Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "A Visit to Hades" (December 7, 1966)

In “A Visit to Hades,” Will (Bill Mumy), Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) and the Robot discover a strange lyre in the desert.  

When Smith strokes it, he is transported to a prison cell in another dimension; a complex which he mistakes for Hell itself.

There, the sole prisoner -- Morbus (Gerald Mohr) -- pretends to be the Devil, and tells Smith he will release him from Hades if he does one thing: destroy the lyre.

Smith is returned to the planet, but finds he can’t destroy the musical instrument. 

Before long, Morbus escapes from the prison and begins to romance Judy (Marta Kristen).

Soon, she ends up in the Hell/prison dimension too, and Professor Robinson (Guy Williams) and Don West (Mark Goddard) must rescue her.

“A Visit to Hades” is a strange episode indeed, but at least this week's installment features a solid sci-fi concept, in this case, an extra-dimensional prison, and the exile trapped there.  

As we learn in the course of the episode, Morbus has been trapped for 12,000 years in that cell and is seeking a way of escape.

Unfortunately, Lost in Space (1965-1968) fails to tell a truly gripping story with this premise. Instead, it wallows in high camp, and again, gets one main character very, very wrong.

In terms of the campy aspects of the story, I refer to one scene primarily. Morbus, using a “temporal projector” is able to scan Dr. Smith’s memories and see his sins.  

Instead of showing us Smith’s evil behavior -- sabotaging the Jupiter 2 (“The Reluctant Stowaway”), nearly killing Professor Robinson (“Island in the Sky”) or his attempt to sell Will to aliens (“Invaders from the Fifth Dimension”) -- the episode shows viewers a ridiculous scene of him stealing a chunk of Penny’s chocolate birthday cake.

Then, adding insult to injury, it reveals images of him as a youngster, making mischief, tattling on a fellow student and stealing copies of exams as a high school student. Such scenes might have been tolerable, except for the fact that they cast Harris – not other actors – as a six year old and as a seventeen year old.  They are impossible to take seriously.

Smith pretty much always looks bad, but “A Visit to Hades” does a terrible job developing the character of Judy Robinson. Now remember, she is a twenty-something year-old scientist, and an accomplished one at that.  

But this episode casts her as a fickle teenage girl. Judy flirts capriciously with Morbus, dissing Don and saying girls “like to have a choice.” This scene occurs after she is inexplicably rude to her mother, and complains about wanting to be left alone.  Then, she gets captured in Hell, starts to cry, and throws a temper tantrum at Morbus. She perks up only momentarily, when Morbus presents her with a diamond.  Then she's back to being a crybaby.

So…Judy’s fifteen years old now?

Sadly, Judy is probably the most underdeveloped character on the whole series. She has had one episode focus on her so far (“Attack of the Monster Plants,”) and that’s it.  So this episode should have been an opportunity to explore her persona more fully. 

Instead, the episode totally demeans the character and makes her act like a child. There’s just no way that Judy would reasonably behave in this fashion after roughly two years on the frontier, and everything she has been through. She is a tough survivor, at this point, not some egotistical teen.

The episode reaches its nadir, however, in the final scene, during which a belligerent Major West tries, and fails, to punch out Morbus, and then Judy hits him on the head, accidentally, with the lyre.  

The episode should have just gone all the way and featured animated balloons reading “ZONK!” or “POW!” over the action.

Eagle-eyed sci-fi movie fans may recognize the monster of the week: it’s part Metaluna mutant from This Island Earth (1951) and part Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

Next week: “The Wreck of the Robot.’


  1. John,
    Some behind-the-scenes info regarding this episode: CBS was concerned that the depiction of Hell would frighten children, and mandated that this episode be as light-hearted as possible in order to not upset the majority of the show's viewing audience at that time.
    Morbus tells Judy that they are in a prison created in a time warp, so age has no meaning there. It's just a single throwaway line, but I've always inferred that the Judy and Don's behavior was a result of the time warp messing with their heads and making them act like children.
    Jonathan Harris also mentioned the scene of Dr. Smith stealing the cake as why kids loved his character so much, since he would get away with things they only wished they could do.
    I'm sensing a theme here. By this time in the show's production, Lost In Space was seen by its network, its creators and its audience as a show for children, far removed from the earliest episodes, and were catering to its primary viewing group, for better or for worse.
    This week was for worse. Next week will be better. Looking forward to your review.

  2. Here's food for thought: compare this episode of LoS to Space:1999's "End of Eternity." _That's_ how you do this concept justice.

  3. Anonymous7:23 PM

    Another interesting note: This was the LAST episode aired (as a summer rerun) ever on CBS just before the new season where Lost in Space was off the schedule. Then, within a few weeks of that, the guest star Gerald Mohr died suddenly of a heart attack in Sweden at age 54. None of this is relevant to the review of the show -- just interesting.