977).

But there are some interesting moments here. In fact, regarding the dog there is mention of dogs in space even within the entry.

There are also plenty of amusing moments. Penny requests keeping the dog but Maureen isn't so sure about it. "Oh I don't know." Well Maureen where exactly do you expect this little fellow to go? The dog could certainly use a friend. I mean is it really a question on whether to keep man's best friend out in deep space.

The less absorbing monster of the week elements, even if the series doesn't go there consistently in this first season, are once again less compelling. Professor Robinson's journal entry, as read by Judy and Maureen, talks of absorption by mutants and his fear of human absorption foreshadowing, perhaps unintentionally, the upcoming events of Attack Of The Monster Plants (S1 E14).

Both Maureen Robinson and Judy Robinson packing lasers and fending for themselves without the men is indeed an early message for female strength and independence the series was expressing. Maureen proclaims they will not be "helpless females."

Dr. Smith, complete in A Christmas Carol-like cap and sleeping gown, continues his descent away from the steely-eyed villain of The Reluctant Stowaway (E1). It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where it begins because it is such a gradual transformation. There are signs of the change in The Oasis (E9), The Raft (E12) and elsewhere. Add One Of Our Dogs Is Missing to the list. But if one contrasts Smith's performance in The Reluctant Stowaway to something like the one found here, the villainous Smith has truly gone missing too. Those aspects leave us considering the beauty of what might have been on Lost In Space as a real science fiction saga.

The story is most intriguing to me for its historical context, and of course the dog, but it's still an enjoyable enough entry by writer William Welch. Welch contributed 34 scripts to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, 10 to Land Of The Giants, 8 to The Time Tunnel and just 4 to Lost In Space. His stories are considered average at best save for The Hungry Sea, which implemented half of its footage from the pilot No Place To Hide. But Welch was unfortunately pushed on quantity as much as quality. The episode benefits from the directorial touch of Sutton Roley in his third assignment here following The Oasis (E9) and Wish Upon A Star (E11). This would be the third of four with Roley's final contribution not arriving until Season Three with the popular The Anti-Matter Man (S3 E15).

Missing endings and missing dogs or not, fans of Lost In Space simply would be remiss to miss another fine black and white entry in the classic series. As a lover of dogs, this one is dedicated to man's best friend everywhere.

Writer: William Welch. Director: Sutton Roley.

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