TV Legends Revealed | Did ‘Lost in Space’ Coin the Phrase ‘Does Not Compute’?

robotTV URBAN LEGEND: Lost in Space coined the term “Does Not Compute”

Along with “We Come in Peace” and “Take Me to Your Leader,” one of the most popular science fiction phrases is the robotic “Does Not Compute.” When it comes to the depictions of robots, “Does Not Compute” is a popular phrase because it plays on the notion that robots “compute” rather than “think,” and it’s a cool way of showing a robot reacting differently than a human. Specifically, it’s often used to a show a robot struggling with comprehending the types of seemingly contradictory situations humans have to worry about all of the time. The human mind can deal with cognitive dissonance while a robot’s purely logical-driven “brain” cannot. This, therefore, shows that robots can never quite replace humans entirely.

The phrase became popular when it was used by the Robot on the hit 1965 television series Lost in Space. The character’s most popular catch phrase was “Danger!” or “Warning!,” which cemented into the popular consciousness as “Danger, Will Robinson!” despite the Robot having only said that exact sentence just once. The Robot has been credited with not only popularizing “Does Not Compute” but also coining the phrase. In the alternative, sometimes the 1966 television series Star Trek has been credited with its origin (the show often used the plot point of computers or robots malfunctioning when given a contradictory problem). The answer, though, as to who coined the phrase is neither show! Instead, the true originator was a sitcom starring a pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar!

The 1964 sitcom My Living Doll starred veteran actor Bob Cummings (whom I recently featured in a Theater Urban Legends Revealed about how he made his Broadway debut by pretending to be a British actor) and Julie Newmar (before she invented her patented derriere-enhancing pantyhose). The show was created by Jack Chertok, following his hit sitcom the previous year, My Favorite Martian, about a young reporter who takes in a crash-landed Martian as his roommate. In My Living Doll, Cummings plays Dr. Bob McDonald, a psychiatrist who is given an experimental robot/android by his friend, a scientist for the Air Force who wants to keep the robot/android out of the hands of the military. The scientist is transferred to Pakistan, leaving the robot/android in McDonald’s hands. He names her Rhoda and takes the opportunity to program her to be the “perfect woman” (and yes, it is just as sexist as it sounds — more so, really).

mylivingdollHer catch phrase was “That does not compute” (sometimes “That doesn’t compute”), becoming the first usage of that term.

The show barely lasted through the first season, though, as Cummings had problems with its low ratings, and there were clashes between he and Chertok (Cummings wasn’t Chertok’s first choice for the show while the actor, for his part, viewed the show almost as a sequel to his previous sitcom), and he actually quit the show with a few episodes left to film! Cummings wanted an episode in which McDonald’s grandfather would visit (who would be played by Cummings in a dual role), echoing a character Cummings portrayed on his last show (Cummings’ secretary on that show, a young Ann B. Davis, was the inspiration for Iron Man’s secretary, Pepper Potts). Chertok balked at the idea, and Cummings quit. It’s unclear whether the decision to not bring in the grandfather character (who would also be a pilot, of course, as Cummings was a flying aficionado and often tried to squeeze airplanes into his work) or the show’s low ratings were ultimately why Cummings left the show. Newmar and one of the show’s other producers claimed the latter in a featurette that was included on a 2012 DVD. In any event, McDonald found himself also somehow transferred to Pakistan and his wacky next-door neighbor (who was always lusting after Rhoda) thereby inherited the robot for the rest of the show’s short run. The producers planned to cast a new lead actor if the show made it to Season 2 but it was canceled before they got the chance.

So the show had a very short but, in the long term, it was an influential one!

The legend is …

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

News From Our Partners

Comments

  • JozefAL

    Nitpicky here but “there were clashes between he and Chertok” is incorrect grammar. “Between” is a preposition; therefore, any pronoun following it should be an OBJECT pronoun (me, him, her, us, them) rather than a SUBJECT pronoun (I, he, she, we, they). If you replaced the pronoun/name combination with a single pronoun, which form would you think is correct: “Between they” or “Between them”? Odds are that you’d respond “Between them” as the correct form. If “them” is the correct form there (which it is), then it stands that “him” would be correct as well.

    As noted, it’s nitpicky but that single bit just spoiled an otherwise good Legend piece.

  • J. Robb

    This might be too obscure, but I have another TV phrase idea: did The Simpsons invent “Purple Monkey Dishwasher”? Most internet searches seem to think so, but I’m pretty sure I remember it from earlier. I think it was even an alternate name for the telephone game when I was a kid.

  • WWW MOM

    However, Lost in Space did use the phrase “resistance is futile” before it was poplarized on later versions of Star Trek. It was said by the alien “Saticons” in an early second season episode.

  • Rob McKercher

    Brian, there is a great book called Brave New Words published by Oxford University Press, which is sort of an anthropological dictionary of words/terms/phrased introduced in science fiction that have achieved mainstream English usage. It provides citations for historical appearances of each word.

  • Sentry616

    The autism is strong with this one.

  • Paradisio

    “Doctor Who” landed on the air in 1963, and a number of villains from that show use several of the lines listed in the comments, etc: “Resistance is futile,” “Exterminate!”, and “Does not compute.” However, exact air dates of these episodes where the lines were first uttered (or screeched), and therefore which of the coined sci-fi phrases belong to “Doctor Who” originally, I cannot tell you offhand.