Friday, March 24, 2017

The Robinsons Encounter Some Strange "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension"

This post is part of the Favorite TV Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud Of Thoughts. Thanks to Terence at that site for letting me participate! To view the other entries, please use this link: http://mercurie.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-3rd-annual-favourite-tv-show.html.

During the mid to late 60s, producer Irwin Allen had his own science-fiction empire on television, with four shows airing at various times. Lost In Space, Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea, The Time Tunnel and Land of The Giants featured exciting stories, appealing characters, and colorful costumes and special effects. While I enjoy all of Allen's series, I have to admit the sci-fi kid in me has a real soft spot for Lost in Space. The show has seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. In 2015 the series celebrated its 50th anniversary. Stars Bill Mumy, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright & Mark Goddard have appeared at a number of conventions to celebrate the anniversary, as well to promote the Blu-ray release of the complete series.

The aliens capture Dr. Smith
Lost In Space, which originally ran from 1965-68, followed the adventures of the Robinson family. Their ship, the Jupiter 2, goes off course on a mission to Alpha Centauri. Along for the journey with parents John and Maureen Robinson are their children Will, Penny and Judy. Also onboard are co-pilot Major Don West, the traitorous Dr. Zachary Smith and a robot aptly named...Robot. It’s Smith’s sabotage that causes the ship to go astray. During the series’ first year, the Jupiter 2 is stranded on an alien planet as the crew tries to effect repairs. Most fans prefer this season’s black & white tales, before Jonathan Harris’ Smith character transformed from an outright villain into a more buffoonish, comedic foil.

One of the best of these early episodes (and a personal favorite of mine) is “Invaders From The Fifth Dimension,” which originally aired on November 3, 1965. Maureen & Judy observe a strange blip on the ship’s radar, but when they call Don over to take a look, there’s nothing there. Meanwhile, Dr. Smith sees a strange ship land, and is promptly captured by its alien crew. They explain they need a brain to power their ship’s damaged computer, so they can return to their own dimension. Of course, they’d like to use his brain. But the conniving Smith tells them he’s got a better idea. He can bring them Will’s brain, which he says will prove much more effective for their needs. The aliens install a shock collar on Smith & release him, telling him the device will kill him if he doesn’t return with Will as soon as possible.

Smith finds Will, and cons him into going back with him, saying there’s a threat to the family, and only Will can help stop it. As they make their way to the alien ship, Smith slowly plays on the boy’s fears, manipulating his emotions. First, he conveniently uses Will’s walkie-talkie to demonstrate the depth of a sand pit, effectively disposing of Will’s method of communicating with the rest of the family. Then there’s a chilling moment where Smith convinces Will some water he wants to drink is unsafe, simply by playing on his insecurities. Jonathan Harris is excellent in these scenes. This is an openly evil, villainous Dr. Smith who uses guile & subterfuge to get what he wants, and doesn’t care about anyone but himself. There’s precious little of the over the top mannerisms that would define the character in later episodes of the series.

The Robot tries to rescue Will, who's trapped inside the ship
While Smith & Will head for their rendezvous, John and Maureen realize their son is missing and head off in the land rover-esque Chariot (along with the Robot) to look for him. Don joins the search from the air by using the rocket powered Jetpack. Everyone converges on the alien ship. Will discovers what the aliens really need him for, and decides to remain with them for the good of his family. Smith is set free, and tries to make everyone think he & Will were captured together, and that only he was able to escape. As Will prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice, the aliens learn a lesson about humans & their emotional attachments. Of course, there's a happy ending for all...well, except for the aliens.

This is an exciting, well-paced story. The black & white photography lends an atmospheric quality to the episode. The alien craft is truly unique: it's definitely different in look & design than many of the types of models used (and often re-used) in Lost in Space and the other Irwin Allen series. The creepy mouth-less aliens are also eerie & effective. The episode was directed by Leonard Horn, a television veteran who was also behind the camera for the classic Outer Limits episode “The Man Who Was Never Born,” starring Martin Landau. Shimon Wincelberg wrote the story for “Invaders From The Fifth Dimension.” He co-wrote “No Place To Hide,” the original unaired pilot for Lost In Space. Footage from that pilot was used in the first five episodes of the series. Wincelberg also penned episodes for Star Trek, The Time Tunnel and Mannix.

The episode showcases the talents of Jonathan Harris as Smith & Bill Mumy as Will. They’re both very effective here, and the interaction between the characters is quite different than how it’s portrayed later in the series. This is one of the best installments of the show, along with such gems as “The Derelict,"  the two-part “The Keeper,” which guest starred Michael Rennie, and “There Were Giants In The Earth." During the second season the tone of the show shifted from science-fiction adventure to a whimsical fantasy with more overt comedic & campy elements. After that, Lost In Space rarely reached the heights of its first year, but it was always fun to watch the adventures of the Robinson family, as well as the heroes of Irwin Allen's other enjoyable TV series.

A couple of additional notes regarding this episode: We get to see both the Chariot and the Jetpack in this story, which would become a rare occurrence as the series progressed. Also, you can catch a quick glimpse of Bob (the man inside the Robot) May’s legs during the climax, when he moves out from behind some rocks. The Robot also gets one of the best lines in the show, during this exchange with Maureen:

Robot: I determine an alien presence.
Maureen: Alien? You mean from this planet?
Robot: On this planet, WE are the aliens.
Maureen: Touché.

Please make sure to visit the rest of the Favorite TV Episode Blogathon entries at the link above, and if you're looking for more coverage of Lost In Space here at Eclectic Avenue, you can follow these links: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2015/10/get-lost-in-space-all-over-again.html and http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2016/12/a-retro-tv-christmas.html. Thanks for reading!


7 comments:

  1. I believe that if you wanted to show someone the best of Lost in Space you could not go wrong with showing them this episode. While it is true there is fun to be had in the other seasons, sometimes (only sometimes, mind you), fun can be over-rated.

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    1. Great point, Caftan. As i re-watched the episodes on Blu-ray, I have to admit a few of the lesser entries brought to mind Dr. Smith's oft-repeated refrain "Oh, the pain. the pain." ;) But there were a couple of solid stories later in the run, such as the third season's The Anti-Matter Man.

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  2. Haven't seen any of the Lost in Space series since I was a kid watching it on reruns after school. I was unaware there was a more sinister Dr. Smith. I only remember him as a joke in the later episodes. I'll have to look for this series somewhere, now.

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    1. Hi, Quiggy. I used to watch the show in re-runs after school as well. I've heard the same comment from others about not seeing the earlier episodes. I think some stations didn't show the first season in syndication, because it was in black & white, and had the "cliffhanger ending" format. You should be able to catch the show on Hulu, and if you're Blu-ray capable, I highly recommend the complete series box set!

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    2. Hulu costs money... Why do you think I use the free blogger site for my blog? LOL

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  3. I have to admit that the first season is the one I have seen the least, and I remember Smith mainly as the somewhat buffoonish character of the later, colour seasons. I will definitely have to check this episode out (as well as the rest of the first season) for a more sinister Dr. Smith! Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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    1. I think you'll find as the first season continues, the template for the more comic Smith begins to be established, but there are a handful of episodes in the early to middle portion of the season where he's downright evil. And thanks for including me in the blogathon! I was happy to be a part of it!

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