Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Ghost Planet" (April 28, 1966)
In “The Ghost Planet,” the Jupiter 2 passes through a zone of radiation on the way to an unexplored planet. Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) erroneously believes the planet is Earth, despite the fact that the Robinsons are now in another galaxy all together.
Upon landing on the planet, the red carpet is literally rolled out for the Robinsons. They are welcomed as guests by unseen but apparently friendly hosts.
Smith goes out first, expecting to meet the U.S. President. Instead, he is captured by the robot denizens of the planet.
These robots – “Supreme Prototypes of Cybernetic Beings” – exist in both humanoid and non-bipedal form, and. want to enslave the humans. They require them to work on a robot assembly line.
When Smith and Will (Bill Mumy) are captured and put to work, the Robot pretends to be on the side of the planet’s machine inhabitants so he can help them escape.
“The Ghost Planet” is marginally better than last week’s installment, “Wild Adventure,” though that’s not actually saying a whole lot.
This week, machine-people (who resemble the humanoids of the Cygnus, in 1979’s The Black Hole), one alien robot leader and an organic, pulsating brain attempt to enslave the Robinsons.
Once more, the majority of the episode’s action goes to Smith, Will and the Robot. Smith is captured (again), Will goes out to rescue him (again), and the Robot is given perhaps the most interesting part of all.
He gets to play at being treacherous, attempting to gain the trust of the alien machines. It would have been awesome if he remembered to call the robot leader a ‘robotoid’ since we had that term defined for us by him in “War of the Robots” in the first season. But he doesn’t.
Still, the Robot’s role is the most intriguing aspect of the story. Although we love the robot, viewers may experience moments in which they wonder if he has become loyal to those of his “own kind,” over those in his family, the Robinsons. Yes, he’s proved himself many times before, and yet still the tension around his behavior in “The Ghost Planet” is real. Perhaps, this is some form of comment on our inherent distrust of technology.
“The Ghost Planet” has little to recommend it other than some nice colors, and a high level of action. In this case, it is useful to compare Lost in Space to Star Trek. Think of an episode of Trek, like “The Man Trap,” which seems to possess a basic or familiar plot. It involves a Salt Vampire, a monster, killing crewmen on the starship.
Yet that episode holds up well today, because the monster is contextualized as being the last of its kind. Dialogue explicitly compares “the monster” to Earth’s buffalo. By focusing on this idea, the story becomes something more than a monster-on-the-loose tale. We actually come to sympathize with the monster.
Here, Lost in Space sets an episode on a robot planet, but has virtually nothing of value or interest to tell us about that society, or what it means in a human sense. The robots attack and capture beloved characters, but we still know nothing about them, or their culture.
The machines need humans to work on a robot production assembly line, but the episode makes no observation about that fact. In short, the story might have been about the way that automation dehumanizes us, or how our technology could replace us in the right set of circumstances. But “The Ghost Planet” features none of those touches at all: it’s a straight-forward run-around, with no depth, and no real humanity. The robots are just villains to escape from, not a carefully-examined alien civilization.
Importantly, Lost in Space is not always so insipid. I feel like I must point that out. “The Magic Mirror,” for example, is about growing up, and uses a stagnant alternate dimension to describe the Peter Pan principle. Staying young is great, but not if you don’t change. Not if you don’t grow. “The Ghost Planet” desperately needs some kind of angle like that so that it is not just senseless phantasmagoria. The episode never stops moving, but it never really gets anywhere, either.
Next week: “Forbidden World.”