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. With encouragement from Quano’s father (Michael Ansara), John and Maureen allow Will to participate in the contest—with a horrifying twist.
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, who enhance the credibility of a fantastic narrative concept (i.e., a patriarchal warrior society existing in outer space).
Unwilling to risk defeat, Quano’s father decides to act as a substitute for his son. Competing in place of Will, Professor Robinson arms himself with a volta blade—an electrical sword that produces violent explosions upon contact with ordinary matter—and engages in a rousing duel with Quano’s father. 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 in a science fiction setting—an aspect that will appeal to fans of the late Lost in Space actor.
Despite being an athletic young man, Quano struggles to defeat Will—a small and unremarkable specimen, even when compared to children his own age—in a competition centered on physical prowess. 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 qualities in his son that one would associate with a strong and dignified leader: honor, courage, and nobility to name only a few.
Professor Robinson, on the other hand, employs a more liberal approach to raising his children but still conducts himself in a virtuous manner—a factor that provides Will with a kind, masculine role model to emulate. Those who enjoy Lost in Space for its traditional family values will thus appreciate this episode, which contains a fascinating, thought-provoking study on opposing models of parenting.
By combining science fiction tropes 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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