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The Time Tunnel first appeared on TV when I was 11 years old, and it
has been four decades since I have seen any of Tony's and Doug's
adventures. Thanks to the Starz Action Channel, I've recently had the
opportunity to view a few of the episodes once more. Yes, it's a little
more goofy than I thought all those years ago, especially when story
lines start to turn around the appearance of aliens. But the show is
also much better than some of the younger critics seem to be saying.
How so? Well, think about the assumptions behind the Time Tunnel. The producers of this program ASSUMED its audience, back in 1966, had at least a passing familiarity not only with the history of the Titanic, the Alamo, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Custer's Last Stand but also ASSUMED its audience was aware of the outlines of the story of the Trojan War, the War of 1812, the Siege of Khartoum, and the Dreyfuss Affair--and remember this was long BEFORE the making of PAPILLON. Imagine an hour long TV series today turning one of its plots around the Dreyfuss Affair! It couldn't happen. Today's audiences haven't heard of Dreyfuss and can't even tell you what CENTURIES Pearl Harbor or the American Civil War took place in.
As strange as it may sound to the ears of the contemporary TV viewer, the truth is the Time Tunnel was geared towards a much more sophisticated audience than today's viewers, who are illiterate in their own culture and history. Could a TV series today do a story about the attempt to assassinate Abraham Lincoln--in 1861! The ability of the producers to take this all but forgotten historical incident and turn it into a hour long story could only have worked had the 1966 TV audience been well founded not only in the history of the American Civil War but in Lincoln's assassination in 1865.
The fact is the Time Tunnel could not work for today's dumbed down TV viewers. You can't assume they know what they had for lunch yesterday, much less the history of their own nation or Western Civlization. It's so much easier--and necessary--to develop films and TV shows around cartoon heroes with no baggage and no grounding in all that nasty history.
Whenever the nit-pickers and cynics get started on THE TIME TUNNEL, you
bet your life that the same things will come up....
The first thing is usually to point out how smelly Doug and Tony must be because they never change their clothes. This will usually be followed by a comment about the length of their hair and fingernails. Anyone who has actually watched the show will be able to give the answer that the two travellers are returned to the condition they were in when they were extracted from the RMS Titanic at the conclusion of their first adventure "Rendezvous With Yesterday" - it's a part of the transference process. Likewise any injuries that they may have suffered (such as Tony's damaged ankle in "Kill Two by Two") are undone. OK, I'm not denying that the real reason for this is so that they could use the same stock footage of Doug and Tony in the vortex week after week... but it is addressed.
Point two on the nit-picker's agenda is usually: "why do Doug and Tony always materialise in one of history's hotspots rather than someone's backyard or a field on an historically insignificant day?" The quick answer to which is that it would be pretty boring watching Doug and Tony sitting in a field scratching themselves for a whole hour - well I'd find it boring at any rate.
Point three is invariably: "How come every historical figure they meet - no matter where and when they hail from - speaks perfect English?" Likewise, this can easily be dismissed by pointing out that watching Doug, Tony and Historical Figure of The Week making hand signals and drawing pictures in the sand for an hour just to say "Hi", might make for pretty dull viewing. Anyway, surely it is conceivable that one or more of those many computer banks we see at Project: Tic-Toc might be doing the translating for Doug and Tony (a bit like the Universal Translator in the original Star Trek).
The thing that the nit-pickers always seem to forget is that THE TIME TUNNEL was a weekly television show meant to entertain the masses for 50-odd minutes a week. It was made in 1966 and so, yes, it has dated and doesn't look as sophisticated as the SF shows of today - but don't forget that those modern shows are building on what came before. Thirty-odd years on I can promise you that Babylon 5, Farscape and whatever Star Trek show is currently airing, will look just as dated and unsophisticated.
Believe it or not, both "The Time Tunnel" and "Star Trek" debuted in
the same week, back in 1966...and for a 13-year old comic-book loving
SF fan, the TT premiere, placing our heroes on the doomed Titanic, beat
Trek's 'salt-sucking-monster-disguised-as-a-wife" first episode, hands
down! Irwin Allen obviously thought he had a winner with the
time-traveling concept. Leads Robert Colbert and James Darren were very
familiar faces to TV audiences, with Darren still idolized by a legion
of fans from his "Gidget" movies (He told me, several years later, that
he hoped the series would finally establish him as an 'adult', capable
of the same range he'd displayed in "The Guns of Navarone"). Gary
Merrill and Michael Rennie as the first guest stars certainly added
luster to the Titanic episode, as did a wonderfully intricate main set
(with the famous Op Art time portal), a supporting cast including
pre-Catwoman Lee Meriwether and veteran character actor Whit Bissell,
and, best of all, the extensive 20th Century Fox film archive to 'lift'
stock footage from (giving the show a MUCH more expensive look than the
series' tiny budget could have supported).
Unfortunately, while "Star Trek" improved in subsequent episodes, the opposite was true for TT. The series faced the fundamental incongruity of time travel as a film or TV subject; EVERYBODY from the past, by necessity, had to speak understandable English! Seeing Greeks and Trojans, bedecked in ancient armor, conversing in 20th Century American English, was pretty jarring! Even worse, the plots soon became painfully predictable. Our heroes, try as they might, could NOT change history, so you knew, each week, that they would either have to allow a tragedy to happen (like Pearl Harbor, in one of the series' best episodes), or that their actions would serve to keep an event aligned the way we currently remember it. When you add a minuscule 'per-episode' budget, insanely short shooting schedules, and the overworked Allen often unavailable to supervise the series or to 'stand up' to ABC and demand improvements, TT never really had a chance.
Still, you had to respect Irwin Allen for attempting to make something more profound than "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (which had deteriorated into campy 'rubber-masked monster of the week' hokum), and "Land of the Giants" (which quickly wore out it's novelty value). While TT failed, many 'baby boomers' still remember it fondly...and that isn't a bad legacy for a one-season show!
I was 9 years old when "Time Tunnel" came on the air, and to an
impressionable kid, this series was not so much a stretch as it would be
when you're older. I used to love Friday nites on ABC, IIRC the lineup was
Green Hornet, Rango (w/Tim Conway), Time Tunnel, Pruitts of Southampton
(w/Phillis Diller). Memory is a little weak on the exact order, but I
From the moment I saw the slide they put on just before the show began that said "The Time Tunnel, IN COLOR!" I was jealous of everyone that had a color TV (we had an old 21" B&W Olympic brand TV from the 50's). It wouldn't be until years later that I could see it in color. I was never that crazy about "Land of the Giants" or "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", but I never missed "Lost in Space". I never understood as a kid why TT was cancelled (What do kids know? I was just upset my favorite show wasn't on anymore!)
Over the years I would see it pop up once in a great while on some UHF station where I lived in Florida (WTOG-44 in St.Pete in the early 70's). I didn't see it again for years until it reappeared on SciFi. I taped almost all the shows but missed a few. Now I keep hoping for them to come out on DVD as I keep reading, but they still haven't appeared.
I always especially loved the theme music at the beginning of the show, and used my cassette recorder in the 70's to get the theme music so I could hear it when I wanted (no vcr's then!). Sure the show inspired disbelief, but it's pure escapism. Even as a kid, I wondered out loud why they always landed where trouble was about to begin. It didn't matter though, it became my favorite show of all time and still is. I watched it on it's premiere night in 1966 and when I see "Rendevous with yesterday" it takes me back like a Time Tunnel to 1966 and laying on the floor in front of that old TV and being mesmerized by the effects and story...it's like listening to an old song and remembering the time and place where you heard it the first time.
I think it will always be a classic, even if it got (unjustly) cancelled after it's first season. Obviously, I'm not alone, with all the websites devoted to it and all the comments in forums, it will live on for a long time to come. I hope the DVD's come soon.
We had to watch "Time Tunnel" every Friday evening back in the heyday of
1960s-style TV sci-fi. And this show fit right in. A nice blend of
storytelling, fantasy, and early techno-gadgetry.
Much of the appeal of time travel stories relates to, surprisingly, familiarity. We've learned (or at least used to learn) in school about the Trojan War, the French Revolution, the Titanic, Billy the Kid, etc. This show re-lived those tales with a modern-day twist. What would two modern-era men do in these historical events? Would they, could they, effect changes? Should they? The shows depicting historical events were best. When it tried some standard-fare sci-fi things, like trips into the future or outer space, the stories kind of plodded along and floundered.
But...some suspension of disbelief is a must if you watch this show. First, why did the time travellers have to end up in every episode in the middle of some dangerous, terrifying, world-shaking event? Why did they never appear in my quiet backyard back in the 1950s in suburban New Jersey, or out on a farm in Kokomo, Indiana? They would have saved themselves a lot of wear and tear. Oh, but, then we wouldn't have much of a show, right? Ah. Somehow, the stars always managed to get cleaned up and a set of fresh clothes just in time to make their next time leap, no matter how badly tattered and torn they were from their current misadventure. Pretty neat, that. I wish I had one of those when I wake up at 6 a.m. But, hey, if you can make a time machine, its probably no big deal to throw in an instant clothes changer and time traveller touch-up device. Lets not be square, play along with the gag and we'll enjoy the show more.
You'll recognize many of the cast. James Darren of course was the teenage heartthrob of the early '60s as Gidget's boyfriend. Sci-fi stalwarts Whit Bissel and John Zaremba reprise familiar characters. And Lee Meriwether adds some nice eye candy as the comely and brainy project scientist.
For its time, the Tunnel featured some nifty gadgets, although some of them were borrowed for/from and used in contemporary shows like Batman and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Those ancient mainframe-style computer banks look awfully familiar from different shows. But, hey, this was the '60s, and those were pretty modern back then. The Tunnel itself was quite striking, appearing to fade off into infinity when activated thanks to the magic of matte art and decent camera work. I've heard that the show's producers originally tried for a "time vortex" effect, showing clips of stock film footage from different eras speeding by the viewer as the time travelers made another leap in time. But when they tried it the effect looked more like a blurry version of brown pea soup. So they opted for the pop-art Tunnel, with very nice results.
Overall, a good sci fi effort from the mid '60s, for those who remember such a time fondly.
This great 60's show is as enjoyable in re-runs now as it was when it first appeared.Doug and Tony;what guys! Two fight happy heroes who roamed through history punching out everyone in sight in very well choreographed slug-fests that took them to such far flung settings as Troy, the Alamo,the Titanic and even the Moon. A teenage adrenalin rush of epic proportions,this show may have featured out-takes and back-projection galore but so what? Robert Colbert and James Darren gave us 30 action packed hours between 1966 & 1967 and for this we must be grateful. We knew it was all implausible nonsense but what sublime nonsense.Without a doubt this was the best hokum that Irwin Allen ever lent his name to and no one-off movie remake could ever do it justice.
Saw the show this morning on the Encore network. I remember being 14
when it came out and loved it then. Today was the first episode
(Titanic) and I enjoyed it all over again. Yes, much has changed in
technology as far as broadcasting is concerned but the mystery and
intrigue of time travel will always be there. The concept of the big
time tunnel whereby Doug and Tony are visible on a large screen
probably was a forerunner to big screen TV's of today. What I really
found intriguing is that when the show was produced in 1968 the budget
for the fictional project was $7 billion. What an enormous amount then
and yet today that amount for a budgeted gov't project is still huge.
Some of the episodes, as I remember, get a little corny (especially when they travel to the future) but shows where they try to effect great events in history are integral to our desire that if we could change history we would seek to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg, persuade Lincoln not to go to Ford's Theatre, and re-route JFK in the motorcade...
Ya gotta love Irwin Allen. His shows will never make the critics' list,
but for sheer fun, they can't be beat. Last night I watched the pilot
episode and the one where the guys go to the moon. To quote, MST3K, boy
those time travelers sure can fight:) Things I also love, in random
order: opening credits, with those mod graphics. The dog-trotting
security guards, whose leader really should hit the gym more often. The
fact that the tunnel cannot be damaged by those same guards firing
machine guns. The tunnel itself, which proves that time travel is
accomplished by lots of explosions. Also, the knowledge that when are
visiting the past, our clothes never get dirty and our hair is always
perfectly coiffed. The way the tunnel sends Doug and Tony to the
perfect historical moment, every time... even when the scientists can't
figure it out. The bank of mainframe computers, which really should
have gotten a SAG card, they were in some many shows. Discovering that
time travelers are either ruggedly handsome or resemble young rock
stars. The security alarms, which include fire sirens AND an air-raid
klaxon. The yellow hourglass logo. The humor of naming the biggest
project since the Manhattan Project Tic Toc. And of course... Whit
Bissell. It just ain't science fiction without Whit Bissell. And who
knew that history looked so much like the Fox film library? I hear
there's a new series coming on Sci-Fi. I'm sure it will have smarter
stories and better special effects, but the original will always hold a
place in my heart. Best seven billion the government ever spent...
after all, how do we really know this all didn't happen--Arizona is
just a hop, skip, and jump from Area 51. :)
All kidding aside, the kaleidoscopic time-travel patterns that the guys go through are still wonderful--mysterious, yet familiar. I've seen a lot of time-travel special effects, but this is still the best. And the set designers and matte painters for the Tic Toc complex should have won Emmys. Great casting of Micheal Rennie and the lovely Susan Hampshire, too.
Having grown up in the 60's, I have fond memories of those Irwin Allen adventure series; Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and of course The Time Tunnel. Here we have Tony and Doug, trapped in endless time travel, as they tumble week to week to a new adventure, which always happened to be a key moment in history. Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, the Titanic, Jericho, you name it. Meanwhile, the hapless scientists back at the base are constantly turning dials to bring them home, saying, "I'm trying to get a fix on them..." I always liked the vivid theme music, and of course you could see that those blinking computer props were recycled from the aforementioned series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many comments on Irwin Allen's "The Time Tunnel" begin with the
commentator revealing how old he/she was when this show aired, which
suggests love for it may hinge on nostalgia for the show rather than on
its quality. We loved the show when we were kids and have a fond
affection for it that may amount to more than the show is worth.
The show is about two physicists, Doug and Tony, who get trapped in an experimental Time Tunnel, a secret government project that has wasted mega taxpayer dollars (for 1966), with nothing to show for it but a defective Time Tunnel. In the first episode, a government bean-counter wants to cut the taxpayer's losses and shut it down. Tony, a young punk physicist (who looks barely old enough to have a degree, much less have been on the project seven years) rather stupidly goes in at night and makes himself a human guinea pig for the Tunnel. When he winds up on the "Titanic" (which the scientists running the Tunnel can see as if someone is out at sea with a camera recording the sinking), an older physicist, Doug, goes to "rescue" him. And the Tunnel scientists are unable to bring them back but continually drop them into precarious historical situations (the eruption of Krakatoa, for instance).
I was five/six and my brother was three years older when "The Time Tunnel" first aired. I liked Tony and he liked Doug, so when we played "Time Tunnel" out in the yard there was never a fight over who would be whom (we were also, considering our ages, about the same *relative* heights of the actors playing Doug and Tony). However, since our historical knowledge at that age was slim-to-none, I doubt our imitative adventures had much depth to them. All I remember is our waving our arms about, playing like we were going through time via the show's beautiful kaleidoscopic effects.
When I watched "The Time Tunnel" on DVD in 2009, I hadn't seen the show in more than 40 years. In the meantime, friends who had also been fans when they were under the age of ten told me they caught the show on cable and it wasn't as good as they remembered. They frankly warned me off it.
The special effects of "The Time Tunnel" are state-of-the-art (for 1966 television). It had that "let's not worry about the logic too much let's just do it!" attitude, and with that the ongoing notion that viewers could overlook lapses in logic if only the show made enough noise. And occasionally one just has to close one's eyes (as when guest star Carroll O'Connor, with a flimsy English accent, gets caught up in the time-travel special effects and looks shamefully ludicrous).
Well, forty years on, I can see through the paper-thin effects. And my historical knowledge is greatly improved (I did two years of graduate work in history). I'm puzzled that these physicists seem to know an awful lot about history. Perhaps education was better when they were in school, but I've met few scientists who know more than (usually inaccurate) common knowledge about historical events. (Doug and Tony seem to know so much history off the cuff, I was gratified in one episode to learn they didn't know anything specifically about British regimental history from the War of 1812. These physicists are also expert with their fists, and often duke it out successfully against formidable opponents).
Doug and Tony lead strange lives. They never seem to eat much -- and they don't get much sleep (unless they go into a kind of hibernation when time-traveling). And the Time Tunnel itself is a bizarre device. Why bother to travel in time if you can see historical events unfolding in real time as if on a screen in "tunnel-vision"? (There is a serious issue with privacy, too, if the Time Tunnel can see anything happening at any time as if someone had a camera at the Alamo.) One also worries about the Time Tunnel complex. Built as an underground facility in the western American desert, it goes down in the ground forever and looks a lot like the Death Star (this is actually a good effect). Security seems tight, but there's an awful lot of gun-play in the facility. And the hyper-excited scientists running the thing always seem to be and near the breaking point (obviously overworking and perhaps too much coffee).
Despite all this, speaking just for myself, I still enjoy the show. Those who grew up in the age of CGI might very well be disappointed in the effects. Nevertheless, I think it is a show that should be watched because it does present history a subject I adore but which others inexplicably shy away from - as the great adventure it is. History is not a dry list of names and dates. As Doug and Tony prove in every episode, history is an ongoing story that deserves revisiting for sheer fun.
"The Time Tunnel" still makes me want run out in the yard and wave my arms about as I travel to some great historical event, with my improved historical knowledge.
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