Monday, February 15, 2021

Lost In Space S1 E9: The Oasis

"The land shrivels under its blinding heat, and the conservation of water has become the greatest problem."
-John Robinson writing in his journal about the family's trials lost in the unknowns of space-

"You know I read somewhere once that people like Dr. Smith are called injustice collectors. Most of them are very nice when they're not collecting."
-Maureen Robinson (with a commentary that's easily applicable to the woke operatives of cancel culture today)-

Every great science fiction series is deserving a water shortage entry. Water is a vital resource as humans can only endure without it for approximately three to four days, far less than a food shortage. Without water we perish. Even Star Trek: The Next Generation S1 E18 Home Soil dubbed humans "ugly bags of water." When it comes to the theme of water deprivation, Lost In Space delivers perhaps one of the strangest but still entertaining tales.

Stargate Universe (2009-2011) did it with its own episode dubbed fittingly Water (S1, E6) and Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) also did it with its equally appropriate and obviously themed title Water (S1, E2). There have been others. The water deficiency theme/convention is often repurposed in science fiction and reconstituted into a typically engaging survival story. Just add water. These stories somehow often feel revitalized and interesting and fresh in their respective stories in terms of survival.

The Oasis captures the struggling family on a new frontier of their own, space, and the survival of the Robinsons is rendered in the spirit of Swiss Family Robinson.

In Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 9, The Oasis, writer Peter Packer (The Derelict, Welcome Stranger) returns for his third time with first time Lost In Space director Sutton Roley. Roley would deliver four in all, three in Season One (Wish Upon A Star, One Of Our Dogs Is Missing) and one in Season Three (the popular 15th entry The Anti-Matter Man). All are exceptional entries in the series including this one whilst he worked on three episodes for Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968).

Packer packs a giant punch in The Oasis effectively channeling Irwin Allen's love for spectacle. Allen has always been a fan of bigger and better and here Packer channels his inner Allen lending us a look at what would one day be Irwin Allen's next big series Land Of The Giants (1968-1970), a technical feat of imaginative effects work that suffered immeasurably from a lack of character. Thankfully, Lost In Space did not suffer the same fate.

In The Oasis we find a very large Bloop and Dr. Zachary Smith upon eating some forbidden fruit. Smith would play large again in Land Of The Giants (1968-1970) episode Pay The Piper (S2, E17). Oddly, this strange magic space fruit has other designs. This fruit plant can not only grow living tissue but apparently non living tissue as Smith's clothing grows exponentially larger along with him. Science may be in question here, but hey this is the vast unknown of outer space and we have seen stranger things. I'm sure there must be some plausible explanation however preposterous.

With regard to big Bloop, actor Janos Prohaska created and wore the monkey suit, a rather unreal frightening, nightmarish creation of an oversized monkey.

It’s rather clear it’s a suit and to live in the moment we call that the suspension of disbelief and we enjoy the artistry of the thing. This monkey was no less impressive than the suit found in Ishiro Honda's King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), or his King Kong Escapes (1967), but it was obviously a suit. Funny enough, Prohaska appeared as some variation of a monkey or ape in The Outer Limits (S1 E5 The Sixth Finger), Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (S4 E7 Fatal Cargo), Land Of The Giants and Gilligan’s Island. He also worked in Star Trek as the Horta and other monsters (source: the wonderful Irwin Allen's Lost In Space Volume 1: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Sci-Fi Series by Marc Cushman). This guy went ape for the genre!

Apart from the questions of size Packer does a splendid job with continuity of mythology building. Once again the family is at the peril of the planet’s radical temperature changes as first evidenced in There Were Giants In The Earth (S1, E4) and The Hungry Sea (S1, E5). Packer remains true to those aspects of the series.

So there are problems with the episode. That’s not an illusion, The Oasis concludes its initially strong entry with a giant Smith and his enormous outfit too. The bold Allen had proudly, but oddly, referred to Lost In Space as a series that would also take into account science and that was absent and completely omitted here. There wasn't even a hint of explanation. Likely, it was an omission by design for budgetary reasons. It was also not likely the network would have a naked Jonathan Harris running about in 1965. I mean exactly what could cover that thing for the kids? But again this is space and fans of the series, even today, will look past the lack of logical science and simply enjoy the entry as entertainment and sheer magic of epic proportions.

One of the most recognizable aspects to The Oasis is not just the physical changes applied to Smith's size, but his character. It was a nice metaphor for the modifications and alterations to a once intended serious character.

The series witnesses for the very first time a truly child-like, cowardly Smith. It’s not pretty, but it would make him tolerable to the Robinson family as evidenced here and of course endearing in a warped way to viewers going forward. We ate it up. Both Robot and Smith were being literally transformed into more agreeable characters right before our very eyes beginning with the episode's classic shower sequence.

Prior to transformation the cast are given ample time to shine as they explore their consciences opposite Smith. So again, Lost In Space always has its wonderful character moments.

In the end The Oasis may be best remembered for the fantasy of its Irwin Allen odyssey into an early iteration of the Land Of Giants, and it's an entertaining prelude at that. But like an oasis this would not be the show's last foray into fantasy, though in many ways this feels a bit like the first time Lost In Space goes there.

Though we should be grateful Smith didn't decide to lay down inside the Jupiter 2 before transformation that could have been ugly.

The Oasis definitively lends evidence to the changes being made to Smith's character as witnessed by his overreaction and flair for the dramatic, fittingly as we see small Dr. Smith make a mountain, like his character, out of a mole hill. In The Oasis he begins to resemble his untrustworthy, but oddly likable curmudgeon.

Writer: Peter Packer. Director: Sutton Roley.

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