Sensor Scan: Lost in Space

Lost in Space

If we’re going to try to piece together the climate Star Trek was entering in the mid-1960s and the way it might have first been received, it would be beneficial to spend some time talking about its closest contemporary TV cousin. Star Trek was but one of many science fiction shows on the air during this period, but the one it’s most frequently compared with is Lost in Space. There are a number of very good reasons for this: One, the two shows ran nearly concurrently, with their premiers and finales less than a year apart and two, both were voyaging starship shows loosely based around going to a new place every week and stumbling into adventure. Also, from a mid-1960s US perspective, Lost in Space would have been seen as “the other big space show” as while there were quite a few shows built in the adventure sci-fi model a great deal of them were German or British productions and would remain unknown to US audiences for decades.

The flipside of this is that for a long time Star Trek fans had a history of speaking derisively about Lost in Space, typically holding it up as the chief representative of an older, sillier, and campier method of doing TV sci-fi that Star Trek‘s emphasis on Hard Science thankfully swept away. And superficially at least the two shows do in fact seem strikingly different: While the Enterprise crew is often, and rather erroneously in my opinion, referred to as a family, the crew of the Jupiter 2 literally is one: Expedition commander Dr. John Robinson bundled his wife and children up into a flying saucer and departed an overpopulated Earth in an attempt to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. This leads into the next point of contrast: While the Enterprise‘s mission is supposedly to Seek Out New Life And New Civilizations (though recall we haven’t actually heard those words spoken yet), the Robinsons want basically the exact opposite: To find a habitable planet, settle down and start life anew.

It should be rather obvious by now that the premise of Lost in Space is lifted pretty much wholesale from the novel The Swiss Family Robinson, just updated for the Space Age. Indeed it’s not even the first work to do The Swiss Family Robinson In Space: That would be the Gold Key comic series The Space Family Robinson. The ramifications of this are interesting though; having just sort of panned “The Cage” for not being Vaka Rangi and for serving as proof positive Star Trek isn’t quite what it’s remembered as or thought of as being about, it’s tempting to say Lost in Space is much closer to that concept and call it a show ahead of its time. Here we have a family setting out on a voyage purely for migratory and population concerns looking to find a new home for themselves. This would, on the surface at least, seem like a straightforward translation of Polynesian navigation philosophy to the Space Age.…

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