Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Lost Civilization" (April 13, 1966)

In “Lost Civilization,” Professor Robinson (Guy Williams), Don West (Mark Goddard), Will (Bill Mumy) and the Robot (Dick Tufeld) go in search of drinking water in the chariot, but run afoul of natural disasters, including a volcanic eruption and a planet quake.

Separated from the adults, Will and the Robot end up in an underground world. 

There, Will finds a sleeping beauty, a young princess (Kym Karath). At the Robot’s urging, Will kisses her and awakens her.

Unfortunately, this was not the right thing to do. 

The princess’s people, commanded by the sinister Major Domo (Royal Dano) are planning the historic conquest of the universe.  And their first target is the planet Earth, because Will -- the first to kiss the princess -- is from that distant world.

Now Professor Robinson, Will, Don and the Robot must escape the underground empire…

Well, at least “The Lost Civilization” isn’t a Dr. Smith episode...and it’s the first time in five weeks I can write those words. 

Instead, “The Lost Civilization” tries to do some real heavy lifting and get Lost in Space back on solid ground.  The episode concerns the men of the Robinson party (and the robot) exploring distant territory in search of drinking water for the settlement.  After many, many weeks away, we are back on the solid terrain of charting new territory, and reckoning with the nature of this dangerous and unstable frontier.

Alas, the specifics of the story are not particularly good or noteworthy. There’s a little bit of Lost in Space's fairy tale principle here (namely in terms of Sleeping Beauty), but also a huge heaping of Flash Gordon tropes.  

In particular, the Major Domo is made-up to closely resemble Ming the Merciless, and the focus on action and cliffhangers may remind you of 1930s sci-fi serials.

I have also read that some people see this story as an “homage” to Flash Gordon and 1930s serials, but the episode isn’t really reflexive in any meaningful way.  It’s a straight-forward appropriation of pulp tropes, without any meaningful comment on them.  Similarly, the sets here are taken directly from the Seaview on Irwin Allen's sister series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964 - 1968), so even the visual aspects of "The Lost Civilization" feel derivative.

Thus, while “The Lost Civilization” moves at a fast clip, and hops from scene to scene quickly, one may feel that opportunities are nonetheless being missed. 

Will gets a tender sub-plot here with the princess, a girl who does not know what it means to have fun.  And the men must deal with an army of soldiers in suspended animation, bent on destroying Earth.  But both stories feel half-thought out.

It’s a lot to take in, and so, not surprisingly, it all ends unsatisfactorily. The Robinsons escape the underground world, and a planet quake buries it, meaning that at some future date, another wanderer may awake the princess and start the whole cycle all over again.  

Professor Robinsons’ commentary about all this is amusing and a little out of character.  He says, basically, he just hopes they aren’t around to see it when these soldiers conquer the universe.

Not exactly a pro-active response to the threat.  One gets the feeling that -- like so many stories on Lost in Space -- everything learned by the characters this week will be forgotten by next week’s installment.

Consider this: how safe would you feel if you knew that an army of technologically superior soldiers awaits, just a day away from your settlement?  

Over the generations, this would certainly mean war. Or at least preparations for war.

Alas, “The Lost Civilization” doesn’t even tie in to an obvious connection in Lost in Space history. 

In the early episodes, “There Were Giants in the Earth” and “The Hungry Sea,” the Robinson party encounters an old city inside a cave, a long-forgotten place of skeletons and weird, ancient architecture.  It would have been great to see “The Lost Civilization” connect those unexplored ruins to the world of these aliens, here….who have been preparing for galactic war for so long.

But again, continuity isn’t the series’ strong point.  Even obvious connections are missed.

Next week: “A Change of Space.”


  1. Continuity was one of the major issues with all the Irwin Allen shows. Even though the Robinsons spent much of season one and season two stuck on the same planet, each new discovery was treated as an isolated event. Multiple races and alien cultures visited or inhabited this one planet, but they would disappear by the next episode, making room for a new alien. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea suffered from the same issue. So many amazing new discoveries were made, only to be discarded and forgotten by the next episode. For a scientist, Admiral Nelson didn't have much in the way of dogged curiosity.

  2. Anonymous2:14 PM

    Too bad too, because as it happens by the end of the season, and to the next one, all these lost worlds and people become irrelevant due to what happens to the planet.

  3. John,
    I just re-watched this episode and it struck me that The Lost Civilization has some outright hilarious moments and dialogue. When will asks the Robot what happens to Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tale, the Robot responds "They were married and lived happily ever after," then follows up his own response to Will's reaction with "You're right...It does not compute." Will's own reaction to marriage is "I'm not gonna say those words." When the Robot says "affirmative" three times in a row, Will says "Are you sure your tapes aren't stuck?" I was seriously laughing out loud. I remember being enthralled with this episode. To a kid, it was all serious business.
    Applying logic to Lost In Space, particularly as it goes along, may be an exercise in frustration. I often have to remind myself that it's a show for kids, and the younger me ate it up. Doctor Who is a show which is easy to become cynical about, until I remind myself that I'm not truly its intended audience.
    I like this episode's spirit of adventure and exploration. Also, as Anon pointed out above, one wonders if the Princess and her people made it off the planet before the Season 2 premiere. I'm not even sure they made it out of this episode intact.
    It's fun to think about. And yes, that was a direct reference to skipping stones.

  4. Anonymous9:08 PM

    That civilization is supposed to be underground, yet it is as brightly lit as a baseball stadium...