When revisiting Lost in Space as an adult, one thing which fascinates me is that many episodes—especially the black-and-white offerings from season one—blend science fiction themes with elements of the horror genre. For this reason, I decided to kick off the Halloween season by analyzing the top ten scariest episodes of my favorite childhood television series.
10) Ghost in Space
When Dr. Smith drops an explosive into a bog filled with ionized gas, an invisible monster appears during a late-night séance at the Jupiter 2. Unwilling to face reality, Dr. Smith mistakes the creature for the spirit of his late Uncle Thaddeus.
Though quite silly at times, “Ghost in Space” deserves praise for its atmospheric setting and effective use of horror movie tropes (e.g. séances, fog layers, and invisible monsters). Also commendable is the life lesson presented in this episode, which warns against relying on superstition to explain phenomena of a seemingly paranormal variety.
9) There Were Giants in the Earth
Noting a precipitous drop in the planet’s temperature, the Robinsons leave the Jupiter 2 to seek a warmer climate. While visiting a mysterious cave, however, Will and Penny become trapped in the ruins of an ancient civilization.
Featuring a giant cyclops, lightning storms, and the skeletal remains of a long-deceased humanoid, “There Were Giants in the Earth” will surely appeal to fans of the sci-fi/horror crossover genre. In addition, Bernard Herrmann’s “The Flashlight” theme from The Day the Earth Stood Still can be heard when the Robinsons and Major West arrive at the entrance of an alien catacomb—a fitting complement to the spooky, otherworldly atmosphere of the cave exploration sequence.
8) The Astral Traveler
Entering a rift in the space-time continuum, Will travels to a haunted castle in 15th century Scotland. Once there, the Robinson boy is terrorized by a bagpiping ghost and his uncle, later revealed to be swamp creature.
Similar to “Catspaw” from Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Astral Traveler” doesn’t make much sense from a storytelling perspective. Those in search of some good, old-fashioned Halloween fun will nevertheless enjoy this offering, which employs a decrepit, medieval castle in conjunction with spirits, executioners, wailing noises, and other devices of a macabre nature.
7) The Cave of the Wizards
Lured into a cave by an alien force, Dr. Smith transforms into a silver-skinned humanoid known as Oniak—leader of the Dranconian race. Only the power of Will’s friendship can convince Dr. Smith, now in a trancelike state, to abandon his throne and return to the Robinson family.
This season-two entry combines gothic horror tropes (i.e. a living mummy and a vampire-like creature) with science fiction concepts such as mind control, genetic augmentation, and intelligent beings consisting of both cybernetic and flesh-and-blood components. Additionally haunting is the abandoned, cobweb-sprinkled interior of the Jupiter 2 replica, heightening the ominousness of Will and Dr. Smith’s predicament—especially when accompanied by the harpsicord music of Alexander Courage.
6) The Ghost Planet
While in space, Dr. Smith mistakes an alien planet for Earth. Upon arrival, the Robinsons are greeted by a welcoming voice that identifies itself as “Space Control.” Things are not as they appear, however, as a cybernetic alien race (noticing a pattern here?) enslaves the Robinson family and “liberates” the Robot from his human masters.
By showcasing dim-lit surroundings, thick layers of fog, and a sliding door with “Gate 115” creepily inscribed on it, the landing area scene generates an air of suspense prior to introducing—and revealing the sinister intentions of—the Cybernetics Kingdom. On that note, the unsettling voice of Space Control Officer O-3 (provided by Sue England in an uncredited role) will no doubt send a chill down the viewer’s spine, silly moving prop effects notwithstanding.
5) Wreck of the Robot
Inside a cave, Will and Dr. Smith discover a trio of humanoid aliens known as Saticons. After kidnapping, dismantling, and examining the Robot, the Saticons construct a device allowing them to control all machinery in the universe.
Despite operating on a clichéd science fiction premise, “Wreck of the Robot” maintains a chilling, horror-themed atmosphere from start to finish. Specifically, the Saticons dwell exclusively in the shadows, sway from side-to-side in a most unnerving manner, and wait until the middle of the night to break into the Jupiter 2 and steal the Robot—all aspects that, when accentuated by Herrmann’s aforementioned “The Flashlight” tune, contribute to the Saticons’ foreboding presence overall.
4) Attack of the Monster Plants
Banished from the Jupiter 2, Dr. Smith discovers an alien plant species capable of replicating both animate and inanimate matter. Hoping to gain leverage over the Robinson family, Dr. Smith stands around idly as Judy enters one of the flower pods—with a terrifying outcome.
A tribute to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, “Attack of the Monster Plants” offers a compelling twist on a classic sci-fi/horror story. Exceptionally frightening is Marta Kristen’s portrayal of doppelganger Judy, which adds a hint of malice to an otherwise kind and charming young woman.
3) Invaders from the Fifth Dimension
Requiring a human brain to replace their ship’s computer system, beings from the fifth dimension kidnap Dr. Smith and fasten an obedience collar around his neck. In order to save his own life, Dr. Smith manipulates Will into boarding the alien spacecraft.
Introducing disembodied heads into an eerie, black-and-white setting, “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension” should be requisite viewing for those who enjoy science fiction stories with a horror twist. Most unnerving, however, are the actions of Dr. Smith, who, following his encounter with the aliens, preys upon the vulnerabilities of a likable, innocent young child while carrying out his maniacal scheme.
2) Space Creature
Engulfed by a foggy substance, the Jupiter crew members begin disappearing one-by-one until only Will and Dr. Smith remain. Meanwhile, the Robinson family and Major West confront a ghostly creature who exploits the deep-rooted fears, prejudices, and insecurities of its victims.
Possibly inspired by the Shadowman from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the bedsheet monster in “Space Creature” behaves in a cruel, malevolent fashion, even going so far as to verbally and physically abuse young Will while possessing Dr. Smith. Similarly horrifying is the fact that, like the invisible creature in Forbidden Planet, said bedsheet monster feeds off negative energy stemming from the “id” of each human character—a surprisingly dark and disturbing angle for a children’s television series to explore.
1) Wish Upon a Star
Exiled for his laziness, Dr. Smith—having set up camp near a derelict spacecraft—discovers an alien thought machine capable of materializing any object desired by the user. Despite taking full advantage of his new toy, the not-so-good doctor soon regrets his selfish behavior when a tall, featureless humanoid arrives to reclaim the machine.
Combining fantasy-themed subject matter with a nightmarish twist, “Wish Upon a Star” earns its reputation as the scariest episode of Lost in Space. Worth noting in particular is the Rubberoid creature played by Dawson Palmer, who, in addition to revealing himself quite suddenly, serves to terrify the audience with his outstretched hands; muffled, threatening vocal sounds; and utter lack of discernable facial characteristics, giving him the appearance of a ghost-like entity.
What do you think are the scariest Lost in Space episodes? Share your own rankings in the comment section below.