Friday, April 22, 2022

Lost In Space S1 E12: The Raft

"How would you like a punch in the nose?"

-Major Don West to Dr. Zachary Smith-

This writer nearly noted it for Wish Upon A Star (S1, E11), but as much praise as Dr. Zachary Smith gets for his wordplay or, even wordsmithery, and as thoroughly engaging as the dynamic between that aforementioned character and Will Robinson is quickly becoming, the equally fiery protest and antidote to Smith's deception is often overlooked but is recalled with great fondness.

That elixir and Smith remedy is none other than one Major Don West. Mark Goddard's West is actually graced with some fairly impressive, rapid fire retorts to the silver-tongued Smith. The t-shirt bound, testosterone-driven hot head that is West continues to be as enjoyable on screen as the rest of the ensemble. Credit is simply due. It's easy to focus on Smith because Harris is so damn good, but the ensemble cast have plenty of moments to shine across the bulk of Season One. Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 12, The Raft is no exception.

The Raft is essentially composed of two halves. A good portion is given to West and the senior Robinson before relegating much of the second half to Will and Smith. The first half highlights the actions of Professor John Robinson and Major Don West as they assemble a propulsion system and lifeboat. There are also a good number of ensemble moments. The second half concentrates on Dr. Zachary Smith and Will Robinson. Once again that second half highlights the growing dynamic and connection between Smith and Will. Though notably Robot has been omitted considerably in this episode as it was in Wish Upon A Star (S1, E11) and The Sky Is Falling (S1, E10).

The Raft itself is composed of the Jupiter 2's reactor core and other parts. In reality, as Allen was known to do, it was a diving bell and borrowed from sister series Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. It's a beautifully shot and established set design with terrific matte shots once again emphasizing the series strengths despite some storytelling weaknesses. Still author Marc Cushman dubs the entry "above average" when compared to the direction of the show in Season Two and Three.

We are also treated to a plant monster (oversized "skunk cabbage") in the episode that further accentuates another precedent that would grow in popularity---the monster of the week. To date, the bubble creatures were a unique design and would hardly qualify as the monster of the week. Additionally, the mutated enlarged Debbie the Bloop fit the story as written in The Oasis also not qualifying. The Cyclops too was massive and more in keeping with The Land Of Giants. The creature in Wish Upon A Star was also integral to the tale. Alas, in this entry Smith and Will are inevitably pursued by the creature, but illogically it never attacks them when they stand right in front of it.

One interesting point regarding the Smith character. In the early going for the series much was made of the character being either a Russian agent or potentially someone of another country working for the Russians when he was the reluctant stowaway aboard the Jupiter 2, but here, in The Raft, his knowledge of the United States seems to suggest he is very much an American. Either that or he is simply waxing poetic and is merely well-versed and/or a well-studied mole within the country a la something akin to The Americans (2013-2018). Of course this potentially interesting layer of the character is sadly truly never explored. Certainly he has little common sense regarding his surroundings in this story and demonstrates very little in the way of intellect when preparing for a mission.

One of the lovelier scenes in The Raft is between Smith and Will as they discuss being stranded and Will asks Smith to be his father. It's all rather poignant particularly for Smith. But Smith continues to soften and grow a soft spot for the charming Will Robinson. It's a real emotional highlight in the entry.

In the end, the Robinsons cast a typically wide net of forgiveness to Dr. Smith combined with Smith's excuse-ridden slipperiness. Despite his self-centered ways Smith is manages to project a likability thanks to Jonathan Harris. And that's the trick really that kept the series afloat for an extended run. As we witness in The Raft, he is less the harmful agent and simply a more selfish entity with a gift for wordplay and Harris makes the Smith character far more likeable to the viewer and more tolerable to the Robinsons than he originally had any right to be. The family is more willing to turn the other cheek as it were as he becomes more a thorn in their side than a malevolent figure. The Smith adaptation was so poorly handled for the Netflix series.

As writer Marc Cushman noted in his book, Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Sci-Fi Series Volume One, Smith was using Will as a human shield and yelping female-like screams. "The character is not yet camp, but the effort to soften his edges was accelerating." But Harris played the character of Smith with such a richness and depth of speech he was riveting to watch on screen. The Raft is an example of Harris re-writing his own dialogue for the series and affecting the reactions of other characters to him in the series. Remarkably Allen allowed it as he was astute enough to realize viewers' eyes were glued to screens. Allen always wanted to go big or go home.

The Raft may be thought of as one of the weaker entries of Lost In Space Season One, but still has its resident charms thanks to this amazing cast assembly spearheaded by some wonderful Jonathan Harris dialogue. It also continues to look amazing to boot.

Writer: Peter Packer. Director: Sobey Martin.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mark Goddard: On June Lockhart Of Lost In Space

"June Lockhart? Well, what can I say about June? She's just a wonderful, vivacious woman, and she was always most kind and very loving to me. She always had a big, genuine hello and a kiss for me and that was terrific. And, she meant it, she cares. She cares for everyone, and she wouldn't ever put anyone down. ... (... I just try to put things in perspective.) June would protect people, whereas I would say, 'This is what happened' and let the chips fall where they may. She's a wonderfully fulfilled lady, she has done so much, and she has such a rich history in acting. She's beloved."

-Mark Goddard speaking candidly on relationships on Lost In Space (Starlog#190, p.35-36)-

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Doctor Who S8 E1: Deep Breath

"I've made many mistakes and it's about time I did something about that."

-The Doctor-

Doctor Who has always been an interesting beast. On second thought, perhaps it's never been quite interesting enough as character profiles go for such a long-running series (the longest-running in science fiction TV history). Maybe it has lacked a maturity or seriousness too often for it to retain this sci-fi fanatic's attention.

Like James Bond, a variety of performers have played a personality, but rarely do we find enough meat on those Dalek-sized bones. For those looking for a quieter, emotional submersion Doctor Who may not be the animal for you even if it does have its moments.

And after all this time, why not make the Doctor a female. Whatever. Well at least she has a gender. Of course, it's 2021 and the entertainment industry along with just about everything else is a slave to anything woke and non-traditional purely for the sake of some kind of irritating phantom cultural acceptance. Do people have nothing better to do nowadays? These are indeed preposterous times. Deep breath now.

But if you can make Scotsman Sean Connery 007 then why not Scotsman Peter Capaldi as the Doctor (a point with which Capaldi has some fun with in Deep Breath) and then why not a woman (it's science fiction I guess). A big biological leap of course. One could argue the Capaldi effort was the last gasp (or breath) attempt at Doctor Who capturing the iconic character when men were men, and sheep were, ... err or rather Doctor Whos were men. Ah well, there are plenty of ships that need course correction in this world. There's no shortage of pushing the envelope for mere virtue signaling no matter where we turn today.

All of the noise aside, here we are at a second viewing of Doctor Who, Series 8, Episode 1, Deep Breath and one very significant, momentous introduction to the Peter Capaldi years (2013-2017). Not since Tom Baker was this writer and casual fan of the franchise more excited to welcome a new Doctor into the fold than with the arrival of Capaldi.

Tom Baker was special. Christopher Eccleston was a stunning, professional and a terrific table setter for a new era in Doctor Who. David Tennant was overly manic, but delivered a signature performance. The equally beloved Matt Smith was probably excellent too, but in fairness I simply never watched his run. The series suffers from a degree of sameness after awhile. There's a certain established expectation for the character and the adventure at the heart of the show which can leave one fatigued. I've always willed from the sidelines for something more dramatically nurturing and compelling that thrilled me and surprised me in ways yet to be explored. There's always a tease of those possibilities.

So Capaldi was a bit of a bombshell surprise when they had landed the gifted thespian. My interest in the actor dates back to Bill Forsyth's Local Hero (1983). It was by all accounts Capaldi's second film opposite Peter Reigert and it was and still is a fine, charming, memorable film at that.

So it pleased me to no end to see Capaldi land a TV role of some acclaim and notoriety after what felt like an interminable career in film and TV obscurity though massive and impressively vast and varied just the same. This is a man with charisma in front of the camera to spare and the camera seems to adore him equally for it.

Through Capaldi's three series run as the good doctor (the twelfth) this fan was curious if he could impart or would imbue his incredible talent upon this fairly enigmatic character in unique ways and more critically would the writers allow it to happen? This was to be determined, but I can report that Deep Breath is a brilliant start and a winning opener for the actor and the series.

Deep Breath gave me a doctor that seemed to breathe new life (don't they all) into the franchise and that left me wanting more. A second viewing of this fairly cinematic debut demonstrated a really shining star in Capaldi as the Doctor. And for fans of Doctor Who who perhaps remembered their doctor from days gone by as an elder alien with a touch of the mad might have seemed a welcomed return to the concept with its nod toward the traditional in this way after several series sporting younger men in the lead.

Furthermore, not to sound like the grumpy old man, but in my day it was okay to root for and be a fan of older actors in film and television. Remember Olivia Newton John in Grease (1978)? Yeah, she was still the hottest high school student at Rydell High at the ripe old age of 30. Don't get me wrong Jenna Coleman is a smoke show as Clara Oswald and not to mention a fine, young actress here, but there's something special about watching a veteran performer like Capaldi or a Max Von Sydow or a Stellan Skarsgard and so on. Each and every facial line through Capaldi's countenance, across his eyes and around his smile signals and marks a certain world weary depth and credibility to the adventure. No ageism here. He was and is a pleasure to watch on screen. So it was a real joy to discover he would be in command of the Tardis and at the helm of exploring the character.

There are nods to the Doctor Who past cleverly written into the entry from writer Steven Moffat. Capaldi's Who scoffs at the idea of a scarf (shots fired at Baker's fourth doctor) and other fan service darts across this fine opener.

Whilst he may not have pushed out the boundaries of the character, Capaldi does however deliver just the right amount of needed emotional subtext here delivering precisely the kind of weight and depth I'd hoped for. As a casual fan of the franchise I've been hungry for it. Experiencing this kind of control one hopes it doesn't all just run over the top. Would we see a deeper exploration of the doctor?

For starters Deep Breath actually delivers a splendid opening salvo. Capaldi spends much of the entry coming to terms with his regeneration as does Coleman's character and Moffat handles this aspect of the story with confidence. Too often Doctor Who is a nice, light, bouncy, pouncy bit of sci-fi alien escapism and not enough of the darkness and depth is there to be mined. It's all quite superficial. When Sam Mendes dug a little deeper for James Bond in Skyfall (2012) he delivered the goods in spades for the character and made it the kind of 007 film with which a fan could return to find other layers with which to enjoy.

Writer Steve Moffat does it here with Capaldi and company along with director Ben Wheatley (High Rise). Moffat pens in bits of mythology, cleverly handled nonsense and sharp wit alongside some wonderfully dramatic and thoughtful scenes. Wheatley wraps his directorial qualities and cinematic eye in the style and sweep of Deep Breath, which actually saw release to theatres for Capaldi's introduction. The Moffat/Wheatley would return teaming for the next episode Into The Dalek.

Deep Breath is a dark and creepy little alien story with Peter Ferdinando as The Half-Face Man. The antagonist is a symbol for the theme of changing faces and a theme that asks us what's behind our own appearance just as the regeneration game always poses the question of our own changing faces and who we want to ultimately be. Can we ourselves ever really change?

In a random footnote, Ferdinando is the cousin of singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of alternative band The The. I miss The The like I miss Tom Baker. Those were the days.

So when Capaldi isn’t performing the doctor at a seemingly breathless pace of perfection, he slows things down with delicious and devilish relish using his intellect in a kind of chess match with The Half-Face Man. Those kinds of moments beautifully cultivate that much needed emotional subtext for which the series is sometimes starved and absent of. Again, no knock on Matt Smith, but Capaldi was a big draw for me. His work opposite Clara further illustrates the many layers of Capaldi as a performer promising real potential in the role. Scenes are nailed flawlessly and straight out of the gate underscoring what a gifted actor Capaldi has become at his craft stepping into the series. Kudos to him for jumping at the chance to play the legendary Doctor. It’s a thrill to see the gifted Capaldi have fun with the iconic role. Let's hope the twelfth doctor makes for an extraordinary three series run.

It's entries like Deep Breath that give one solace and comfort and faith that Doctor Who, with Capaldi in the driver's seat, could be in good hands. Ultimately it all comes down to the writing if the series is to succeed in bigger and bolder ways. For starters, Deep Breath was a welcomed burst of fresh air holding promise the series wouldn't settle into its comfortable routines.

Writer: Steven Moffat. Director: Ben Wheatley.