Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Prisoners in Space" (October 19, 1966)

In “The Prisoners of Space,” an alien representative of the Galactic Tribunal of Justice reports that the Robinson Family is under indictment for crimes “committed in space,” and is under house arrest.  

Almost instantly, a deadly barrier appears around the camp. It is lethal to touch the barrier, let alone escape from the settlement.

Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) is relieved to learn that he has not been indicted for any crimes, while the Robinsons wonder about the nature of alien “justice.” 

Soon, Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) is transported to an alien court-room via “molecular transfer beam,” and his mind is probed using a “memory machine.”

Other witnesses are also called before the tribunal, including Don West (Mark Goddard) and Will (Bill Mumy).

Each witness recounts different aspects of the Robinsons’ journey, from Earth to Priplanus, and the aliens begin to develop a picture involving Dr. Smith’s culpability.  Soon, he too is required to testify, though Smith attempts to avoid it.

After testifying at the court, Smith is found guilty, but the Robinsons deliver a petition to the court noting that he is mentally incompetent, and not guilty by reason of insanity…

Although at times it threatens to become that dreaded animal, “the clips show,” “Prisoners in Space” is nonetheless an entertaining second season episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968).  

At the very least, the episode remembers series history, featuring footage from “The Reluctant Stowaway” and “The Derelict,” and makes Smith accountable for his actions. Albeit briefly.

In particular, I like the look of the alien courtroom in this episode. It resembles a foggy Stonehenge, with a “memory chair” as the witness stand.  

Several fearsome aliens stand around the perimeter of the set, looking creepy and menacing.  Among those featured here are the spider from “Forbidden World” and the plant-man from “The Raft.” The alien that delivers the tribunal’s communicator to camp is from “The Magic Mirror.” 

And the judge is the bubble creature from “The Derelict.” In one of the episode’s best moments, the judge acknowledges that it is of the same race as the being shot by Smith in that superior episode. 

Some aspects of the episode leave something to be desired, of course, The barrier around the Robinsons’ camp, for instance, looks constructed of cellophane.  

And again, one must wonder why an official organization, like the Galactic Tribunal, doesn’t step in to save the Robinsons.  

As this episode points out, virtually every disaster on the series has occurred because of Smith's behavior, or because the Robinsons are lost.  

So why don’t the judges send the family home?  Or offer to give the family members the knowledge they need to be functioning, productive members of the larger galactic society?

Instead, the court just leaves them stranded on the planet.

Despite these flaws, “Prisoner in Space” is oddly entertaining and amusing.  The episode’s punch-line, that Smith is mentally incompetent to stand trial, is a perfect joke.  As is its follow-up:  The Robot is assigned to be Smith’s caretaker by the court, watching his every move.

I sure as Hell wouldn’t want that job, but the Robot, a perfect foil for Smith, is the ideal candidate.

This episode makes no sense, really, and the old clips mostly serve to remind one how much better the serious, black-and-white episodes of the series were by comparison to the second season re-boot. 

But “Prisoners of Space” moves fast, is colorful and funny and at least doesn’t repeat a story we’ve seen a dozen times before. In a very diminished season in terms of storytelling, this story is more tolerable than many.

Next week: “The Android Machine”


  1. Definitely one of the best episodes of season two.


  2. John,
    This episode is pretty close in quality and imagination to a First Season episode. It has the right blend of mystery, suspense, and humor.
    Y'know, I really never thought about the fact that every. single. one of the alien species the Robinsons meet just leave them stranded. Then again, the family doesn't seem too concerned with being rescued, stating again and again that they'd rather go to Alpha Centauri and complete their mission than return to Earth.
    Maybe that's why Smith was always throwing them under the Space Bus. He was the only one that wanted to go back, and already knew the Robinsons would just choose to go in the opposite direction.