Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space Day: "The Lost Civilization"

In “Lost Civilization,” Professor Robinson (Guy Williams), Don West (Mark Goddard), Will (Bill Mumy) and the Robot (Dick Tufeld) go in search of drinking water in the chariot, but run afoul of natural disasters, including a volcanic eruption and a planet quake.

Separated from the adults, Will and the Robot end up in an underground world. 

There, Will finds a sleeping beauty, a young princess (Kym Karath). At the Robot’s urging, Will kisses her and awakens her.

Unfortunately, this was not the right thing to do. 

The princess’s people, commanded by the sinister Major Domo (Royal Dano) are planning the historic conquest of the universe.  And their first target is the planet Earth, because Will -- the first to kiss the princess -- is from that distant world.

Now Professor Robinson, Will, Don and the Robot must escape the underground empire…

Well, at least “The Lost Civilization” isn’t a Dr. Smith episode...and it’s the first time in five weeks I can write those words. 

Instead, “The Lost Civilization” tries to do some real heavy lifting and get Lost in Space back on solid ground.  The episode concerns the men of the Robinson party (and the robot) exploring distant territory in search of drinking water for the settlement.  After many, many weeks away, we are back on the solid terrain of charting new territory, and reckoning with the nature of this dangerous and unstable frontier.

Alas, the specifics of the story are not particularly good or noteworthy. There’s a little bit of Lost in Space's fairy tale principle here (namely in terms of Sleeping Beauty), but also a huge heaping of Flash Gordon tropes.  

In particular, the Major Domo is made-up to closely resemble Ming the Merciless, and the focus on action and cliffhangers may remind you of 1930s sci-fi serials.

I have also read that some people see this story as an “homage” to Flash Gordon and 1930s serials, but the episode isn’t really reflexive in any meaningful way.  It’s a straight-forward appropriation of pulp tropes, without any meaningful comment on them.  Similarly, the sets here are taken directly from the Seaview on Irwin Allen's sister series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964 - 1968), so even the visual aspects of "The Lost Civilization" feel derivative.

Thus, while “The Lost Civilization” moves at a fast clip, and hops from scene to scene quickly, one may feel that opportunities are nonetheless being missed. 

Will gets a tender sub-plot here with the princess, a girl who does not know what it means to have fun.  And the men must deal with an army of soldiers in suspended animation, bent on destroying Earth.  But both stories feel half-thought out.

It’s a lot to take in, and so, not surprisingly, it all ends unsatisfactorily. The Robinsons escape the underground world, and a planet quake buries it, meaning that at some future date, another wanderer may awake the princess and start the whole cycle all over again.  

Professor Robinsons’ commentary about all this is amusing and a little out of character.  He says, basically, he just hopes they aren’t around to see it when these soldiers conquer the universe.

Not exactly a pro-active response to the threat.  One gets the feeling that -- like so many stories on Lost in Space -- everything learned by the characters this week will be forgotten by next week’s installment.

Consider this: how safe would you feel if you knew that an army of technologically superior soldiers awaits, just a day away from your settlement?  

Over the generations, this would certainly mean war. Or at least preparations for war.

Alas, “The Lost Civilization” doesn’t even tie in to an obvious connection in Lost in Space history. 

In the early episodes, “There Were Giants in the Earth” and “The Hungry Sea,” the Robinson party encounters an old city inside a cave, a long-forgotten place of skeletons and weird, ancient architecture.  It would have been great to see “The Lost Civilization” connect those unexplored ruins to the world of these aliens, here….who have been preparing for galactic war for so long.

But again, continuity isn’t the series’ strong point.  Even obvious connections are missed.

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