Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Raft" (Dec 1, 1965)
In “The Raft,” Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) works day and night to perfect a new fuel which can get the Jupiter 2 off its inhospitable world, and return to space.
Unfortunately, his plasma fuel – “the fourth state of matter” -- is highly unstable, and dangerous to use.
An attempt to take-off goes poorly, and an alternative is suggested by some experiments that Will (Bill Mumy) has been conducting.
Perhaps a balloon could carry a small ship -- a kind of raft -- into the air, and then a plasma blast could carry it out of orbit.
This project is pursued, but Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) causes trouble yet again.
He and Will are trapped in the raft when Smith and the robot launch it, sending it into space.
Will and the good doctor soon land on a planet Smith believes is Earth, but which is actually inhabited by a strange plant creature…
I suppose it was inevitable.
But after two legitimately great episodes (“The Sky is Falling” and “Wish Upon a Star,”) Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) plummets back to Earth with “The Raft,” an underwhelming and familiar story that doesn’t take the characters or overall story-line in a new direction.
In short, this is another time-waster, one of many “Smith causes everyone trouble” stories, with no real follow-through.
Here, Smith gets his way, taking an escape craft to what he believes is Earth, manipulating the robot, Will and the other Robinsons to do so. The space raft, however, only orbits the Robinsons’ planet, and comes down to land not far from the settlement, though in the territory of a weird plant being, or "Bush Man."
I must confess that, visualized in black-and-white, that plant creature is creepy as hell. Its bulbous, soft eyes somehow seem real to me, even today, but perhaps because I first saw this episode in childhood. But it is undeniably effective the way the episode introduces the monster. Smith and Will encounter it, and it is un-moving, like a tree. It just stands there, and they approach it...unaware that it is a danger.
Yet the problem with the creature is that there is no follow-through with it at all. What does it want? Why don’t the Robinsons encounter it again?
Is it intelligent?
Similarly, we had Robinson counseling against the use of violence a couple of episodes back ("The Sky is Falling"), but here he doesn't hesitate to blast the creature with his laser. How does he know that there aren't more of these creatures, and that he isn't, in essence, starting a war with this action?
No answers are provided regarding these questions, and so the monster's presence is in the story serves no real dramatic or science fiction purpose.
It is simply a “threatening” monster, and a one-off threatening monster to boot. This is the aspect of Lost in Space I like the least: the idea that a creature (like a giant Cyclops or plant monster) can appear on the planet one week, but then never be seen or mentioned again.
Otherwise, “The Raft” is filled with tiresome stock footage of John and Maureen in the chariot, searching for Will, and of Don West, in the rocket pack, doing the same by air.
We’ve seen all this footage before, and it isn’t terribly well-integrated into the action this time around. It just slows the story down. So this is definitely an off-week for the production.
If there is anything important to report about “The Raft,” it is that the Robot is beginning to develop as a character.
Here, he shouts “Danger! Danger!” as would become his catchphrase, but also -- for the first time, I believe -- sasses Dr. Smith.
In particular, the Robot calls him a “bag of wind.”
So far on the series, the robot has been under Smith’s command. From here on out, he starts to push back against his former master.
Next week: “One of Our Dogs is Missing.”