The Reluctant Stowaway is the first episode of Lost In Space that aired. If you count the unaired pilot, No Place to Hide, The Reluctant Stowaway is technically the second episode, but unlike the unaired pilot this episode has Dr. Zachary Smith and the Robot. (Thank goodness!)
** This summary contains spoilers, so if you haven't watched it, scroll down to the bottom of the page and watch The Reluctant Stowaway online at Hulu. **
As The Reluctant Stowaway begins, it is hours before launch of the Jupiter 2 at Alpha Control, a ship designed to carry the Robinson family and pilot Major Don West to colonize a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. They are the hope for Earth's future, to relieve problems associated with overpopulation.
The Robinson family was chosen for this mission from nearly 2 million volunteers for their unique blend of scientific achievement, emotional stability, and pioneer resourcefulness. They will spend 5 years in suspended animation and will be automatically revived when they reach their destination.
Countdown is delayed for a short time at zero minus 1 hour and 15 minutes because there was difficulty with the liquid oxygen loading valve. They also experience an electrical power failure in the computer at the lunar tracking station. That should've been their first clue that there'd be problems with this mission.
Shortly before launch, Dr. Zachary Smith (Colonel in the Air Force), who is hidden on board, powers up the Robot and changes his programming, so he'll destroy the ship at launch plus 8 hours. After he tinkers with the Robot, however, he's confronted by a guard. Smith explains that he thought he had accidentally turned the valve the wrong way for the helium/nitrogen ratio and wanted to check it. The guard apologizes, but insists he still has to report the Colonel to the officer of the day. Not wanting his sabotage to be discovered, Smith lays the guard low with a single karate chop. (I'd pit a formidable Smith karate chop against Spock's Vulcan nerve pinch any day! 😉 ) He briefly considers sticking the unconscious (or dead, it isn't revealed) guard in the power core, but ultimately decides to shove him down the garbage chute. Smith then radios Aeolus 14 Umbra to alert them that his mission has been accomplished.
After Smith accomplishes his mission, all problems are resolved and countdown resumes. The Robinsons are given their final pre-flight physical check by Dr. Smith and enter the Jupiter 2 with the General and the doctor. While everyone on board listens to a speech by the President, Smith sneaks below to check on the Robot. The power is off, so Smith waits until all the technicians leave to power the Robot back on. Unfortunately for him (instant karma, perhaps), the hatches close before he can leave the ship. He goes below and straps in for the launch into space. The Jupiter 2 lifts off and Smith SCREAMS the mother of all screams. Thus begins his long nightmare.
Once they leave Earth's atmosphere, Smith, now the reluctant stowaway, unstraps himself and attempts to contact Aeolus 14 Umbra. He asks for further instructions and asks how much they're going to pay him for this excursion. Unable to contact them, he turns the Robot's power off to prevent his rampage of destruction, though the circuit isn't completed, and he goes to the upper deck. The Robot ends up flipping the switch to full “On” to avoid damage.
On the upper deck, Smith tries to radio Alpha Control, but they don't read him and he smashes the radio in a fit. He hears from their radio chatter that the Jupiter is headed straight for a “massive meteor swarm”. Smith tries to work the navigation controls himself to no avail. He realizes he must awaken Major West from his cryogenic slumber. Before he can do so, however, the Jupiter 2 is in the midst of the meteor barrage and Smith is thrown around the deck like a rag doll. The ship is battered and several panels start sparking and smoking.
Smith manages to get his hands on a laser pistol and, with shooting accuracy we don't see for most of the rest of the series, he manages to hit the control to open the freezing tube with a laser blast. Major West tumbles out of the tube “dead as a coffin nail” and Smith saves him (with what appears to be a tape measure. Eat your heart out, Dr. McCoy. Your shalt shaker's got nothing on Smith's tape measure.). Smith drags West to the controls and tells him to take them out of the flight path of the meteors, which the Major quickly does. Major West decides to wake the Robinsons. Smith opposes the idea, but since Major West reminds Smith he's the only one who can pilot the ship, Smith relents.
The Robinsons are awakened and Mrs. Robinson seems to have a bad “metabolic reaction” to stasis. Smith attends to her. They discuss what to do, whether to go back to Earth or continue on with the mission. As they attempt to determine their position, Smith notices the clock shows it's almost 8 hours since launch. Realizing the Robot is about to go on a rampage to destroy the ship with him aboard, he sneaks downstairs to remove the Robot's power pack. The others, meanwhile, decide to try to repair the inertial navigation system. In order to do that, Major West turns off the artificial gravity, which foils Smith's attempts to remove the power pack.
When gravity is restored, Smith manages to unseat the power pack, but is discovered by Will. Smith lies to him about what he was doing and then concocts another lie about discovering a virus on Will's tongue. He tells him he is to be quarantined below while he tells his parents that they must return to Earth immediately. While Smith is on the upper deck, Will reseats the Robot's power pack and the Robot begins his rampage to destroy the Jupiter 2.
The damage caused by the Robot before Major Don West manages to remove its power pack sends the Jupiter 2 into hyperdrive and the ship hurtles out of the limits of our galaxy at fantastic speeds. At Alpha Control, they have lost track of the Jupiter 2 and classify it as hopelessly lost in space. The crew finally gets the Jupiter 2 under control, tries to determine their position, and assesses the damage.
They determine the NGS scanner is damaged and John volunteers to fix it, despite the fact that Don is more qualified and trained to do so. He wants Don to stay with the ship because he's the only one that can pilot it. John suits up and checks on the scanner, confirming it is damaged. While outside the ship, his rope breaks, sending him tumbling away from the Jupiter 2. (Smith was the last one holding the rope. Did he sabotage that as well? Dun, Dun, DUUUUN!) When Don tells John he's going to suit up to get a line to him via rocket gun, John vetoes that idea. Don then suggests Smith should suit up. (“I? In the airlock?” Yeah, Smith wants nothing to do with the airlock, lest Major West discover what he's done.) Smith, as he will throughout the rest of the series, will weasel out of it with an excuse, this time his heart. Maureen volunteers to suit up and attempt a rescue. The episode ends with John Robinson's fate in doubt and urges you to tune in next week!
The Reluctant Stowaway is probably the strongest of the entire series, which I guess is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because the show started off strong and built a big following and a curse because, well, as great as many of the other episodes are, this is the episode against which all other episodes are compared. At least, it is for me.
Smith is at his darkest, most devious best in the first five episodes. I thoroughly enjoy this, although I also enjoy his transition to beloved, albeit troublesome, adopted member of the family later in the series. The show needed a villain to start and Jonathan Harris delivered that. As Harris often said in interviews, Dr. Zachary Smith simply could not remain the deep-dyed, snarling villain for long and have it work for the length of the series. It would get tiresome. Wishing to remain employed, he softened the character and made him a comedic villain. I loved all sides of the character, though I admit to a few eye rolls at some of the most campy moments. I do enjoy the clever competent colonel, doctor, cybernetics expert, excellent marksman, and all around “renaissance man” he started out as best. If they could have softened the character and kept those traits, it would have been perfect.
Another great thing about The Reluctant Stowaway is that, unlike many of the later episodes, everybody gets screen time. While I don't mind that the show mostly became centered around Smith, the Robot, and Will, there are fans who do. The Reluctant Stowaway is truly an ensemble episode. It establishes all the characters nicely, especially the loving bond between the Robinson family and their adaptability in the face of adversity.
The tag at the end of the episode that led into next week's adventure was another aspect of this episode and the entire series that I enjoyed. I don't recall that sort of thing being particularly common for the time.
The Reluctant Stowaway is the source of many debates among fans. Did Smith kill the guard or merely knock him unconscious? Did being exposed to the full engine thrust/radiation at liftoff without benefit of the protection of the freezing tubes cause a decline in Smith's competence? Did Smith have fellow saboteurs mucking with the liquid oxygen loading valve and computers at the lunar tracking station?
There is so much to love about this episode. That's why The Reluctant Stowaway is tied with All That Glitters for my favorite episode of the series.
|Guy Williams||Dr. John Robinson|
|June Lockhart||Maureen Robinson|
|Mark Goddard||Major Don West|
|Marta Kristen||Judy Robinson|
|Billy Mumy||Will Robinson|
|Angela Cartwright||Penny Robinson|
|Jonathan Harris||Dr. Zachary Smith|
|Bob May||The Robot (costume)|
|Dick Tufeld||The Robot (voice)/Narrator|
|Tom Allen||Inspector (uncredited)|
|Fred Crane||Alpha Control Technician (uncredited)|
|Don Forbes||TV Commentator (uncredited)|
|Brett Parker||Security Guard (uncredited)|
|Ford Rainey||The President (uncredited)|
|Hal Torey||General (uncredited)|
|Paul Zastupnevich||Bearded Foreign Correspondent (uncredited)|
Director: Anton Leader (as Tony Leader)
Writer(s): Shimon Wincelberg (as S. Bar-David), Irwin Allen
Producer: Irwin Allen
Associate Producer: Jerry Briskin
Original Music: John Williams
Cinematography: Gene Polito
Film Editing: Roland Gross
Art Direction: Robert Kinoshita, Jack Martin Smith
Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott, Sven Wickman
- It was expected that if the Jupiter 2 mission was successful, up to 10 million families a year would leave Earth to colonize the planet in the Alpha Centauri star system.
- A series of deep thrust telescopic probes established Alpha Centauri was the only star system that was within reach of our technology that had a planet with ideal conditions for human colonization.
- When Dr. Smith revives Major West, he removes his right glove. When West is at the navigation controls, his right hand is still ungloved, but during a close-up shot, his hands are both gloved.
Watch The Reluctant Stowaway Online
Watch Lost In Space The Reluctant Stowaway Online
Memorable Quotes from The Reluctant Stowaway
Narrator: This is the beginning. This is the day. You are watching the unfolding of one of histories great adventures – Man's colonization of space beyond the stars.
Maj. Don West: If you wake up and find me driving, you'll know you're in trouble.
The Robot: At exactly launch plus eight hours: inertial guidance system – destroy; radio transmitter – destroy; cabin pressure control system – destroy.
Will Robinson: Am I okay, doctor? Did I pass?
Dr. Zachary Smith: You'll do.
Dr. Zachary Smith: Aeolis 14 Umbra. Come in please. Do you read me? Mission accomplished. Mission accomplished. What do I do now? What clever instructions do you have for me now? How much more money are you going to pay me for this excursion? Aeolis 14 Umbra, do you know where I am? Do you know? DO YOU KNOW?!
Will Robinson: [to Dr. Smith] Well, Maj. West said that when he went to cadet school an excuse like yours wouldn't have gotten him out of Sunday chapel.
Maureen Robinson: Dr. Smith, is it possible that certain parts of the body don't reanimate as quickly as others? The heart, for instance?