Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "A Change of Space" (April 20, 1966)
In “A Change of Space,” the Robot (Dick Tufeld), Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) and Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) unexpectedly happen upon a landed spaceship in the wild.
Will brings the rest of his family to see the advanced space-craft, and the Robot reports that it is a sixth dimensional vehicle, and an “extra-galactic delivery system.”
The vehicle is also in “go” condition for lift-off, and Will accidentally activates the launch sequence after boarding it alone.
He goes on a fantastic, extra-dimensional journey and returns altered. Now, he is a genius, a “latter-day Einstein” according to Dr. Smith. Will’s “tremendous acceleration in mental development” is a cause for concern for his parents, but a cause for curiosity for Smith. He believes that he can become “lord of the galaxies" if the same change happens to him.
Smith decides to augment himself the same way, and also takes a ride aboard the alien spaceship. He returns not a genius, however, but an aged, stooped, and senile old man.
Before long, the strange alien owner of the spaceship returns, alarmed that the humans have been using his vessel without permission…
Although this is yet another Smith-gets-intro-trouble-with-alien-artifact type of episode (think: “Wish upon a Star,” or “All that Glitters,”) I found “A Change of Space” a strong episode of Lost in Space (1965-1968), especially considering that it arrives near the end of a very long (29 episode…) season.
Perhaps I found this episode enjoyable because the focus isn’t exclusively on Smith’s antics, but rather the relationship between Will and his parents.
After becoming a genius, Will is undeniably a different person. Some aspect of youth and innocence is missing from his personality, and this is terrifying to John (Guy Williams) and Maureen (June Lockhart).
Yes, he is still Will, but now he can predict what people are going to think and say about any given topic, and read through motivations and secret agendas. He is still a boy with childish emotions, but a boy with too much knowledge; too much awareness.
The aspects of the episode that contend with Will’s strange situation, and his parents’ response to it, are genuinely interesting, and moving.
As parents, we all feel that our children grow up too fast. Well, here comes a space age parable about that very topic: about a child artificially “rushed” into adulthood. It’s wonderful that Will is so smart and so knowledgeable after his galactic journey, but he has lost something of value, the freedom to be a kid; and to have a child’s outlook on others. After "Magic Mirror," this is yet another Lost in Space story that focuses on the wondrous qualities of childhood, and the pain involved in leaving it behind.
Other creative aspects of “Change of Space” are not as strong (though still, relatively, better than recent episodes).
For instance, the Robot is now a veritable font of information and exposition, like Spock on Star Trek. The difference is that Spock is a trained science officer, with the library computer at his finger-tips. He can knowledgeably speak about a variety of topics.
The Robot is a product of Earth technology (circa 1997) by contrast, and yet he speaks knowingly here about extra-galactic vehicles and the sixth dimension. In “War of the Robots,” he similarly discussed “robotoids” with great knowledge, though how he had acquired such knowledge was a mystery.
According to fan lore, if I understand correctly, the Robot has been a recipient of some kind of alien download of data, making him more knowledgeable than the Robinsons (and Smith, naturally…) about many aspects of the universe.
That’s a decent ret-con (and I buy it…) but facts are facts: Lost in Space never really addresses how the Robot has suddenly become this font of galactic knowledge. After Smith, the Robot is the character who changes the most during the first season. He goes from being an automaton and unquestioning slave to Smith, to becoming a super-knowledgeable individual who gives as good as he gets, verbally, against Smith.
Also, and I’ve written about this before, but the writers are clearly not paying attention to details at this juncture. In this episode, the elderly Dr. Smith is seen in a heavy wheel-chair.
Where did the antique wheelchair come from?
Again, the Jupiter 2 had a weight limit, I’m certain, to achieve escape velocity from Earth. In recent weeks, however, we have seen that it carried sand-bags and a World War II helmet, painting equipment and wardrobe, and now this very bulky, very heavy wheelchair.
In all cases, these strange items are used in conjunction with Smith, to get across a sense of humor about his character. But for every laugh gained by Lost in Space, the series loses a little in terms of plausibility, in my opinion.
In “A Change of Space,” I also like the design and execution of the alien being. He’s like a plated-fish man, and the suit still looks pretty good (at least in black-and-white). He’s much better in appearance than some of the recent hairy alien monsters we’ve seen featured on the series.
Next week, the first season finale: “Follow the Leader.”
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