It's been almost fifty years since the Robinson family, Dr Zachary Smith and their Robot completed their adventures on our television screens (I've chosen to apply a liberal amount of brain bleach to remove the terrible 1998 movie from my memory). And Netflix, with its hunger to create original content and hefty budgets has given the Robinson family and the rest of their entourage a second crack on TV. But this isn't the same Lost in Space. While the names will be familiar it's a very different series that pays homage without trying to be a simple update on the old series. Before reading on, note that there will be spoilers in this review.
Lost in Space flips between backstory and main plot in order to explain why the Robinson's go on their journey, how they were chosen and their family dynamics. Maureen Robinson is an esteemed scientist who helped design the Jupiter space craft (there are several of them) as well helping the family and other survivors of an attack on a space station, the Resolute, through various challenges.
John Robinson is a soldier who has been away from his family for some years as life on Earth has become increasingly unstable. His relationship with Maureen is basically broken with Maureen signing the family up to join a new colony on Alpha Centauri. Needless to say, the many challenges and life threatening events they face through the series bring them together and they're reconciled.
The oldest daughter, Judy, is smart, driven and becomes the mission's doctor. She's not John's biological daughter but shares his courage and her mother's smarts.
Penny Robinson... for much of the series she plays the role of either comic relief or is a linking character that is used to introduce or create events that others move along with. My feeling is that Series 2 (assuming it's greenlit) will give Penny some more screen time and character development.
Will Robinson and the Robot are inextricably drawn together. When Will saves the Robot, whose ship has crashed on the same mysterious planet as the Robinson family and other other survivors of an attack on the Resolute, the robot imprints on Will and follows Will's every command. We learn, from various flashbacks, that Will was not approved for the mission but that his mother used her influence to have his failed test results altered to keep the family together.
The Robot looks nothing like his 1960's predecessor. He has four arms, that come together to form to human-like arms, and he walks on two legs rather than rolling on a tread. He has a humanoid form which makes him a more versatile character.
Dr Smith is not really Dr Smith. The character's actual name is June Harris and she cheated and murdered her way on to the Resolute and the hope of a new life in the colony on Alpha Centauri. The character's gender switch is clever. By the end of the third series of the original series, Jonathan Harris had become the star of the show and any other actor in the role will have suffered from comparison. Incidentally, the identity she steals is taken from a wounded Dr Zachary Smith who is played by Bill Mumy, the original Will Robinson in an uncredited cameo.
The one original character that gets little air time during season one is Don West. This version of West has more in common with Han Solo than his 1960s counterpart. He's a smuggler that uses his position on the Resolute to move whiskey but his skills as an engineer are critical in saving the Robinson family.
The story line
The series is set in 2046. A mysterious object, called The Christmas Star crashes on earth with governments saying it as some sort of meteorite. But it's really an alien ship and scientists learn how to build their own interstellar propulsion systems from it.
When the Robinson's and the other chosen people are on the Resolute an alien robot attacks the space station leading to several Jupiter vessels being marooned on a previously unknown planet. Without giving away too much, Will gets his robot, June Harris (aka Dr Smith) cons and manipulates her way around, Maureen and John Robinson first work together and then start to rebuild their marriage, Judy and Penny grow closer and, by the end, events ensure that all the other survivors marooned with the core cast make it back to the Resolute and, presumably, Earth or Alpha Centauri, while Harris/Smith, West and the Robinsons are thrown off-course by an alien intelligence on their ship, setting us up for series two where the crew of the Jupiter 2 are truly lost in space.
In other words, series one is an origin story.
That's a clever way to do things in my view. As a kid, I never really got to see all the episodes in order. By the time I watched Lost in Space on TV, it was the mid 1970s and the show was being re-run after school. So I never watched the first episode when it aired, although I did watch the previously unaired pilot when it as finally put on TV in 1997.
It's not a remake
Like Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space benefits from modern effects and much higher production values than the original series. It's a visually stimulating show although the Oreo episode was one of the clumsiest pieces of product placement I've ever seen. It was reminiscent of the scene in Wayne's World which deliberate pokes fun at product sponsorship in movies and TV.
The robot looks great and the animation used on his "face" was pretty cool, I thought.
One thing I noticed was the design of the Jupiter space craft. Star Trek fans might note a passing similarity with the USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space 9. The external shots seemed a little derivative although the internal shots were similar to what we saw in the 1960s series.
Changes to the old plot, such as making the voyage of the Jupiter one of many similar trips taken by families colonising a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri rather than a single family on a mission, giving "Dr Smith" a deeper backstory that includes stealing her sister's identity and then the real Dr Smith's identity as well as killing someone that found her out, the brokenness of the Robinson's marriage and the effect on their family and telling us why people are leaving Earth all add to the depth of the story.
But it also means that other than the name of the series and central characters, it's a different series - not a remake but rather a reimagining.
It is worth your ten hours?
With so much great content available on Netflix, Stan and other services it's impossible to watch everything. I loved getting home from school and watching Lost in Space as a kid so the idea of a modernised version appeals to me.
I enjoyed watching the show. I viewed in three sessions, catching the first two episodes when it opened in mid April, then four episodes later that week and the remainder last Sunday. When episode ten ended, I wanted more. Even though I knew, more or less, how it would end with the Robinson family, Don West and Dr Smith (or will they call her June seeing as they know the Dr Smith identity is fake) lost in space aboard the Jupiter 2, I want to know what happens next.
The series was fun to watch. It was engaging. In particular, the reimagining of Dr Smith and the Robot added a new dimension to the show. I found it was a bit like watching Episodes 1, 2 and 3 of Star Wars. You know who all the important characters are and what's going to happen to them. But finding out how it's all going to happen is still engaging.
If you like sci-fi, even if you never watched the original series, Lost in Space is an enjoyable escape.