Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space Day: "Welcome Stranger"

In “Welcome Stranger,” a missile headed towards the Jupiter 2 is not the “alien monstrosity” feared by Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), but rather a lost spaceship belonging to lone space astronaut Jimmy Hapgood (Warren Oates). He left Earth in 1982, and has been traveling alone ever since.

The Robinsons welcome a friendly face from Earth, and John (Guy Williams) believes it would be a good idea to send the children -- Will (Bill Mumy) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) -- back to space with him.  

John believes that only Jimmy can get them home, to Earth. 

The problem, of course, is that the children don’t want to leave their parents. Also, Jimmy isn’t certain he wishes to return home, and, finally, Dr. Smith believes that he is the individual who should make the journey.

The Robinsons get their first visitor from Earth in “Welcome Stranger,” in this case a space cowboy who is also “lost in space.”  Hapgood is a friend, not a foe, but his presence raises an important question: would the children be safer with him, rather than stuck on an inhospitable world?

Both Maureen (June Lockhart) and John grapple with their own feelings of guilt about Will and Penny.  Perhaps they acted irresponsibly in committing the family -- and non-astronauts -- to such a space mission.  Does Jimmy, therefore, offer them an opportunity to rectify an error, to undo an act of vanity, or pride.

The answer, of course, is negative.  

“Welcome Stranger’s” point is that members of a family belong together, whether on Earth, or trapped on a distant world.  So again, Lost in Space gets right back to the heart of the show's premise: the courage required to push the boundaries of the frontier, to settle in a completely new (and dangerous) territory.

Is the final frontier a place for children?  Well, it must be, if man is to survive and thrive beyond the confines of Earth. Families must learn to cope with the unknowns together, and that is what this simple-straight forward episode of Lost in Space is all about.  There are some good, emotional scenes of drama here that involve Maureen and John making a difficult decision, and then trying to share it with the children.

There’s a kind of gentleness, simplicity and innocence to this story which, in a way, ages it, I suppose. It would be exceedingly difficult to imagine a Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994) episode, for example, to committing to a story organized around such a simple question about survival in space, and the place of family.

The episode’s “action” quotient comes from microbes that have landed on Jimmy’s spaceship, and soon grow to gigantic size.  They nearly eat Penny before the episode is through. 

These creatures are fanciful-looking and yet, because they are real (rather than CGI), there's also something very tactile or "real" about their monstrous presence.  They are giant, slimy, and hairy.  At first glance, they may seem unrealistic, but the more you look at them, the more menacing (and icky) they seem.

Our next episode is one of the classics: “My Friend, Mr. Nobody.”

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