Friday, July 28, 2017

Lost in Space - The Sky Pirate


This was written Thursday night as part of an Albert Salmi two-fer. 



After watching the Twilight Zone episode, “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”, I thought I’d pull a “double feature of Salmi”, following up the Thursday night with the Lost in Space episode, “The Sky Pirate”. Captain Alonzo P Tucker is one of Salmi’s (if not the…) most recognized roles, a space pirate over 140 years old who was snatched from Earth by an alien race of Tellurians and kept in a freeze until needed for study.

Tucker arrives on the planet the Robinson party currently occupies for most of the first season with a “forecaster” that he stole from Cygnet 4 and the alien (looks like a crawling rug right out of The Creeping Terror) it belongs to eventually follows after him. Tucker’s ship is in need of repairs (I swear this ship looks similar to what Will takes off in “The Raft”) and so he decides (well, Dr. Smith weasels out of being the prisoner so he can tell the Robot to kill Tucker) to hold Will Robinson hostage so Professor John Robinson and Major West will help fix it with parts that might be available.

But Will just takes to Tucker and is awestruck by his faux tales of pirating and encountering various species in his space adventures. Tucker spins his yarns and Will just gobbles them up with eyes wide, so enthusiastic and receptive. Eventually, though, Tucker’s ship will be fixed so his promises to Will about going on pirate travels and showing him his treasure will certainly lead to disappointment and the truth. But Tucker’s thievery of the forecaster (at first Tucker tells Will it is a “nucleonic planet buster”) will bring the alien right at the Jupiter 2’s site so he’ll have to make a decision on whether or not holding on to what isn’t his is worth such risk. Salmi speaks in pirate and stays in that character, “yarring” away. He even has “bow-tied” facial hair and a tin robot parrot! The show even at this point in its first season was starting to gradually settle into these characters ripped from storybooks and fairytales, and just dropping them into the science fiction universe of the Space Family Robinson. Tucker seems to have taking an archetype from Earth’s history and assumed it while traveling with his parrot, completely in costume and persona, all across the cosmos.

 The alien of the episode is laughable, absolutely Grade-Z in its presentation. The sound department added that monstrous rawr on a loop when it appears. It looks like a padded rug draped over a moving miniature motorized vehicle.

 So it is easy to dismiss as is the forecaster, functioning as a modified Robinson laser rifle that takes the plans of those near it and forecasts their potential in a type of projection of the future. Will thinks of Tucker and the forecaster projects him fleeing as the alien follows him. Smith (unwisely) asks Will to think of him after thoughts of his mom produced nothing and projected is the nefarious doctor heading towards Tucker’s ship to steal it.


What is important to the episode is Tucker and Will’s budding friendship and bond. The hero worship and tall tales. Will looks at him with wonder and his parents can only allow Tucker to let him down when the time comes. Will is quite heartbroken at the end when Tucker just addresses it without the minced words. Just one instance where Will is fed a crock and must learn the hard way that adults often let you down. I think the development of the potential for using Tucker’s ship to return to Earth as John and Don loudly request his assistance doesn’t get enough focus. This isn’t the first time such a development gets tossed aside with little inspiration by those who introduce such a possibility. With such a kind family who have been more that cordial and helpful, you’d think Tucker would go out of his way to do what he could to get word back to Earth that the Space Family Robinson is in need of a rescue…but he just goes on his way and the Robinson party does little to persuade him otherwise. Tucker tells them if he encounters anybody he’d get word back…never happens. Because those writing for the show just kept such an episode-to-episode mentality, the little logical details are brushed aside and forgotten. I would love to have been just an observer in the writer’s process for this show so I could purview how and why Lost in Space produced results that often called into question storytelling issues that were glaring and bothersome.

 But as a kid, episodes like this one charmed me. They did, I won’t lie. I found Salmi appealing as kids often did with these rogues and adventures, no matter how flawed and caricature they might seem. As an adult, I do consider many of these episodes just too silly for my taste today. But at least Salmi is given the ending to open the veil to reveal he’s just a human who found an extraordinary means for winding up a space traveler; his case is a bit different than what would be embarrassingly dumped on us with the likes of “The Space Croppers”.







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