Bubble-Headed Badboy and Deadly Dr. Smith.
Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams) has gone out the airlock of the Jupiter to apparently “fly” down to the planet they are orbiting to scope it out. One would think there are instruments onboard the spaceship that would carry out all that spectroscopy and visual reconnaissance. Nope. The only piece of tech the writers allow John are little rockets on his arms (called parajets). They’re meant to slow his descent into the atmosphere, so that he doesn’t incinerate. Okay – but they malfunction. So why does the family think that John is still alive if he dove headfirst into an atmosphere with no braking?
Major Don West (Mark Goddard) ignores all the evidence of physics reality to augur the spaceship in for a crash-landing, “to find John,” who should be a blackened cinder by now, if not completely ashes in the ionosphere. (I always loved the exterior shots of the Jupiter 2 coming in low over the mountains for a crash landing on a planet; pretty legit shots, that looked like a real-sized ship in the reality of a rugged mountainscape.)
Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), uncaring of the family’s horror and loss (probably because the cast weren’t giving those emotions enough oomph in the acting department) suggests it would be easier to fly back to Earth now, without the added weight of John. Which raises talk that he might have sabotaged both the parajets and the ship for everything to malfunction so conveniently.
On the planet surface, Don actually sends out the Robot to check the atmosphere first (this act would become less frequent as the series wore on, as the writers realized that every single planet in the universe has breathable oxygen). Robot has a little soil sampler in his tread – so cool! Real science! – and comes back in with a verbal report, as well as a ticker-tape readout from his bellybutton area.
Don says, “I’ll assemble the chariot” – ah, I always thought it was in the lower decks fully assembled. Since no one saw the unaired pilot, this is the first reveal of that tank-treaded, windowed, batshit-sexy science mobile!
Robot and Dr. Smith are very sinister in this episode, Smith taking control of the Robot (basically by telling the Robot to be under his control) and using Robot to threaten the Robinsons with actual death if they don’t comply with his wishes to leave this “island in the sky,” making Robot crush a helmet (waste of equipment!). It’s an easy fix, though, as Will (Bill Mumy) takes back control of Robot by imitating Dr. Smith’s voice.
Leaving Smith on the ship, Don drives the Chariot into lush jungle, all the scientists onboard ignoring the massively variegated life on this planet – until they find that stupid ape (a small chimpanzee outfitted with an oversized head and pointy ears). Its existence means there’s an ecosystem here, with bipedal terrestrial life that is humanoid! But again, absolutely zero amazement or scientific curiosity regarding this product of convergent evolution towards a mammal-like creature on this unknown planet! Penny (Angela Cartwright) wants to keep the ape as a pet, but mother Maureen (June Lockhart) vetoes. Penny pouts. And Maureen relents. It wasn’t like Maureen had any scientific reason NOT to take it, like quarantining for alien bacteria or diseases, another mouth to feed, requiring more fuel for liftoff, creating more waste, etc. – so Penny gets her wish through ignorance of science.
When they board the Chariot, the family has changed into civilian clothes – those womanly woolens (with Judy sporting the pointiest bra of all). In black and white, these clothes were simply grays, and they further removed the perception of the Robinsons as a Space Family. Essentially, the family was grounded, so it seemed weird keeping them in silver spacesuits, which is understandable, but with every space aspect slowly being abandoned, the series was devolving toward Average American Sitcom.
Smith orders the Robot to systematically wipe out the Robinsons: “When unessential personnel are found alone – destroy!” aiming to adopt a façade of cooperation with them to avoid blame, dubbing himself Saint Zachary the First. (Of course, on a space mission, every body is an essential part of the functioning of the mission, with duties farmed out to all personnel so that all the weight is not on the captain’s shoulders. The writers never could get that through their heads, still considering the women kitcheneers and Will a hapless child. Robot should have replied: “There are NO unessential personnel on board the Jupiter 2.”)
After the family finds John, the Chariot malfunctions on the way back to the ship and the family walks the remaining distance.
CLIFFHANGER: That night, Will sneaks out (as usual!) to fix the Chariot. Robot follows, intent on killing Will, repeating his mantra about “unessential personnel” and shooting 40,000 volts out of his claws at nearby vegetation to prove how lethal he is… the paradox being that Will is actually displaying “essential” skills right there, as the Robot is threatening him. Now if only Robot would shoot his electricity AT Will, he might complete his mission, or maybe his circuits are jamming because with his big bubble brain, he can see the paradox…