Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Wild Adventure" (September 21, 1966)

In “Wild Adventure,” the Jupiter 2 travels through space on a course that will take it very near to Earth. 

Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) pesters Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) about returning home, despite the fact that Robinson wants to continue on the original mission to Alpha Centuri.

But Robinson relents and sets a course for Earth, making very careful to avoid a trajectory that will take the ship through the Sun.

Meanwhile, a strange green alien woman floats outside the Jupiter 2 and beckons Smith to join her there.  This woman Lorelei, is a space vampire of sorts, one who eats atomic fuel.

Dr. Smith dons a spacesuit and leaves through the airlock to meet Lorelei, unaware that his actions could jeopardize the ship’s return to Earth, and safe passage near the sun.

Although this is only my second review of Lost in Space, Season Two, I have actually watched four episodes at this point.

As you know, I’ve written some positive things about the series in the past.  I like the moody black-and-white photography of the first season.  I enjoy the fairy tale “parable” aspect of stories such as “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,” and “The Magic Mirror.”  I also champion the horror touches of such episodes as “Attack of the Monster Plants” and “The Ghost of Space.”

But the only word I can use to describe the second season so far is…dire.

The stories are dire, and the execution of the stories is even worse.  This week, Smith wants to get back to Earth, but is lured into space by a green alien siren just at the moment when he could fulfill his dream and return home. 

Hypnotized by this space personality, he misses Earth all together, and once more the Jupiter 2 is Lost in Space.

I should also add, this episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) actually commits the error that Space:1999 (1975 – 1977) is always accused of (but didn’t actually make). 

Specifically, it confuses star systems and galaxies. In the last act of “Wild Adventure,” the Jupiter 2 bypasses the Earth’s solar system (and a close-call with the Sun), only to find itself leaving the galaxy.  We know the Jupiter 2 doesn’t possess a hyperspace or star drive, so there is no explanation for how the ship goes from near Earth space to another galaxy in an instant.  Clearly, the writers have no notion about distances in space, or the hierarchy of solar systems/galaxies.  You can’t leave the galaxy from a point near Sol, unless you are traveling at incredible velocity.  But the exact line of dialogue in the episode reads: “Leaving Earth and departing the galaxy.”


Other issues of credibility, scientific and otherwise also abound in “Wild Adventure,” like the fact that Smith can hear the space woman of “the Green Mist,” Lorelei (Vitina Marcus), even though she is outside the ship.  A simple notation that she is communicating via telepathy would ameliorate this concern.  

Secondly, why does Lorelei make herself known to Smith, but not the other men? Smith is an odd choice to attempt to arouse, isn’t he?

But, of course, there are mythic underpinnings here to consider that impact Lorelei’s nature. “Wild Adventure” is a variation on the Siren story, from Homer’s The Odyssey.  There, the Sirens sing an enticing song, but represent danger to the men of Odysseus’s ship. Lorelei represents the same qualities here.  She is a dangerous beauty; someone alluring who hides a monstrous or evil desire (in this case, to eat atomic fuel).

In sci-fi TV history, other series have also featured siren-like characters. On Space: 1999, “The Guardian of Piri” is a siren story of sorts.  And on Star Trek: The Animated Series, “The Lorelei Signal” involves a siren song calling the men of the Enterprise to a planetary surface.

It’s true that Lost in Space often takes mythic stories and puts a space age spin on them. We’ve already seen a variation on the King Midas story, for example, “All that Glitters.”  But “Wild Adventure” makes pretty wretched use of the siren trope, and is one of the worst episodes thus far in the canon.

I judge the episode so bad, in part because Smith’s bad behavior is again the motivator of most of the episode’s action.  He accidentally dumps the Jupiter 2’s fuel supply, for instance, thus making the ship unable to take long trips (though, as I noted above, it can still leave the galaxy…). His space-walk, similarly, is the thing that causes the Robinsons to miss a rendezvous with Earth.  He is not just a terrible person, and a constant thorn in the side.  …Smith is a crutch for the series writers too.  He is used to extend the series premise (of being Lost in Space) through his bad behavior. In story, or in universe, there’s no reason, at this point, for the Robinsons to tolerate his behavior.

The best part of the episode is the Jupiter 2's docking at a refueling station built by Earth technology. It's always cool to see other examples of Earth's space-age tech.

I was really looking forward to some Lost in Space adventures set in space, with the Robinsons and company encountering new alien life-forms.  But I didn’t expect anything as half-assed in conception and execution as this; as “Wild Adventure.”

Next week: “The Ghost Planet.”


  1. Bill Curry3:59 PM

    I have to agree with you, the only way they could be lost was for Smith to act like a complete moron, for example, here's his chance to get back to Earth, they are going to Earth, and then he does something completely moronic and makes them miss Earth. Heck, at this point in time, I could almost see Professor Robinson accidentally dumping him out of the space garbage chute and consoling Will about it in the morning.

  2. John excellent review of this actually memorable episode because they nearly got back to Earth and we see an Earth launched fuel barge. I always love the technology[production design] of science-fiction series. In the '70s, I enjoyed every episode of Lost In Space or Space:1999 that exposed us to other examples of Earth's space-age tech. You are correct about Lost In Space season two being dire throughout. As a young boy in the '70s I loved the season two "camp" adventure, but as an adult it is mainly nostalgic. I am so happy that Lost In Space season one and some episodes of season three exhibit the best of the series.


  3. Anonymous6:18 PM

    Don't overlook one of the most pathetic lines in sci-fi history ...when Smith pilots the ship by pressing buttons because they're "pretty ones". That's the sort of logic one would expect from a two year old, not a man with a PHD.

  4. I am so happy that Lost In Space season one and some episodes of season three exhibit the best of the series. Albeit, I often wonder if Lost In Space had aired without the Batman "camp" of the late '60s changing it for the worst, then how much better season two or three would have been.


  5. John,
    "Wild Adventure" is actually one of the better Season 2 episodes, so I don't know how to alleviate what's to come. There are actually some decent episodes such as "Prisoners of Space" and "Wreck of the Robot" to look forward to. I agree with SGB; I really enjoyed some of the second season episodes when I first saw them. "Trip Through The Robot" was particularly memorable. I loved "The Mechanical Men" and "Cave of the Wizards." There are some bright spots ahead. I almost hate to say it, but holding most of LIS up to modern scrutiny invites collapse. The show was very much of its time, but it has its charm. It's still my favorite show because of the sheer adventure and imagination on display. There's nothing else like it, and there's nobody like Doctor Smith (Jonathan Harris broke the mold, for better or worse and oftentimes both!). Things definitely improve in Year 3. Just get past "Space Circus" (shudders) and you'll be okay.

  6. Let's face it. Lost In Space became a fantasy show with a Sci-Fi setting by the time the second season started, with seeds planted firmly in the second half of the first season. The show was now aimed squarely at children.

    Thankfully, the third season was a much, much better season than season 2 despite a few memorable episodes that everyone remembers fondly like "Trip Through The Robot" (which was a great concept rendered silly by reusing whatever props Irwin Allen had on hand to represent the Robot's interior).

    Really, I don't think anyone would blame you if you skipped all the horrible, formulaic episodes of season 2, focusing only on the somewhat decent ones and went straight to season 3!

  7. Anonymous5:26 AM

    I think what John and some of the commenters here are forgetting is that Lost in Space cannot be viewed as serious science fiction. Granted, season 1 aimed to be a bit more on the serious side, and is the better season in terms of writing. But seasons 2 and 3 are obviously not intended to be taken seriously. It's a comedy series set in outer space. Sure, they get space terms mixed up, and that would be inexcusable for a hard science fiction series like Space:1999, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. Heck, even Buck Rogers was pretty good with their writing and space terms. But how can you hold something like incorrect space terminology against Lost In Space when they have episodes that feature such nonsense as a Space Circus, a floating green woman in space, or a vegetable rebellion?

    They obviously decided to turn Lost In Space into a campy comedy series after season 1. In a way, that's very unfortunate, because the series had lots of potential and a great cast, if it was allowed to continue with more serious action/adventure stories. But many fans today love Lost In Space specifically because of the ridiculous nature of series 2 and 3. The endless bickering between the robot and Dr. Smith, the goofy villains, the trippy sets and colors, the limitless variations of insults Dr. Smith hurls at the robot. This is what defines the 2nd and 3rd seasons. You can't go into these seasons and hold it against them for getting space science wrong, or for having lapses in logic, or wacky storylines, because most episodes will fail badly if held up to that scrutiny. It's certainly a big shift from season 1 to season 2, and it can certainly be jarring for those who aren't familiar with the series, much like Space:1999 seasons 1 and 2, or even Buck Rogers for that matter.

    I think the key to enjoying seasons 2 and 3 of Lost In Space is to go into it expecting camp, cheese, and silliness. There's a cool robot, some funny dialogue at times, some nice sets and effects here and there, and several excellent episodes along the way. If you expect any more than that from this series, you'll be disappointed past season 1. It's too bad that they changed the tone so drastically, but I embrace it for what it is - a fun space-fantasy adventure series with an occasional thought-provoking episode.

    As a side note, the series is being released on blu-ray this fall in a box set of all 3 seasons, fully uncut and remastered from the original negatives, with hours of bonus material thrown in. The old DVDs came from un-mastered broadcast video stock, and looked pretty poor, as well as several episodes missing footage. From what I've seen so far from some test clips posted last year, the new blu-rays should look pretty spectacular in high definition.

  8. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Even the theme song was neutered in the second season.

    Still, perhaps Dr. Smith is the logical choice for a siren to go after. Will isn't a man yet. And the other two are romantically involved.

    I was young when LOS was aired. And Even at my young age, I prefered the first season.