Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Space Croppers" (March 30th, 1966)
In “The Space Croppers,” Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), Will (Bill Mumy), the Robot (Dick Tufield) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) are confronted with an alien werewolf while burying a time capsule of the Jupiter 2 settlement.
Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) and the others have difficulty believing in such a creature, but Smith soon encounters proof. While working on a water pipeline, he encounters a group of space-hillbillies. The group includes Keel (Dawson Palmer), who can turn into the wolf, and space-witches Effra (Sherry Jackson) and Sybilla (Mercedes McCambridge).
While these space hillbillies plan to unleash man-eating plants on the unsuspecting world of the Robinsons, Smith makes an attempt to romance and marry Sybilla, so she will take him home to Earth…
Twenty-five episodes in, and Lost in Space gives us space hillbillies.
These outer-space beings fly about in a spaceship that looks like a moon-shine still, and threaten the Robinsons’ with a dangerous harvest of carnivorous plants.
The issue in terms of plausibility, of course, is that hillbillies arise from a certain location on Earth, and the demographic that settled there. Hillbillies are of and from that particular region. Their culture arises because of the geography and because of demographic history.
So what factors account for a race of space-going hillbillies? What set of circumstance gave rise to them, on a cosmic scale?
Sadly, Lost in Space doesn’t tell us. This is a key difference between Star Trek and Lost in Space. Star Trek, on separate occasions, postulates a theory about parallel world development and about a race of aliens seeding the universe with endangered races (The Preservers), thus explaining the presence of familiar human cultures throughout the galaxy.
Lost in Space merely tosses out space traders, space croppers and so on, without explaining the universe that gives rise to such familiar-seeming characters.
And again, without an explanation, Lost in Space actually diminishes our heroes, the Robinsons. Why? Well, even dopey Space Hillbillies are not denied intergalactic space travel! They zip around the universe in their ships, coming and going as they please.
But the Robinsons? No such luck.
These good people, these scientists and explorers -- the best and brightest Earth has to offer -- are stranded on a planet, and not given access to fly the universe of hillbillies, pirates, traders, income tax, and so on.
One wonders, why don’t any of these aliens ever offer to help the Robinsons? Why don’t the Robinsons ask for help, either?
At a conceptual level, “The Space Croppers” reeks. It’s all silly juvenilia. Think about it for more than a minute, and you realize how implausible and half-baked it is.
“The Space Croppers” is a half-thought-out story that does nothing to explain to audiences exactly what kind of universe the Robinsons inhabit. The execution is slightly better, thanks to Sherry Jackson and Mercedes McCambridge in amusing guest roles.
In a bad story, like this one, one feels relieved that Jonathan Harris is present to chew-up the scenery.
At least in this case, Dr. Smith’s antics distract one from the utter lameness of the narrative.
Next week: “All that Glitters.”