Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Oasis" (November 10, 1965)


In “The Oasis,” a drought imperils the Robinson settlement.

Even the water conversion units that Don (Mark Goddard) has installed in the desert can’t keep up with the family’s demand for water. 

Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) makes the problem exponentially worse by taking a shower, using up all but two gallons of the water reserve.

Desperate and angry, the Robinsons go out in search of water, and find an oasis in the jungle.

There, the water tastes strange and toxic, but several moist, mango-like fruits are growing.  John (Guy Williams) insists that they test the fruit before sampling it, but Dr. Smith and Debbie both break the rules and try the fruits

Smith, believing the Robinsons have poisoned him, heads off into the desert alone. 

Back at the camp, Debbie grows to colossal size after eating the fruit. The Robinsons realize that the same thing could happen to Smith.  He will soon be a giant.

Maureen (June Lockhart) goes to the over-grown Smith and attempts to convince him to return to camp.



“The Oasis” is a not-particularly compelling episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968), and one that demonstrates the series’ propensity to veer towards outright fantasy. 

Here, Smith eats an alien fruit that transforms him into a giant.  Despite the overtly fantastic elements of the episode, the special effects are handled with remarkable aplomb, and several well-staged trick shots sell visually the concept of a giant Zachary Smith.



Additionally, this is a strong episode for Maureen Robinson, who demonstrates her forgiving and sympathetic character.  Again and again, she takes the initiative -- though always asking permission from John -- as a go-between for the two camps, the Robinsons and Dr. Smith.  Maureen acts as a peace maker and as a friend to both camps, and does so without ego or self-interest.



Less intriguing, and far less believable are the family’s reactions to Smith’s departure. Once more, Smith does something absolutely selfish -- taking a shower and using twenty-two gallons of the family’s water supply -- and when the family responds with irritation, he doesn’t even apologize. 

Then, when he believes he has been poisoned, Smith swears to kill the Robinsons.  He sabotages and steals the last water conversion unit device. If he is going to die, then they will die too, he swears.  

That’s….pathological.


Yet the Robinsons all mope about the camp, and discuss how much they miss Dr. Smith. They ponder the ways they could have been nicer to him, or more accommodating to him. Maureen has a sympathetic speech here about she considers Smith an “injustice collector,” and that basically, he’s harmless.

Only he’s demonstrated time and time again that he isn’t harmless.

One episode back he tried to sell Will to fifth dimension aliens.

Several episodes back, Smith sabotaged John’s rockets (or para jets), so he would crash-land and die on the planet. 

And, as mentioned above, in this adventure Smith sabotages the family’s technology so that its members will suffer a “lingering” death.

So why are the Robinsons’ so damn blind regarding Smith?  He’s an absolute danger to the family’s survival, especially on the frontier, and it makes no sense to romanticize him, or consider his antics “cute.”  They owe him absolutely nothing.

For me, this aspect of the series is the biggest stumbling block Lost in Space features at this point, and going forward too.  It’s not like Smith bumbles into trouble, is contrite, and learns from his mistakes. 

Contrarily, he seeks out trouble, is a coward, tries to extricate himself by any selfish means possible, and never learns a thing.  He just goes out and does the same thing again.

It’s Smith’s fault he eats the berries and his fault the water is almost gone. The Robinsons are not out of line to be irritated, angry with the guy. They could die from thirst.

Still, one artfully-composed shot in the episode explains the Smith vs. Robinsons conceit perfectly. In the foreground of the frame, sits Smith, self-satisfied and facing the camera. Far behind him, in the background, is the family. They are watching him. He is ignoring them. He is not only the paramount figure here in "The Oasis," but the paramount figure in the series.


In terms of questions of believability, there’s another funny aspect of “The Oasis” to consider.  When Smith grows to giant size, his clothes and boots grow with him.  How did the chemical properties of the alien mango manage that? 

Still, it’s far preferable to ask this question than to be confronted with the specter of a giant, naked Dr. Smith.

Next Week: “The Sky is Falling.”

3 comments:

  1. Strange thing,I felt the same thing about Smith,he is at first a sinister,cruel person-out to kill the Robinson's.Then he mellows into grandfatherly,inept buffoon-almost his shows Gillighan.If he began as the newly,old man-fifth wheel member of the crew-counteracting opposite Don West-the series eldest son so to speak,I'd OK.But Smith was cruel,self centered,Avon of Blake Seven type-with the self or brains.

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  2. When I used to watch LIS as a kid, I viewed Smith as almost a cartoon character. I never imagined that anyone like him could exist in reality. However, as an adult, I've found there are more Dr. Smiths in the world than there are Robinsons, and the trick is to be more like the latter and nothing like the former. In the real world, I think Smith would have found himself on the wrong side of an air lock. Heaven knows what would happen to Gilligan!

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  3. Brian Curry7:59 PM

    I think this episode is the one starting to get away from the sinisterly evil Dr. Smith and more the goofy, cowardly bungler that lead up to the Smith as a carrot in season three. Heck, I think it was in the next few episodes that he really started to do his shtick with the Robot that was hinted at in the first few episodes. IIRC, I think Jonathan Harris asked to change his character to the way it became, just because he figured he'd be out of the series by the end of first season if he stayed the reprehensible bad guy, which he was actually good at playing imo.

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