review for Lost in Space: No Place to Hide (Unaired Pilot) on AllMovie

Lost in Space: No Place to Hide (Unaired Pilot) (1965)
by Bruce Eder review

"No Place to Hide" is a perfect example of how an expensively made pilot episode -- chock-full of expensive-looking special effects, planned well, boasting an exciting story, and cast about as well as any family-type adventure program of its period -- can still go wrong. Producer/director Irwin Allen had originally intended to call his series "Space Family Robinson," but Walt Disney Studios threatened to sue over the play on the film Swiss Family Robinson. Nevertheless, "Space Family Robinson" summed up Allen's dramatic vision for the series and the original core characters: a basically very traditional, squeaky-clean, late 20th century, American family who are rather bland in their dealings with each other, but motivated by the best impulses and all very civil and correct. The science fiction aspects of the pilot were fine; the spaceship sequences involving the Gemini 12 (later called the Jupiter 2) were among the most expensive-looking ever shot for television; and the space sequences, if a little hokey-looking today, were downright exciting. What the pilot episode lacked -- and the network insisted be added -- was human conflict. In the course of retooling the story, the producers came up with a saboteur and would-be murderer, Col. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), and a device that he was able to employ as a potentially deadly weapon, the ship's own environmental control robot. In the program as aired, both were established as stone killers if given half the chance. This pilot episode, minus Smith and the robot, was never aired, although almost all of its major sequences were used in various parts of episodes one, four, and five of the series.

It's actually not bad as presented here, just a little flat dramatically, though there are also some interesting differences between this material and what was actually broadcast, beyond the characters that were added. Don West (Mark Goddard) is another, slightly young scientist, not an officer and pilot, and Maureen Robinson (June Lockhart) is presented as a scientist in her own right, and not simply a wife and mother. In addition, the Robinsons' mission as intended is to keep them in suspended animation for 98 years, not the five years of the eventual series, thus implying far-less expectation of a connection with the Earth they knew than the series would depict. Otherwise, most of the material is familiar in one form or another from the broadcast series' first five shows, and it all works reasonably well despite the flatness of the human element. Strangely enough, Star Trek, a somewhat more serious rival science fiction series (and, along with Lost in Space, the best remembered show of its kind from the 1960s), also had to retool itself considerably after doing its first pilot episode, and material from that episode was later folded into the continuity of the subsequent series.