This time, John Robinson, father and expedition commander, is a failed man. Maureen, wife, mother and aerospace engineer, is holding everything together. Daughters Judy and Penny are at odds. And son Will isn't the boy genius he was first time around.

To ice the cake, Dr Smith, the saboteur and stowaway of the original series, is rebooted here as a woman, played by Parker Posey.

"It takes an essentially domestic situation with this family and transplants it into this absolutely, on one level, absurd place," says 48-year-old British actor Toby Stephens, who plays John Robinson. "You're in outer space, but also in this really serious jeopardy where they could die at any moment."

Most appealing to Stephens was that the rebooted Robinson family was not "an apple-pie, idealistic, American family. It was a real family, it had a real feel to it. There are dysfunctions within that family, there are things that aren't quite going right, or are going wrong, like in any family."

Jonathan Harris as Dr Zachary Smith, with the robot, in the original Lost in Space.

Photo: Fairfax Media

Those dynamics serve to open the show up to the broadest possible audience, he says. "It's at this very interesting level where parents could watch it because they'll identify and the kids can watch it because they're watching this amazing adventure, and I guess that's what the original was doing, but in a different time."

Stephens, the son of legendary actors Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith, grew up in Britain and only saw fragments of the original series.

Guy Williamson as John Robinson, June Lockhart as Maureen and Mark Goddard as Major Don West in the original Lost In Space.

"I knew of its existence in pop culture, I had seen photos of it, I had probably seen clips of it, but that's it," he says. "I knew it was about the Swiss Family Robinson set in outer space, I knew of the existence of a robot and that Dr Smith was this evil, kind of campy guy who was always causing trouble. But I really didn't watch it, I didn't follow it as a child."

There is then, he agrees, a great freedom in coming to the series reboot with a fairly open mind to interpreting the material.

"I deliberately didn't go back and watch episodes of the original series because it was totally different and they were making it in a totally different time," he says. "And while being respectful of the original, [the reboot] is sort of the same construct but what's great about it is you can take it in all kinds of directions.

While the original John Robinson was a rock solid figure, the rebooted John Robinson is, in Stephens' words, "a failed father and a failed husband."

"I think that was what really struck me most of all about him," Stephens says. "He's somebody who's got it wrong and I find his journey – somebody realising they've got it wrong and they're trying to correct it and find that place – very moving."

Within the framework of the rebooted Robinsons, he says, Maureen is "this incredibly resilient and strong woman, who has now become the de facto head of this family, is holding things together. And John has been sidelined and it's about him finding, 'Where do I fit into this now? How do I make my peace with this and also reconnect with my kids?' "

Into the complex relationship between father and son comes the Robot, who "ends up kind of interceding between him and his son and becoming a kind of father figure, or a paternal, protective figure for his son," says Stephens.

"And [that] just highlights how distant he has become from his own son. His son chooses to be with this robot more than him and finds protection. And I thought it was a really cool idea and gives it this texture and sophistication that obviously kids would enjoy but also adults will identify with."

The reboot of Lost in Space is nothing if not ambitious. And while it does not live in the edgy television space in terms of either language or violence, Stephens believes Netflix may well have been the only environment in which a reboot of its scale and ambition might have been attempted.

"Because it's incredibly expensive doing the kind of special effects, all of the stuff that goes into making this look so good," he says.

"It can only work if it does for kids now what the original series did in 1965. And we've come such a long way. Kids now, they've watched The Avengers, Star Wars, they've seen this incredible sophisticated imagery and CGI, and you have to bring that to bear even in something like Lost In Space."

The narrative strength of science fiction has always been in its ability to use a futuristic setting to make stark commentary on the present day. "One of the jobs of science fiction is either a warning or an aspiration," Stephens says. "And I think the aspiration of this is that we've dealt with sexual politics, we've dealt with race issues, we've dealt with all of that and we're now in a more comfortable place where they're just not an issue any more, so there's this international, interracial feel to this whole project.

"The warning is that no matter what happens on Earth, taking the leap of going somewhere else and just thinking we can plant our seed somewhere else and everything will be fine is a massive leap, not only of imagination, but of faith. And it might not work out."

Lost in Space is on Netflix from April 13

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Michael Idato

Michael Idato is a Senior Writer based in Los Angeles for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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