Director: Tony Leader
Writer: S. Bar-David
Cast: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright, and Jonathan Harris
Composer: Johnny Williams
Air Date: 9/15/1965
Production #: 8501
In the midst of a population crisis, the scientifically accomplished Robinson family and their trusty pilot, Major Donald West, embark on a five-and-a-half year space flight to Alpha Centauri, with the ultimate goal of colonizing another planet. Hoping to undermine the Robinsons’ historic mission, a saboteur known as Colonel Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) sneaks aboard the Jupiter 2 and, acting under orders from a foreign agency, programs the environmental control robot to activate prematurely and destroy critical ship functions. Despite his apparent success, Smith is unable to escape the Jupiter 2 prior to lift-off, thus altering the Robinsons’ flight path with his additional weight.
A remarkable introduction to Lost in Space, “The Reluctant Stowaway” will appeal to fans of classic science fiction and disaster-themed scenarios alike. Especially commendable is Jonathan Harris’ portrayal of the titular stowaway, whose diabolical attributes lend credibility to the fantastic premise on which this episode operates.
Before entering their freezing tubes, the Robinson family members express a genuine affection for one another that will provide audiences with sufficient reason to immediately empathize with their plight. Complementing the positive qualities exemplified by the Robinsons, Major West presents himself as a confident but always respectful military man whose primary strength stems from his ability to make difficult decisions under pressure, which will no doubt become most useful whenever Professor Robinson and his wife Maureen allow their emotional attachments to interfere with better judgment. In contrast to the moral values embodied by each of the above characters, Colonel Smith comes across as a conniving, unscrupulous man with the combined intelligence and lack of integrity to complete his murderous mission (of course, Lost in Space fans will recognize the stark contrast between Harris’ performance in “The Reluctant Stowaway” and his transformation of Smith into the goofy imbecile of later episodes).
Additionally, director Anton Leader’s swift approach to pacing should result in a truly captivating experience for first-time viewers. Notably, the first act provides a perfect balance of character development and suspense building, while later scenes reward the audience with a number of action-packed disaster sequences that reveal how each member of the Robinson party reacts when faced with certain doom (it should be noted that Jonathan Harris steals the show with his sinister acting; however, this does not prevent the unique personality traits of every individual character from coming to surface).
Given the era during which Lost in Space was first conceived, one can draw many obvious parallels between the Aeolus 14 Umbra organization referenced by Zachary Smith and the Soviet Union of real-world infamy. While such a comparison may or may not have been the intention of writer Shimon Wincelberg, the fact that Dr. Smith was never explicitly identified as a Soviet spy prevents this episode from contradicting the 1997 time period in which it takes place.
By offering a seamless blend of traditional family values and futuristic scenarios, “The Reluctant Stowaway” earns its status as a science fiction masterpiece. Perhaps if later episodes had followed a similar template, Lost in Space could have been regarded as one of the greatest television programs of all time—much in contrast to the camp-infested children’s show that it would later become.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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