Netflix’s upcoming Lost in Space reboot made a lot of changes from the original series, and the most surprising of all is probably the robot. Not only is the robot now an alien machine that was discovered on a distant planet, but also it isn’t necessarily a dude anymore.
I had the chance to visit the set of Lost in Space last year, where everybody was wondering: “Seriously, what is up with the robot?” Production designer Ross Dempster revealed how, in this version, the robot isn’t a bona fide member of the Robinson crew that turns on the family after being infected by a virus, as he was in the original series and 1997 film. This time, it’s an alien the Robinsons find after they get, you know, lost in space. Dempster said they went through several designs, both mechanical and humanoid, before coming up with the current version. It’s mostly a new design, but it includes subtle nods to the original creation; for example, there’s the robot’s face, which changes color from blue to red.
“It came about trying to give it a little bit of a nod to the original design, which had these flashing lights behind this dome of glass,” Dempster said. “So, this was our fresh take on that.”
While Dempster wouldn’t say why the robot’s face changes color (though it seems like it’s to indicate its mood), he did emphasize how their robot wasn’t “made by man,” and is in fact another species. However, it’s still a machine, which leaves the question of who built it... especially considering how closer inspection of the robot suit showed it has a reference number on its chest.
“I wanted to ensure that we had a machine, not a creature,” Dempster said. “He’s all at once a weapon, a traveler with ancient wisdom, [and] the Iron Giant protector.”
Throughout the series, the main job the robot takes on is protecting Will Robinson—something that puts it at odds with Will’s dad, according to Toby Stephens, who plays John Robinson. It even acts as a bit of a surrogate father to Will—a role traditionally taken by Dr. Smith. This is especially interesting considering how Maxwell Jenkins, who plays Will Robinson, hinted how his character and the robot share a physical and emotional connection, though he wouldn’t elaborate what exactly that means.
“They depend on each other, they rely on each other... they learn from each other’s mistakes. They wouldn’t be who they are without each other, and it’s one of the most important things in Will Robinson’s life,” Jenkins said, while wearing a Danger Will Robinson cap. “The robot is everything he was missing.”
The robot might be a “paternal threat” to John Robinson, but the door’s open for interpreting the robot’s actual gender... if it even has one. In the original show, the robot was referred to as male and was played by a male actor. In the new show, most of the actors called it a “he,” both in interviews and during a scene filmed during the set visit, but Dempster made a point of using masculine and feminine pronouns when describing its actions, like how the robot interacts with its ship. “I just felt we should leave that open. Why dictate that he’s a guy?”
It’s also interesting to note how Netflix hasn’t revealed the person who’s actually playing the robot, keeping the mystery alive... at least for a little while longer. Lost in Space debuts on Netflix April 13.