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.”

4 comments:

  1. John we can only wonder what LOST IN SPACE might have been if it was treated serious as STAR TREK and not "camp" BATMAN of that '60s era. The dragon suit even appear in a BATMAN episode:
    http://tothebatpoles.blogspot.com/2011/11/episodes-102-103-ogg-and-i-how-to-hatch.html

    Rinse & repeat was season two. Well said John.

    SGB

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, a great point could be made about the need for the "quest" in our lives, that intangible something we need to have purpose and meaning. Problem is, as you point out, this is Lost In Space, the color years. Burn it, burn it with fire!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Although "The Space Vikings" and "Mutiny in Space" are still coming up, this one gets my vote as the worst Lost in Space episode ever. Yes, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" in season three is awful but it's fantastically, memorably awful. "The Questing Beast," like so much of season two, is merely stupid and boring.

    And you're right that kids could tell the difference. I became a fan of the show at around age nine during its first run in syndication and I used to write up summaries of the episodes I liked and draw a picture from a key scene (the cyclops, for example, from "There Were Giants in the Earth"). Looking back at the notebook I still have, I did summaries of most of season one and about half of season three, but only did six from season two. Voting with my feet, so to speak, it's clear that even as a kid I knew pure crap when I saw it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. John,
    Thank You for the shout out! I've been on vacation and was unable to see your reviews until now.
    I was curious to see if you'd comment on the Doctor Smith subplot, which I consider to be remarkable. It's so out of place in this episode, and we see a side of Smith that we would never see again.
    To call the rest of this episode tripe would be an insult to tripe. This one made you ashamed as a kid to admit you were a fan of Lost In Space. The less said, the better.
    Mythical Monkey, I loved your reminisce about your notebook. Like you, I discovered the show in syndication as a kid. I used to own a copy of The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, and was determined to create a concordance for Lost In Space. I still have the booklet I made. By Season Two, you can see me literally losing interest with each passing episode. Needless to say, I never finished the book, but it's a neat little reminder of times past.
    The Questing Beast may have been part of the reason why Lost In Space never got its own concordance!
    Steve

    ReplyDelete