Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space Day: "Invaders from the Fifth Dimension"

The Robinson family's every move is being scrutinized “from afar by weird alien eyes.”

These inhuman observers, however, can’t remain undetected for long. Judy (Marta Kristen) believes that she has seen something unusual on a scanner, and Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) witnesses a creepy alien ship -- resembling a giant eyeball -- land in secret.

Dr. Smith is abducted by the aliens -- strange, mouth-less beings with big domed foreheads -- and on board their spaceship he learns that they require a human brain to repair their ship’s navigational computer. 

Smith convinces them that his mind wouldn’t do the job, and suggests Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) instead.

Smith tricks Will aboard the alien ship, and the boy learns that he is to be permanently separated from his family. 

Meanwhile, the Robinsons and Don West (Mark Goddard) attempt to rescue him.

Realizing that humans suffer from “emotional blockages,” the aliens decide to let Will return to his loved ones.  What seems to the aliens a “form of madness common to all” humans is just the simple emotion of…love.

“Invaders from the Fifth Dimension” is a significant entry for Lost in Space (1965--1968). 

In many ways, it is the template for many future installments. In stories of this type, aliens visit the Robinsons, want to separate the family, and take malicious action to do so.  Meanwhile, Smith proves again and again that he is a duplicitous coward...

Many stories of this type repeat on the series, but “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension” -- perhaps because it is the first  in a long line -- isn’t bad. In fact, some aspects of it are downright imaginative.  

For example, the alien spaceship is, for lack of a better word, dimensionally transcendent. Like a Time Lord TARDIS, it is bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Similarly, the macabre aliens, aided by the black-and-white photography, look authentically creepy at times. They lack mouths, but also bodies, so that they seem like ambulatory heads.  

Yet the aliens, for all their strange features, are not exactly evil. They want to return to their home, and wish to repair their spaceship.  To them, Earth is but a “minor planetoid,” and they have no understanding of human beings, or human relationships.  

This fact doesn’t mitigate their creepiness. In a way, it adds to it. These aliens aren’t out to kill the Robinsons, but they regard the Robinsons as inferior and unimportant, as humans might gaze at an unusual insect.  

The aliens don’t understand the emotional horror they suggest: separation from family, and also from individual freedom. They want to enslave humans and use us as spare parts (another idea seen on Doctor Who [“The Girl in the Fireplace,” and “Deep Breath.”)  That’s a terrifying notion: to be used, against our will, as slaves to unfeeling entities.

Invaders from the Fifth Dimension” is also the first episode that reveals, at least to this degree, what a true bastard Dr. Smith truly is. Other episodes have shown him willing to sabotage the mission and kill John Robinson.  He has tried to kill the Robinsons as a group in other stories, too.  But here he targets Will, and attempts to sell the child into the horrible slavery I noted above.  All so he can save his own miserable skin.

Honestly, at this point, Smith should, at the very least, be banished from the Robinson settlement.  He manipulates and tricks an innocent (Will), and is a party to his enslavement, separation from his family, and his possible murder, even. 

I know Smith is frequently described as a buffoon or comic relief, but in these early episodes, his actions are worse than that. They are truly reprehensible.  If he attempted to trick my son, and send him off with these particular aliens, I would have no compunctions about punishing him, and possibly killing him.  

Think about it: the Robinsons have precious few resources, and even fewer defenses. An alien ship shows up, and Smith sides with those aliens, and attempts to sell them your child. He puts his well-being ahead of the family, and ahead of the community.  

The sad but logical point here is that he is untrustworthy, and worse than that, malicious.  He deserves a laser blast to his (non-existent) heart.

Once more, Lost in Space also depicts an alien craft with unique and original touches. I loved the web-encrusted alien vessel of “The Derelict,” but the ship here is even more inventive in appearance.  

It literally appears to be an eyeball surrounded by stretchy-muscle tissue.  It’s a really great contrast to the very 1960s technology of the Robinsons.  And again, the production values of this episode far outstrip those of Star Trek (1966 – 1969).

Once more the story is also on point, focusing on the conceit of family, and family coming together in times of difficulty.

Next: “The Oasis.”

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