Subject: THE TIME TUNNEL overview

Posted on: June 06 2009 @ 09:35 AM
By: Chase



The first time I ever saw the time tunnel and the surrounding series was in the promotional by ABC or it may have been the first time it was syndicated promotional. It was big, dark, and scary. As a child of 7 years, it was also a very alien world---the past was as much a mystery as the future. To see such terror as the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Krakatoa, and the attack on Pearl Harbor and to find out these things did really left quite an impression.

I recall being frightened off THE TIME TUNNEL as well as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (well, at 7, that abominable snowman was really very horrific). Unlike VOYAGE, LOST, and GIANTS where the characters had some relative place of safety to hide out in, THE TIME TUNNEL had no place to hide, literally. On VOYAGE, the crew had the Seaview; on LOST there was the ever present Jupiter II, and on GIANTS there was the Spindrift and its camp base. As tenuous as these places of refuge were, they at least made the characters feel some kind of comfort. There was none of that for Doug and Tony. The only pseudo place of safety was the Tic Toc complex. Again, as a child, the Tic Toc lab was almost as frightening as the places Tony and Doug found themselves in. It was big and dark, one wrong move in there could be your last: there were strange elevators which looked very dangerous, a ramp from the desert floor which seemed quite daredevilish, and scores of bridges, towers, overhangs from which any fall would mean death. In addition, most of the extra tunnel personnel were cold, serious faced toughs. That is why I felt Jerry was so important to the first few episodes and his character, although somewhat annoying at times, was very caring and human, almost a warm hearted greeter to anyone a bit afraid to be there. Later, Ann, Ray, and Kirk all warmed up a great deal but this huge complex was as imposing as the past or the present.

It was odd not knowing much about history back then and even now, I wonder at the past that we really don't know all that much about. We only know what is down in the history books, newspapers, and other types of records. More must have happened. And can we trust what is written down in those records? The old saying that "history is rewritten by the winners of the wars" may apply. Doug and Tony could appear in a place and time in the past that was relatively new to me back then. Later on, most of the times they visited, I realized were really very well known by Americans. But what about the past of other civilizations besides America and Europe? What about the Orient? The far past? Alas, as an adult, it is easier to be disappointed by the far too well known time zones visited by Tony and Doug. And many other TV series characters as well. No doubt THE TIME TUNNEL influenced many of the other series to venture into the past.

Ship sinking stories are always scary but in RENDEZVOUS WITH YESTERDAY it is more so since the viewers, along with the characters from the present, know the ship is definitely going to sink. Therefore, this one was tense, leaving me to worry about the boy and the woman Tony and Doug were with. Would they survive? It is possible this, along with the VOYAGE movie, laid the foundations for the future Irwin Allen disaster epics. Future TT episodes would feature similar tense moments, most notably CRACK OF DOOM and THE DAY THE SKY FELL IN with characters we can care about in peril. Obviously Tony and Doug wouldn't die----but we were proved wrong when Doug is stabbed dead in MERLIN THE MAGICIAN, an otherwise lesser episode with little to recommend it. Ann, in this one, isn't even sure she wants to save Tony since Doug is now dead. Merlin fixes that one.

I found the earlier episodes very tense and sometimes a bit too adult: exactly what was going on in ONE WAY TO THE MOON was a bit hazy to a child--there were two killers on the expedition, one in the future and the other having died in the present---the past to the future!? Thus, TT avoided the time paradoxes (which would, in reality, result from time traveling and in being able to view the past and the future) by simply ignoring them. To its credit, ONE WAY TO THE MOON made me think. Think about how this--had the TT crew and all those watching from 1968 known there was going to be a spy on the rocket ship---even known about two spies---wouldn't that have changed not only the 1978 expedition but the very near future as well? And wouldn't one of the killers know that Tony and Doug were on board the rocket and would be saved, thus stopping his plan? It's too confusing.

Also, if Tony and Doug go back to years when they were alive, do they leap into their younger bodies (ala QUANTUM LEAP) or do they just appear while their younger selves are still around and about (there is evidence to both happening on the show but as in all Allen shows explanations are not forthcoming)? In the unaired pilot and the same scene was used in the cliffhanger tagged onto ONE WAY TO THE MOON and in the opening teaser to END OF THE WORLD--Tony returns to the Tic Toc labs desert but ten years in the past and before he ever arrived there originally as part of the team and met Doug and Jiggs---and they don't know him-they've never met him! Where was the Doug from 1968 that traveled with Tony? He didn't seem to be around. Yet, there was a Doug there--a Doug who existed in 1958---who didn't know Tony. Of course, this happens when Tony meets his little boy self in THE DAY THE SKY FELL IN. Obviously there were two Tony Newmans--very different size and weight and mass. 1942 is much further away from 1968 than 1958.

One very effective sequence in CRACK OF DOOM had Tony returning through time to the present of 1968---but due to a time warp, everyone in the tunnel is moving at a much slower rate--if at all. Tony is moving so fast, they cannot see him but do get a scribbled message Tony wrote so fast they couldn't even see him. This trick was lifted from the movie THE TIME TRAVELERS but here, it is more effective than in the movie. Tony's joy at being home washes off his face when he sees the still forms of all the Tic Toc people. This sequence often seems totally unrelated to the rest of the Krakatoa, East of Java stuff, but is equal, if not better.

Tony and Doug often landed in dark and misty places, making the past all the more strange. In addition, the stories were also dark and sometimes hopelessly downbeat and tragic. The saving of the dauphin in REIGN OF TERROR is anything but; however it is to THE TIME TUNNEL's credit this was allowed---in reality the dauphin is believed to have died due to a severe flu and never escaped. To me, as a child and teenager, this was the most boring episode but watching it now, I realize it is probably one of the best, added to an excellent story was a wonderful Irwin Allen-ish score.

NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES seemed the most dark and murderous but that strain was almost always evident in the series---someone almost always died in the hour. Sometimes whole troops of men. I won't go into the whole stock footage thing here but the costumes were usually wrong for the episodes that took place in 544 and 1215. Thus, MERLIN THE MAGICIAN and REVENGE OF ROBIN HOOD looked especially wrong and weren't very good scripts at all. The hat worn by one of the villains in MERLIN was very silly looking but that makes it all the more fun to watch nowadays. PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND seems particularly slow today yet I recalled being interested in it as a child. The best thing about it was the music when Doug tries to fight off Beal. I think it is somewhat tedious an episode today. By contrast, THE GHOST OF NERO is surprising. A ghost is something one is more likely to find on LOST IN SPACE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA with varying degrees of silliness and lack of pride. Here, on THE TIME TUNNEL, it was actually an atmospheric tale, one not akin to the series. Yes, there was a historical battle raging but also a supernatural one, as well as a personal vendetta with Nero. The link between Nero, Mussolini, and World War One was interesting and not since THE WALLS OF JERICHO was there such a debate in the tunnel Tic Toc Labs about the existence of the supernatural. The guest stars were all very good in this one, unlike MERLIN and ROBIN HOOD. For the most part, the guest stars were usually very good actors (but don't count TOWN OF TERROR among them---sorry, even Heather didn't do such a good job in that one as the guest actress) and THE DEATH TRAP (with one of the only trains in an Irwin Allen TV series) stands out among most of the others.

IDOL OF DEATH (with more good guest stars and some shocking early scenes of the cruelty the Spanish inflicted on the Mayans), ATTACK OF THE BARBARIANS (where Tony falls in love and the entire--"we're here and now" vs. "these people died hundreds of years ago" debate is played out), BILLY THE KID (with more wonderful sets and visuals), THE DEATH MERCHANT (with a great Civil War landscape and bridge sequence) and KILL TWO BY TWO (with some of the last well acted dramatics in the series from Mako and the other guest stars) were some of the better episodes from the later half of the show. These remained faithful to the action-adventure format but had that certain something that made them stand out over the later batch of episodes.

RAIDERS FROM OUTER SPACE, despite fine sets and effects, was the worst episode from a story viewpoint---it really had no working knowledge of missiles and explosions and what havoc they can do to the areas used in---using them instead for foul visual effect, beyond any hope of sense. TOWN OF TERROR, a favorite from childhood, is equally disappointing, with much of the runaround not making much sense. Both concern alien menaces to Earth. Almost as bad as RAIDERS, the first alien attack story, VISITORS FROM BEYOND THE STARS, also possessed fine visuals and stunning sets but lacked credibility and an interesting plot. As a twist, VISITORS and RAIDERS used the alien attacks in the past---always a surprising aspect---but here it did not help along the story in any way besides the novelty of having aliens in our own past on Earth.

THE DEATH MERCHANT bettered the novelty of having odd things from other times intrude on another time zone. In it, Machiavelli is time tunneled out of his time by the tunnel, accidentally, to the Civil War time. He was an inspired and deeper villain played by the wonderful Malachi Throne. Using characters from two past times was a great idea since most of the alien and future episodes failed miserably.

Two stories that do not fall into that category are the excellent THE KIDNAPPERS and CHASE THROUGH TIME. THE KIDNAPPERS details more aliens---but on their planet and in the far future year of 8433 with frequent Allen guest star Mike Ansara playing a fantastically weird alien of a strange race of silver coated men and other odd robots. Del Monroe was particularly menacing, enjoying his non-emotional role with delight it seemed. His OTT robot-man was truly menacing and had a dimension of wickedness about him that made him rise above the silly aliens in RAIDERS and VISITORS. Even in those two lame episodes, as well as THE KIDNAPPERS and CHASE, the fun aspect of the future and alien episodes is noticing all the gear and hardware used from VOYAGE and LOST IN SPACE, as well as the alien masks, which were somehow butchered and hybrided into masks, equipment, and monsters for RAIDERS, TOWN OF TERROR, KIDNAPPERS, CHASE, and VISITORS. While it made for a change of pace, the future episodes do not hold up to the past ones. As a child I waited and hoped for a future episode but there were only four true future episodes and two of those (TOWN OF TERROR and ONE WAY TO THE MOON) both took place in so near a future year (ten years into the future in 1978) as to not even be in the future at all. That left us with THE KIDNAPPERS and CHASE THROUGH TIME, oddly enough it was these two true future episodes which would outshine RAIDERS, TOWN, and VISITORS---three very un-fleshed out scripts of alien invasions.

THE KIDNAPPERS presented a race that takes people from other times ala TIME LOCK on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. While it is a fairly routine, run and escape story, the aspects of Hitler and the alien city without roofs is entertaining enough and it all seems to make some kind of sense. It was also nice to see Ann out of the Tic Toc Lab for once, even if she seemed overemotional--and who wouldn't given the circumstances--and one must remember this is her first time trip (and only one in the entire series). The opening segments with a Roman soldier and other characters from the past wandering through a futuristic set are delightfully strange (music curtesy of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and LOST IN SPACE).

CHASE THROUGH TIME is perhaps, arguably, the best episode. It begins in a non-dangerous time (for once) in the Grand Canyon in 1547 AD--where absolutely nothing historical is happening. Robert Duval adds a great presence to the show as the main villain---a Tic Toc operative who planted a bomb in the tunnel complex. I wasn't sure if this time tunnel was another and if the complex had more than one tunnel or if he was on night watch or what---but this episode along with PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND (with the Tic Toc doctor retiring) gives us a rare, often overlooked aspect of the lives of the people in the complex. After all is it a living quarters for the people and their families? Is it strictly military?

Back to CHASE THROUGH TIME: Tunnel problems exist as the only threat in 1547 as well as Neman, the villain. They are then transferred in time--all three; only Neman arrives in the far future of 1,000, 000, arriving ten years earlier than Doug and Tony and sets himself up as some kind of ruler-god of a bee hive-live community in a scientifically superior city! All these aspects play out nicely together and fit. They are also aspects the show never tried before in such a way as to mix characters, times, and have them both directly related to the time tunnel itself. Neman being there so much earlier than Tony and Doug is an inspired bit of time travel conundrum as is the finding of the bee hive relics in the far past--yes, for once Tony and Doug in one episode go to more than one time--three in fact. In the far past---1,000,000 BC, they find the bee hives--along with Neman and two human-bee drone workers from the future. Dinosaurs fit in with the time and stock footage from the unaired pilot is used to show one chase Tony and Doug.

In one or two episodes, I seem to recall that, on screen, the tunnel put Tony and Doug's 1968 clothes back on, something which happened few and far between. Other episodes such as CRACK OF DOOM and REIGN OF TERROR establish some kind of voice contact but the tunnel is not advanced enough for them to work out the kinks to have a continuous contact. And naturally enough, Irwin Allen-wise, they are able to bring back into the tunnel complex a Trojan Warrior (REVENGE OF THE GODS), the golden idol (IDOL OF DEATH an excellent episode, much underrated and which has a nice time freeze scene), General Kirk's lookalike from Revolutionary France (REIGN OF TERROR), treacherous Capt. Beal (PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND), Halley's Comet (END OF THE WORLD--deceptively titled as it is not about the real end of the world), Nero's ghost (THE GHOST OF NERO), Davy (THE DEATH TRAP), one of the men in THE ALAMO, a Native American (MASSACRE), a convict from DEVIL'S ISLAND, and a few other people and objects (including the missile-bomb in THE DAY THE SKY FELL IN and the bombs-explosives in THE DEATH TRAP and DEATH MERCHANT). On occasion they are able to send, dangerously, and with sometimes devastating consequences, messages (in the unstable cube boxes in SECRET WEAPON) and trackers (MERLIN THE MAGICIAN) to Tony and Doug or one or the other.

The brainwash aspect that litters Irwin Allen shows (somewhat effectively in VOYAGE's THE ENEMIES, THE TRAITOR, DEATH WATCH, SABOTAGE, and others as well as LOST IN SPACE's FOLLOW THE LEADER, GIANT'S BRAINWASH and the superior of all--THE UNSUSPECTED), was used worst in TIME TUNNEL'S INVASION. A nice locale--just before D-Day in WWII Nazi occupied France--is marred by a Doug brainwashed to kill Tony plot line. There is some historical doubt nowadays as to whether or not there really was any French underground at all. This one was tepid, almost, but not as bad as REVENGE OF ROBIN HOOD, MERLIN, RAIDERS, TOWN, and VISITORS. The idea of brainwashing was better employed in DEATH MERCHANT where it is Tony who is duped into believing he is on the side of the South in the Civil War and against Doug---it mirrors the whole brother against brother, nation against itself aspect of the story and the time zone. Tony was also taken over later by Nero's ghost and as stated above, it, too, was a good episode.

Earlier episodes were fairly straight forward and exciting enough. MASSACRE presents a good portrait of Custer's evil ways but stuck pretty rigidly to the stereotype of Indians--and was mentioned in a book about Indians wrongly portrayed in movies and television. THE ALAMO not liked by many, stuck pretty much to the story but how Tony was grabbed by a Mexican and stayed alive (all outside the Alamo) is beyond me. Then Tony managed to return to the Alamo! Two stories with depressing endings but aptly made.

THE LAST PATROL as a child, introduced me to the War of 1812, a subject which was only quickly covered in history books back then. Carol O'Connor, an entertainment genius (I really liked what he did with the character here and his characters in ALL IN THE FAMILY and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), is superb as both Suttons, past and present. But again, another depressing ending.

Often avoiding having the historical figures play an important part (Hitler in THE KIDNAPPERS did little and had no lines--and as Bob May played him--this is a good thing), in THE DEATH TRAP we get Lincoln, in MASSACRE we do get Custer, and Marie Antoinette in REIGN OF TERROR. Unfortunately this did not happen as much as it could have as in say, the excellent VOYAGERS time travel series, which was made more for children and family viewing, a show which lifted quite a bit from THE TIME TUNNEL.

SECRET WEAPON is also worth mentioning as the enemies had their own time tunnel in the year 1956 where the Cold War was featured, rather surprisingly. This one taught me more about the Cold War and sent me reading for more truth about it than any school book could. In fact, THE TIME TUNNEL, on the whole, while historically inaccurate in so many ways, almost always sent me to reading about the time period, historical figures, and wars talked about. For that, it should be commended.

Alas, Tony and Doug only had 30 adventures, not to mention two comic books. The story was first made as a novel (called TIME TUNNEL without the THE) in 1964 with totally different characters and serious time warp and time change undercurrents. Then, it was made into a redone book (THE TIME TUNNEL-book one) by the same writer, Murray Leinster, to fit in with the series---and it, too, had some differences than the series. A third book, book 2 of the new range, is called TIMESLIP, also featuring the TV characters but somewhat different from the televised versions. It does fit in with the redone book 1. In between all that, were two juvenile stories, one called TUNNEL THROUGH TIME in 1966 and another called MUTINY IN THE TIME MACHINE. All are very good. TUNNEL THROUGH TIME by Lester Del Ray is most like TIME TUNNEL, except that the tunnel hole must appear and the two timelost boys must step into it---before, say, a Triceratops does. For its time, it was more accurate a portrayal of the far past (dinos and man do not walk the earth together) as the boys search for one of the boy's fathers who is lost in time. They travel time zone to time zone, encountering the Ice Age, wholly mammals, dinosaurs feasting on each other, and other periods in the far past in chronological order. Although scientists believe dinosaurs and man never walked the Earth together, recent finds in Australia and Russia may have proven that man and some dinos did co exist somehow---a man's footprint has been found inside a dino footprint!

MUTINY IN THE TIME MACHINE was more time machine based---with the four boy crew (one from Ancient Sparta and one from the far evolutionary changed future) inside a rocket like time machine which came from the future (with the boy from the future in it). I guess in some way this would have made a better TV show---more like LOST, GIANTS, and VOYAGE with the characters able to travel in a vehicle somewhat---and with more of an ensemble cast who would interact more than the relatively small group on THE TIME TUNNEL. Perhaps a family lost in time ala LOST IN SPACE? Or maybe it could have been a futuristic time tour of civilians and staff who get lost, ala the LAND OF THE GIANTS group? Or a team dedicated to fighting evil in time and time travelers? Or a combo of all three.

But any of that would have been a different show altogether. Despite its limitations THE TIME TUNNEL had the ability to be better than the other three Allen shows but time, money, stock footage, and other aspects of the period of 1966 limited the series to what it is. Tony and Doug, were for the most part on their own without shelter, food, and water---hey, did they ever eat during the show? Maybe time suspended in their stomachs! Alas Tony and Doug only had one Biblical adventure (THE WALLS OF JERICHO which when first viewed was exciting and a real stretch for TV to--doing an adventure set in a Biblical story) and only went to the BC time periods three times out of thirty (in CHASE THROUGH TIME, REVENGE OF THE GODS-1200 BC and THE WALLS OF JERICHO)! In addition, they only went to the future in four stories (CHASE, ONE WAY TO THE MOON-1978, THE KIDNAPPERS-8433, and TOWN OF TERROR-1978). There were two stories in the 1200s (REVENGE OF ROBIN HOOD-1215, ATTACK OF THE BARBARIANS-1287), two in the 1500s (CHASE THROUGH TIME for a short time, IDOL OF DEATH), and only one in the 1700s (REIGN OF TERROR-1798). The rest all took place in the 1800s and 1900s. With all of time and presumably space to be lost in, this seems like such a narrowing down of possibilities, limited by the production teams need to stick to time zones that could use costumes, sets, and stock footage from movies and TV shows that already existed. Tony and Doug missed out on all the time zones we know so little about but for which is some historical evidence.

Another book, THE MONTAUK PROJECT, is perhaps interesting to fans of THE TIME TUNNEL and to fans of time travel stories in general and even to science fiction fans. It details the supposedly true story of a government cover up that has been going on since the supposedly true experiment done in the 1940s to transfer the crew of a destroyer in time---and at least three movies have been made about this event--the Philadelphia Experiment. It also goes into how two separate alien races have provided us with materials to build time tunnel machines. Also how the military operation, after being shut down, somehow reopened the projects which included: taking people--the homeless and the young--off the streets and from jail and using them as traveler guinea pigs sent into time---both the past and the future. Some were lost forever, some were killed, some were returned, brainwashed to forget and returned to their lives and homes. This also includes frequent trips into our own past to stop the spread of Nazis, Communism, the bringing down of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communist Russia, and trips to find out about the far future after near world destruction from aliens or from ourselves to recolonize and save the planet. Far out stuff? There is more. The antenna used by the project caused animals and teenagers to attack angrily and attack people when it was in use. It interfered with a man putting up his own antenna and that man began to recall how he was head of several aspects of the project---even so far as having people in an office calling him by name--an office he just began to remember. He had been against the project and was brainwashed to keep quiet. When he started to make waves, questioning what was still going on, he was attacked by yet another brainwashed man. The two teamed up to find out more. Equipment from the now closed base was examined and was beyond high tech.

Supposedly, tied into the book THE MOTHMAN PROPHESIES somewhat, more threats from the government scared people away, nearly had people killed, etc. And most amazingly, the spot where a large burn mark is today----is supposed to be the area where a monster destroyed several of the buildings when the tunnel and antenna went berserk during a hyper dimensional shift---away from our reality. A giant shadowy creature which emerged out of the tunnel even after the power was shut off. Food for thought: if the government were traveling back in time and changing things---we would not realize history was changed. Suppose for instance the original run of history had the Berlin Wall exist right up to Doomsday or that the Nazis won WWII---and the government in 1943 found this out using a time tunnel. They had gone to the future and found out Hitler was in charge of the world or the Berlin Wall was still up. So they nip backward to change something in 1938 or nip forward in time to 1945 and 1946 and change it so that WWII is won by the Allies or the Berlin Wall will fall in 1987---and history as we know it would change. Our collective memories of the events would just switch to the changes made in those times. So governments could be nipping back and forth in time to adjust it to their viewpoints. Science fiction? Much of the book sounds like THE TIME TUNNEL so maybe Leinster, Del Ray, and Allen and ultimately HG Wells were onto something after all.

In this day of TNT special event movies on the Native Americans, other important aspects of time periods, and Biblical events as well as big budget movies about the past and the future, it is easy to forget THE TIME TUNNEL paved the way by letting us find out more about so many different time zones even in only 30 episodes and with so much constraints put upon its production. For this and for the sheer entertainment of not knowing where and when Tony and Doug will land each week---THE TIME TUNNEL should be remembered fondly by anyone who watched all 30 segments.


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