Director: Don Richardson
Writer: Barney Slater
Cast: Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright, Jonathan Harris, Michael Ansara, and Kurt Russell
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 3/2/1966
Production #: 8522
Hoping to prove his bravery, Quano (Kurt Russell)—future leader of an alien race—challenges Will to a contest of strength, skill, and courage. Uninterested in fighting for sport, Will and his parents initially refuse the offer; however, Quano’s father (Michael Ansara) convinces John and Maureen to let Will participate in said contest. A complication arises when Dr. Smith, having eavesdropped on a private conversation, learns a horrifying secret from Quano’s father.
Similar to “The Magic Mirror,” “The Challenge” deserves praise for examining the trials, insecurities, and psychological changes that the Robinson children would realistically encounter upon entering adolescence. Also worth noting are the performances of Michael Ansara and a young Kurt Russell, which add credibility to the fantastic narrative concept (i.e. a patriarchal warrior society existing in outer space) for this episode.
Unwilling to risk defeat, Quano’s father decides to act as a substitute for his son, prompting John to compete in place of Will. Thereafter, Professor Robinson and Quano’s father arm themselves with volta blades—electrical swords that produce violent explosions upon contact with ordinary matter—and engage in a rousing duel. In addition to its compelling nature, the climactic sequence should be commended for allowing Guy Williams (known for starring in Disney’s iconic Zorro series) to showcase his phenomenal swordsmanship—an aspect that will certainly appeal to fans of the late Lost in Space actor.
Despite being an athletic young man, Quano struggles to defeat Will—a decidedly unimposing specimen, even when compared to children his own age—in a competition based on physical prowess alone. Viewers may therefore struggle to accept the very premise for “The Challenge,” which requires the audience to suspend disbelief (even more than usual) during Quano’s contest with Will.
“The Challenge” explores two contrasting but equally valid perspectives on child rearing, both of which acknowledge the need for paternal guidance during formative years. In Quano’s civilization, for example, men are considered superior to women in every regard—a notion that deeply offends Maureen and the girls. That being said, Quano’s father—ostensibly a man of harsh, primitive tendencies—instills many of the qualities (e.g. honor, courage, and nobility) in his son that one would associate with a strong and dignified leader. Professor Robinson, on the other hand, employs a more liberal approach to raising his children; but nevertheless conducts himself in a virtuous manner, thereby providing Will with a kind, masculine role model to emulate. Those who enjoy Lost in Space for its traditional family values would thus be wise to view this episode, which contains a fascinating study on opposing, albeit thought-provoking, models of parenting.
By combining science fiction tropes (e.g. a cave monster whose head resembles that of a common housefly) with commentary on father-son relationships, “The Challenge” earns its reputation as a classic episode of Lost in Space. Especially terrific is the character of Quano, who, though arguably miscast, serves as a formidable nemesis to the young Will Robinson.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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