Thursday, September 5, 2019

Lost In Space S1 E7: My Friend, Mr. Nobody

"I don't know who I am."
-Mr. Nobody-

"What? Oh but that must be awful! Maybe you've just been asleep---or growing up, maybe---or changing."
-Penny Robinson-

"Oh the pain, the pain"
-Dr. Zachary Smith (the first episode for the popular catch phrase)-

When this writer first looked at Lost In Space (1965-1968) here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, there's no denying he was unnecessarily hard on it. The series was unfairly framed in my mind and viewed through the wrong prism against the endless list of compelling television serials of today. Take your pick. That's a wildly inappropriate comparison. Apples and oranges as they say. There's simply no justification such a show could be placed on equal footing. Though the lackluster new version of Lost In Space (2018-present) will likely endure beyond the original's three seasons. Seeing My Friend, Mr. Nobody again was much a different experience particularly enjoying this outstanding Blu-Ray presentation.

But for a dramatic science fiction television series circa 1965 there were some tremendous ideas on display along with mighty visuals, performances and direction. On its face, there's also the simple fact that series aren't filmed in gorgeous, cinematic black and white like this anymore.

Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 7, My Friend, Mr. Nobody is a perfect example of the series stellar first season run.

This particular story lends itself to so many perspectives. It's at once a coming of age story, a story of isolation, a metaphysical or transcendent tale, and or a spiritual journey relating humanity to the existence of God. It's also a simple, transformational story of an alien force freed into the cosmos.

Other series have delivered such concepts including the chrysalis-like story that worked so beautifully for Space:1999, Force Of Life (Y1, E9) guest starring Ian McShane.

Marc Cushman succinctly says it best of My Friend, Mr. Nobody. It is "a charming and magical story dealing with loneliness, and an underlying theme of how friendship and love can inspire growth, renewed life, and the realization of one's potential and purpose. The sensitivity and wonder of Jackson Gillis's storytelling, John Williams' beautiful and touching score, and Angela Cartwright's sincere performance, join together to make this a story for the ages" (Marc Cushman, Lost In Space Vol.1, p.346-47).

The opening quote of this post speaks sincerely to Cushman's assessment as does much of this sweet, pensive script as Penny exchanges her own questions, fears and self-doubt with the disembodied voice.

Hot off the then success of the film The Sound Of Music (1965), My Friend, Mr. Nobody offered that rare chance to young actress Angela Cartwright to shine as Penny Robinson as she is genuinely highlighted throughout the installment. This child performance is easily among the best of child performances of her age during the era. Cartwright truly shines and does so shouldering a tremendous amount of dialogue for the episode.

Cartwright's scene opposite her mother is particularly strong and noteworthy as Penny is coming into her own as a young adult. She implores certain truths to her mother, but her mother still disregards her as but a mere child and really doesn't give her declarations weight. It's a painful scene for both Penny who feels alone and discounted, but also for Mrs. Robinson who realizes she may not have given her child the respect and nurturing ear she requires with the realization that Penny is growing up even out there in the unknowns of space.

As Lost In Space stories go too, it's refreshing to see the creators stepping away from the ensemble format and lending greater character focus on Penny Robinson. It makes for a special entry as the Dr. Zachary Smith, Will Robinson and Robot formula had yet to be firmly established.

In the entry, Penny has been likened to Alice falling down the proverbial rabbit hole to a wonderland in the grotto and its enchanting moat. Her wonderland is a rock cave whereby she discovers a strange cosmic force awaiting her that affects the water, the rocks, the trees and the world around her.

The drama itself is effectively moving ending on an explosive finale that is incredibly well-executed as an action piece. It's an unforgettable moment that truly puts an exclamation point on a great piece of Lost In Space drama.

The voice of Mr. Nobody was provided by William Bramley. Bramley would also grace voice chores as Robotoid for Lost In Space, War Of The Robots (S1, E20), an episode ironically missing Angela Cartwright as Penny. He also featured in Star Trek episode Bread And Circuses (S2, E25).

TV historian Jon Abbott dubbed the tale a "beautiful elegiac fairy tale" (Marc Cushman, Lost In Space Vol.1, p.346) that would make it "worthy" of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963-1965) given it's so masterful as science fiction storytelling. This assessment is spot on as it essentially stands entirely on its own outside the Lost In Space family drama and mythology-building as a sci-fi tale.

My Friend, Mr. Nobody is affectingly penned and beautifully so by writer Jackson Gillis. It would be the first of seven episodes scripted for the series alongside another Lost In Space fan favorite The Magic Mirror (S1, E21). Gillis would pen just one entry, Our Man O'Reilly (S2, E15), for Land Of The Giants.

Behind the camera it would be director Paul Stanley's only contribution on the show, though Stanley directed television from 1950s to the 1980s including The Outer Limits, Gunsmoke, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Love Boat, Knight Rider and The Fall Guy. He would return for Night Of The Long Knives (E14) for Irwin Allen's The Time Tunnel (1966-1967) that lasted a single season. Earlier he even directed many episodes of The Third Man which also starred Jonathan Harris.

The episode is accented by the mysterious musical enchantment of Johnny Williams. This would be Williams' last contribution to an actual episode of Lost In Space. His score, the wonderful cast and creative team, the writing and direction make for another fantastic piece of sci-fi television.

My Friend, Mr. Nobody is a wonderful, warm, strange little odyssey into coping with loneliness and finding one's self with a strange planet as a backdrop to exploring these universal themes. The episode is a wonderfully written, original story that captures the essence of growing up and the active imagination of a youngster and their traditional imaginary friend while being wildly unique and working on multiple levels not least of all an outer space story of an alien entity also coming of age essentially changing, growing and spreading its wings into the stars.

Though I've never heard it quite put this way, these are my gears turning, Mr. Nobody is a story that implores that even nobody can be somebody. That even a nobody can be powerful and special in this life. We've all felt like a Mr. Nobody at one time or another, but the message here is clearly that we're all special, need to be heard and are indeed somebody---someone special. It's another Season One beauty with a unique look and approach spearheaded by the sincere singular performance of one Angela Cartwright.

It's worth noting this is the third episode behind the pilot and The Reluctant Stowaway to enjoy a commentary track on the outstanding Blu-Ray release of the series. William Mumy, Cartwright, Marta Kristen and Mark Goddard are all on hand for it. It has its moments of real hilarity like Mumy noting the action figure for Mr. Nobody would be so cool---an empty package, or the phallic rock behind Penny or Goddard referring to the deep-voiced Mr. Nobody as a pedophile. It's very old school in the cast's willingness to be politically incorrect and have a little fun. Sensitive souls beware.

Writer: Jackson Gillis. Director: Paul Stanley.


SpacerGuy said...

environmental analysis report, it has anger, it will destroy to which even the kid replies, thats stupid. Forces ie weather dont get angry. Despite the black and white visuals and the daft robot lines, Dr Smiths "evil" cunning being the glue actually made this show worth watching. His character was so cunning, greedy and murderous. The guy just didn't have any scruples and that wicked smile kept you watching.

SFF said...

Love the comment Spacer Guy! Thank you.

david p. said...

I thought it was a profound story about the genesis of God. That an eternal being had no one to tell him who he is; he had to discover feelings and morality. And then the last little clip showed the devil's hand involved in tempting Dr Smith, as if to make clear that yes, for certain, the disembodied force was the opposite- God. Oh yes, and Penny intervened for humans, asking God to forgive them, as Jesus did.
I thought that it was pretty wild for a show about conservative white family values to question whether God evolves.

thanks- David