Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space Day: "The Keeper" (Part I)

In the first part of the two-part episode “The Keeper,” a regal, powerful alien (Michael Rennie) arrives on the Robinsons’ planet on an expedition to collect two of every form of animal. 

The Keeper uses a strange staff to control the animals, and bend them to his will, and the trick works on Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) as well.

While the Robinsons attempt to determine the nature of their alien visitor, Smith plots a plan to steal the Keeper’s ship and return to Earth. 

Soon, the Keeper decides he wants to take Will (Bill Mumy) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) as two of his human specimens, but his plans are waylaid when Smith releases all the animals on his ship from their cages…

“The Keeper” (Part I) is, in many significant ways, a template for the future of Lost in Space.  Several episodes repeat the formula seen here. 

It’s a development of the “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension”-type story, and goes something like this: 

An alien personality with some amazing power, distinguishing feature or weapon (in this case a staff “made of weightless matter” and “powered by cosmic energy"), attempts to separate the family members, wishing to take one or more (often the children) back to another planet for some dark purpose.  

Here, Will and Penny are jeopardized, to be exhibits in a menagerie, but in “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension,” it was Will who was to be taken away, to power an alien navigational computer.

Then, in this type of story, the Robinsons demonstrate some human quality (irrational emotions like love in “Fifth Dimension,” and self-sacrifice in “The Keeper” Part II), and the alien -- recognizing their intelligence/nobility/humanity/uselessness for their purpose -- leaves in defeat.  

Meanwhile, Smith --  in all these stories -- is up to no good, and often negotiates a way for the aliens to take one of the Robinsons instead of him.

As an early variation on this tale, “The Keeper” (Part I) doesn’t yet feel like it has been done to death. Accordingly, it's an engaging episode.  

And Michael Rennie makes for an inscrutable alien, bringing a sense of both dignity and menace to his role.  Lacking human emotions, the character of the Keeper is cold, but not without a sense of morality. He's not just a monster, and he isn't pure "evil."  But he does have an agenda he is unwilling to leave unfulfilled.  So he is dangerous.

The Keeper's logic isn’t always strong, however. 

Don (Mark Goddard) and Judy (Marta Kristen) would make far better specimens in his collection than would Will and Penny because they are of breeding age, and, since not related, capable of producing healthy off-spring. 

The Keeper shows a rudimentary interest in Don and Judy here, but then settles on the kids instead, presumably because they will live longer.  Yet if specimen longevity is the goal, then Don and Judy, again, are a superior catch.  They can have many children, ones who will live longer than Will and Penny might.

A very strong scene in the episode, actually, involves Don and Judy.  They share a scene together in which they relate in a more romantic, adult way.  They show attraction and affection for one another, and this angle is too often shorted on Lost in Space.  

The end of “The Keeper” is intriguing, because it reveals all the alien life-forms seen thus far on the series steam-rolling out of the Keeper’s ship.  I love the horror movie imagery utilized here.  From a low angle (expressing menace and size), we see the monsters stagger forward.  It's a nightmarish moment.

We see the Bush People of “The Raft,” the weird night bat of “The Oasis,” the Cyclops of “There Were Giants in the Earth” (though he is not a giant here…), a variation of the horned, furry monster of “One of Our Dogs is Missing,” and even the faceless alien of “Wish Upon a Star.”  

Amusingly, the episode keeps cutting to the same four or five monsters staggering down the exit ramp, shot from different expressionistic angles to suggest the presence of dozens of beasts, instead of just half-a-dozen or so.

The Bush People, the Cyclops and the Giant Bat belong on this list of denizens. They seem to be natives of the planet, legitimately.  We know from “Wish Upon a Star,” however, that the faceless alien crashed on the planet in a spaceship.

In terms of recycling costumes, or props in this case, the alien “brain” control panel from “The Derelict” gets hauled out of mothballs for the interior of The Keeper’s ship. 

By contrast, the Keeper’s ship is gorgeously wrought here, as you can see from the imagery below.  It looks great, doesn't it?

Again, it's a demonstration that, in some sense, Lost in Space had a deeper visual imagination (and better production values) than its more famous and beloved contemporary, Star Trek.

Next“The Keeper” (Part II).

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