Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Questing Beast" (January 11, 1967)
In “The Questing Beast,” Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) and the Robot -- while repairing an atomic regulator -- encounter an elderly knight in armor, Sagramonte (Hans Conried).
This knight hails from Altair and has been pursuing a deadly dragon, Gundemar (June Foray) for forty years. Now, his long quest is coming to an end.
Will becomes Sagramonte’s squire, and learns that the dragon is a nice, well-spoken, intelligent being, and one who wishes for Sagramonte to continue hunting her across the universe.
Here’s my recipe for producing a Lost in Space episode of the second season:
First, take a trip to the studio wardrobe department.
Second, pick out some stock costume from an old series or film, the more colorful the better (like a pirate, knight, or sultan outfit).
Third: write an entire episode about a character in that costume visiting the Robinsons on the edge of space.
Most importantly, make no mention of how odd it is that this personality from Earth’s history should be operating on a distant planet, in a future era.
Rinse and repeat.
So far on Lost in Space, we have had alien department store managers, alien cowboys, alien thieves, alien pirates, alien soldiers, alien prospectors and the like. This week, in “The Questing Beast,” we get a knight in armor, one who has been using “enchantments” to hunt a dragon from planet to planet. The dragon ends up liking being hunted, and helps the knight continue his quest…to kill her.
For my money, “The Questing Beast” is the worst Lost in Space (1965-1967) episode yet. The dragon costume is absolutely pathetic, the knight himself is doddering and unsympathetic, and -- in keeping with the series at this juncture -- there is absolutely no rhyme or reason for the existence of these characters in any universe that makes the remotest bit of sense.
And how, exactly, does Sagramonte joust without a steed?
Game of Thrones this ain’t.
My friend Steve, a regular reader here on the blog, last week observed that by this point in the series’ history, the program was widely considered by the producers and network a children’s program, not a legitimate sci-fi affair. That background detail explanation helps one understand why an episode like “The Questing Beast” exists.
It doesn’t need to make sense, because it’s for the kids.
Unfortunately, the networks and producers made a terrible mistake, and a terrible argument. The assumption that children don’t know a good story when they see it -- or one that makes sense -- is terribly condescending.
The makers of the series should be doubly ashamed, not just for producing nonsense like this during the Space Age -- the most exciting age in human history -- but for foisting incoherent, nonsense stories on kids.
A series that can create an episode like “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,” “The Magic Mirror,” “The Sky is Falling” or even “The Wreck of the Robot” is clearly capable of doing so much better than this; and of doing right by curious, imaginative children.
Is there a deeper message here? That it is important to have a quest, no matter its nature? Yes, absolutely. Having a purpose is an important thing for people. “The Questing Beast” attempts to get across that notion.
As Smith notes “It’s not the quarry that makes the hunt, nor the goal the game.” I like the line, but it sounds completely incongruous coming from Smith, especially because Smith had earlier termed the quest for “the unobtainable” pure nonsense.
For me, the line -- poorly placed -- is but a list-minute attempt to paint meaning on another wardrobe raiding exercise.
Next week: “The Toymaker.”