Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sci Fi Sunday - Remembering Doctor Smith

Morning and welcome to another edition of Sci Fi Sunday! Reality Check should be back next week with  another exciting episode, but today I wanted to do something different. Today I want to do a brief retrospective of my favorite character in the sci fi classic series Lost in Space - tv series and film - Dr. Zachary Smith.

Now anyone who has talked to me for longer than, say, two minutes, is aware that my favorite actor in the world is Gary Oldman. So a logical supposition would be that he is why Dr. Smith is my favorite Lost in Space character. Not so. I was 8 years old when the original TV series began to air. I think I was hooked immediately, both by the show and by Dr. Smith. I can probably attribute that to the fact that for years and years I had crushes on and interest in men who were far older than myself. At 12, I crushed on Burt Lancaster and Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows) and many more. So picking Dr. Smith as my favorite character was not surprising.

Here's Jonathan Harris, who played Dr. Smith (a later pic, as the show originally began in black and white. Yes, I'm that old. Don't laugh). I had never heard of him as an actor, but I did notice that his name received special status in the cast credits at the opening of the show. Ironically, my 21 year old daughter Sarah had a crush on Dr. Smith herself. And even now she likes men who are too old for me. Go figure.

But I digress.

Let me show you my movie Dr. Smith too.  Isn't he adorable?  That's Gary Oldman, of course, from the 1998 movie. I saw it at the theatre a few times, took my kids to see it too. Did I love it? Not exactly. I watched it for Gary. The film is flawed, but I'll save that rant for another time. Today is just about Dr. Smith.

Let's talk about the character for a minute. Alright, the basic premise of both the show and the movie. It takes  place in a future time (well, it was back then), when mankind needed to explore other systems in order to help deal with some of the issues on earth. The nearest star to the Earth is Alpha Centauri. NASA decides to send a family into space to see how well they weather conditions in space, see if it's feasible to colonize other planets, etc etc. The Robinson family is composed of Dr. John Robinson, his wife Maureen, his daughters Judy and Penny and his son Will. Also going with them is Major Don West, who just happens to be Judy's fiance. And a super intelligent amazing robot named .... Robot.

As the series begins, the family is preparing to go, and they are on the ship when a stealthy figure scuttles onto the ship. Dr. Smith, of course. He seeks out the robot and messes with his circuitry (cause he's a genius that way) and overrides his programming, giving him different instructions.

Sounds simple enough, until the good Doctor finds himself trapped in the ship, unable to get off, so as it's blasting off he has no recourse but to hide himself and strap himself in for what is sure to be a bumpy ride. Especially once the robot begins to follow its new programming string!

At first the Robinsons accept Dr. Smith's explanation  for being on board the ship. There isn't a lot they can do after all. What, turn around and take him back? That would jeopardize the mission. But Major West is suspicious from the get-go, and rightly so. These two will never be friends.  Mark Goddard played West in the show, Matt LeBlanc acquitted himself well in the movie.

As the series continues, the characterization of Dr.  Smith changes (more so in the TV version than the film). The brilliant doctor becomes more of a comedic element in the story, revealing  a somewhat unpleasant nature at times. He's lazy, pompous, arrogant, full of himself, rather untrustworthy, and known to sell the Robinsons out just for the chance to get back to Earth. I guess he's forgotten that he's a foreign spy and likely to be incarcerated if he ever does make it back. Oh well, that's Dr. Smith for you!

Dr. Smith develops an almost paternal relationship with Will Robinson, something the boy is sorely in need of,  cause his scientist father (Guy Williams in the series, William Hurt in the film) is always busy with something, and doesn't seem to have time to deal with his young son. The girls don't seem to suffer from this lack of attention as much as Will does, although I can see where Penny does sometimes regard Dr. Smith as a father figure too.

Dr. Smith and the Robot is another matter. Although Will shows himself capable of programming him, the  Doctor is often used as the interface between the space travelers and the cybernetic being. It's a true love/hate relationship. The robot often gets his feelings hurt by Dr. Smith's callousness, and his name-calling. Will and the Robot are close too.

Dr. Smith often screams like a little girl. He has constant aches and pains that prevent him from doing his share of the work. He utters such memorable phrases as "Oh, the pain, the pain!" and "My aching back!" He is a shirker and a slacker, a conniver and a trickster. And yet we love him.  In one episode, he and Major West end up on a chain gang together.   Another involves a very interesting space pirate, whom Will develops a fondness for (played by veteran character actor Albert Salmi).

In another episode, a green girl who's discovered floating around outside the spaceship, the Jupiter II, crushes on Dr. Smith, and can be heard uttering the immortal words - "Pretty! Handsome!  Pretty Doctor Smith!"

Well, I could go on and on, and I do promise to talk about the show vs the film at another time.  But I'll leave you for now with a picture of my favorite guy.

 Did you like the show? What about the movie? Who was your favorite character? Your worst? I'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie

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