Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Thief from Outer Space" (November 9, 1966)


In “The Thief from Outer Space,” the “terror of the cosmos” -- An Arab Chieftain (Malachi Throne) and his slave (Ted Cassidy) -- land on the Robinsons’ planet to rob it blind. 

Instead, Will (Bill Mumy) ends up on the thief’s orbiting asteroid, the slave of a slave. He is immediately put to work tending to the space Arab’s furnace.

But after Penny (Angela Cartwright) is captured, the Thief recruits Will to find the treasure he seeks.  
For generations, he has searched for a beautiful, missing princess. He believes a golden arrow points to her location, the Robinsons’ planet.

Meanwhile, the slave mistakes Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) for an all-power vizier who once owned him, until the thief stole him away. Smith uses this case of mistaken identity to escape from death by pendulum, and confront the Thief.



An episode like “The Thief from Outer Space” pretty well does away with any pretense that Lost in Space (1965-1968) is a science fiction series about space age pioneers. 

Here, the characters refer to themselves as castaways (like the characters on Gilligan’s Island), and the story and situations are pure cornball fantasy, without scientific grounding of any sort.

Without explanation or reason, humanoids in this episode can survive on rogue asteroids (where the atmosphere, surely, would turn to ice, given significant distance from the nearest star), while other characters are trapped inside bottles, like the djinn of legend. There’s no discussion of miniaturization or suspended animation or any other sci-fi concept that could explain this development.  It’s just taken as true, and real. Thus…fantasy.

“The Thief from Outer Space” descends into high-camp in several scenes, as Will and Penny are forced to peddle a stationary bike to power the Thief’s “furnace,” which heats the air on his asteroid.  That furnace, a bunch of unconnected left-over props from other episodes, can warm the air, but certainly it can’t maintain an atmosphere.


I can accept the “sedan” spaceship that is featured here, since it is described as an “interdimensional space transporter,” but it’s the only item or vehicle that’s given any kind of scientific explanation -- or cover -- in an episode of magic bottles, magic rings, and let’s face it, antiquated ethnic stereotypes.


I’m not a person, or critic, who believes that it is appropriate to judge older films or movies by today’s standards of propriety.  Morals and our understanding of cultural differences grow over time.  

So you can’t blame an episode like “The Thief from Outer Space” -- made circa 1966 -- for accurately reflecting the widespread beliefs of its age, the 1960s. 

But suffice it to say that this episode tosses out cultural stereotypes about Arabs (“Farewell, infidels!) at the very same time it fat-shames the princess in a bottle. After two hundred years she’s gotten fat from eating marzipan.



Forget the ethnic stereotypes though, the fat princess is a lame, one-note joke, and at the end of the episode, she is trapped in the bottle again, because the Thief dispensed with her after deeming her fat. 

Just…wow.

The Thief fares a little better, after one gets over his blatantly stereotyped presentation. He emerges from his two-dimensional manner of speak and wardrobe to reveal, in the end, some true humanity. “I’m running out of tricks,” he tells Will gravely, revealing a lonely, desperate man. This is the beset scene in the show because it explores the character as a human being, not as a flamboyant adventure-fantasy stereotype.

As usual -- at least in the second season -- Lost in Space can’t be bothered to maintain much continuity, episode to episode.  For example, Will tells the thief that the Robinsons are alone on the planet, but what Tiabo (Wally Cox), the lonely soldier from “The Forbidden World?”  Isn’t he still on the planet, making reports back to his planet, and watching the Robinsons? Or are we supposed to forget him, the way the series forget the alien soldiers of the episode “The Lost Civilization?”

The regular characters aren’t well-presented in this story, either.  John (Guy Williams), Maureen (June Lockhart), and Penny at first refuse to believe Will’s story of a cosmic thief. 

Really?


In the last several weeks alone these doubting Thomases have encountered space prospectors (“Blast off into Space,”) space carnies (“Circus in Space,”), space boxers and wrestlers (“The Deadly Games of Gamma Six,”) and even space department store managers (“The Android Machine.”)  And before that, they encountered a cowboy astronaut (“Welcome Stranger,”) space hillbillies (“The Space Croppers,”) a space zookeeper ("The Keeper,") and a space pirate (“The Sky Pirate.”) 

But “The Thief from Outer Space” nonetheless wants us to believe they absolutely draw the line at space Arabs?

All in all, “The Thief from Outer Space” manages to be not just bad, but frequently insulting too. Still, it's always great to see Ted Cassidy. And "The Thief from Outer Space" aired just a few weeks after his appearance as Ruk on Star Trek's "What are Little Girls Made Of."

Next week: “Curse of Cousin Smith.”

2 comments:

  1. John good review of another season two episode.

    I guess in Lost In Space universe the aliens all use variants of “interdimensional space transporter sedan spaceship" which are basically all Doctor Who T.A.R.D.I.S. like crafts which itself is jammed as a Police Call Box exterior.

    SGB

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  2. John,
    Malachi Throne (playing the Thief) once remarked in an interview that he wanted to be in Lost In Space because it was his children's favorite show. I really think this episode rises above most of Season Two's fantasy trappings because of Throne's performance. The scene you mentioned, in which the actor's humanity shines into the character, is wonderful. "What," he ponders, "is the point of living if you can't trust a little boy?" The look of anguish on his face when Will betrays him stays with you, as do his parting words to the boy moments later. Billy Mumy's acting here is also exceptional.
    Of course, Ted Cassidy is worth his weight in gold, and Robert Drasnin's music is perfect. There's a lot to like in "Thief," which is more than I can say about the remainder of this season.
    I should point out that this is the first Year Two script by Jackson Gillis, who wrote the Season One standouts "My Friend, Mister Nobody" and "The Magic Mirror." It makes you wonder if he was being told to write camp at this point, since this episode differs so drastically from what he'd crafted previously.
    Steve

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