Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Dream Monster" (December 21, 1966)

In “The Dream Monster,” an alien scientist called Sesmar (John Abbott) approaches Penny (Angela Cartwright), and marvels at her emotional reaction to a beautiful flower. 

He has constructed a biped android, called Raddion (Dawson Palmer), who is perfect in every way except for one: he cannot experience human emotions.

Sesmar realizes, however, that he can transfer emotions from human beings to Raddion using a strange camera and “transpirator” cards. 

The scientist recruits the cowardly Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) to rob the Robinsons of their emotional states, including John’s leadership, Maureen’s love, Will’s curiosity, and so on. 

Only Major West (Mark Goddard) sees through the plan, but he is not able to prevent the family from losing its humanity.

West and Smith team up to defeat Sesmar, and save the Robinsons from a future without emotions.

“The Dream Monster” is not a terrible episode of Lost in Space (1965-1968), and is actually pretty good in light of some episodes of the second season.  

Although it lacks the frightfulness of “The Wreck of the Robot” and the intrigue of “Prisoners in Space” (both season highlights…) this story nonetheless makes a good point about human emotions.  They may be troublesome, and dangerous at times, but they are worth it. 

They are the things, actually, that drive us to achieve, to be our best.

“The Dream Monster” commences with a heat wave on the planet. The Jupiter 2’s air conditioning system has failed, and everybody is hot…and irritable. West acts, literally, as a “hot-head,” finding fault with John’s (Guy Williams) comments; believing they are directed at him. Maureen, meanwhile, can’t find Penny, and is agitated.

Everyone is short-tempered with one another because they are physically uncomfortable. They let their mood be dictated by their discomfort, and act badly.  

But this kind of short-tempered behavior is the price we all willingly pay for having emotions. For without emotions, John can’t muster the energy (or loyalty…) to be a leader.  Maureen is robbed of the essential quality of love, and as we have seen in the series, it is her love that holds the family together on so many occasions.

And, in the end, West’s emotion of aggression, or bull-headedness combines with Smith’s cunning to save the family. The audience thus understand that even the negative emotions experienced by the Robinsons serve an important purpose.

On those terms, “The Dream Monster” is an intriguing and worthwhile story. I didn't feel debauched watching it.  On the terms that Lost in Space has set for itself in the second story, this particular tale can be described as having some value or virtue.

Other aspects of the narrative don’t seem to work nearly as well as the didactic through-line about emotions.  

There is no valid science behind biophysicist Sesmar’s technology, which robs people of emotions, for example.  

On the other hand, we have all heard those legends of indigenous peoples who didn't want their photographs taken, for fear that the photos would rob them of their souls.  In a very real way, Sesmar's technology -- resembling photography -- does that very thing.  If one accepts that the "science" of Sesmar is beyond the understanding of the Robinsons -- just as the science of photography was beyond those early, indigenous folk -- perhaps the issues of technology aren't so troubling here after all.

I do find it of concern, however, that there isn’t really any motivation for Sesmar to act in the fashion he chooses here.  I would like to know more about him. 

Does he possess emotions?  If he doesn’t, it’s difficult to understand why he would prize them so much for his android.  

And if he does possess them, Sesmar shouldn’t react with such surprise to the presence of emotions in others, right?  

Indeed, his science in the episode automatically and instantly categorizes the emotions of Dr. Smith and the others.  So if his tools so completely understand them, he should do so too.  Yet if that’s the case, why does he react with such surprise and wonder to Penny’s emotions?  

So we are to believe he knows of emotions, doesn't possess them, but prizes them for his android above all other things?   Huh?

The solution at the end of the episode -- destroying the “transpirator” cards holding the Robinsons’ emotions -- doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. If the cards storing the emotions are destroyed, wouldn’t the emotions within them also be destroyed?  Why do these emotions just fly back, as though guided missiles, to those who spawned them?  

The whole point of this technology seems to be to interchangeably move emotional states between people.  So why is there an automatic recall to the source once the emotions are out of the cards?

“The Dream Monster” also feels like a step backwards in the series’ treatment of Dr. Smith.  Here he is right back to the first season’s “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension,” selling the Robinsons down the river to preserve his own skin, and possibly get a ride home to Earth. He is back to his despicable phase here, for sure, and it is a poor creative choice.

But as always, Lost in Space’s merit is not in its deep or consistent science fiction plotting. 

Contrarily, the series' merit rests, in some sense, on its understanding and excavation of the nuclear family and its interrelationships .  We may gripe and bitch with our family members, but we also love them. That's a good lesson to remember as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, right?

That whole equation of "family" breaks down without emotions underlining it.  If we don't "feel" for those around us, they are mere acquaintances.  If we don't feel empathy for others, why bother to go to another planet in the first place and rescue the human race?

Since this story focuses on a building bock of family -- our emotional lives -- "'The Dream Monster" isn't a bad show, or a bad example of Lost in Space at this particular historical juncture (mid-second season).

Next week: “The Golden Man.”


  1. John,
    This episode really is better than the norm for Year 2, and I'm glad you appreciated it and were able to express that so eloquently. Not an easy thing to do, considering the subject matter.
    In regards to the weather in this entry, it really makes me ponder how the show runners mostly ignored the eccentric orbit of the planet during the first season. Only two episodes, "The Oasis" and "The Lost Civilization" address the heat experienced by the Robinsons, but we never once saw the planet subjected to extremes of cold.
    I agree with you that Sesmar could have used more fleshing out. I re-read an interview with John Abbott, who played Sesmar, and he thought of this role as tongue in cheek and treated it as such.
    His most interesting remembrance was that it was his actual hair that was curled, and not a wig, to give Sesmar an unusual appearance, and it took hours to curl it. He once showed up at 4am to get a jump on this process, and the studio hadn't even opened yet! The guard let him in anyway, and he sat around eating coffee and donuts until everyone else showed up.

  2. Maybe the “transpirator” cards being destroyed returns the emotions to the Robinsons like in mythology killing the head vampire/werewolf sometimes cures all of it's victims that were changed.