Binging My Life Away | “The Time Tunnel” (1966)
Gini Koch has another binge watching review.
We thank her for her contributions and time she puts in for us on this binging. And we love her unique outlook on life especially on some of the material she has chosen. Some of it I didn’t even know existed on DVD.
We have done a few of those things and it can be exhausting.
Let’s see what she has to say about The Irwin Allen Series from 1966, The Time Tunnel (which I was in love with as a kid).
The Time Tunnel
As with most of the old shows the hubs and I are binging, one or both of us saw them when we were kids. In the case of The Time Tunnel, the hubs had never even heard of it, but I remembered it as being totally cool. But would I think so watching it now?
The Time Tunnel is about Project Tic-Toc which is America’s first successful attempt at time travel. Russia is also working on a time tunnel, so America needs to be first to ensure that the Communists don’t destroy the timeline. Due to rising costs and little confirmed data, an impatient US senator demands a test of the time tunnel. Two scientists, Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren) and Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) enter the tunnel and become lost in the time stream, landing at pivotal moments up and down the timeline, while the team back home desperately tries to bring them back.
First off, this is a show from the late 1960’s. As I’m discovering, the hubs adores shows from this era. Me…not so much. This is the era of screaming and emoting, an era of bad hair, bad clothes, bad makeup, and really bad acting. Oh, sure, not every show. But the late 1960’s really had it goin’ on in terms of people screaming for the cheap seats, ending each and every sentence with an exclamation point. It’s tiring to read in the comics. It’s worse to watch.
But wait. I remembered this show fondly. I remembered it as being cool and awesome and cutting edge.
Well, when I was three, I guess it was. But, because I was three or four during this show’s run, my memories of it are jumbled. The introduction, for example. The words the voiceover actor says, those I remember. But the images? Not so much. The image is a crudely animated stick figure in an hourglass. I remember Doug and Tony running through the swirling time tunnel wearing black suits with white shirts and black ties (for those who read my Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, you’re going, aha right now). Maybe there’s a show or movie out there where this happens, but this show is not it. (I’m on the hunt for that show, but that’s a whole different article.)
Anyway, the histrionics on this show are off the charts. But more on that later. Because, in some sense, the histrionics are appropriate.
Tony is the young genius hothead scientist, and the reason for the show – due to the senator’s planning to pull their funding, Tony activates the time tunnel and runs into it. And is sent onto the deck of the Titanic.
Doug is the slightly older, a little more levelheaded scientist, but he can’t leave his pal in danger. He goes into the time tunnel to help bring Tony back, while the rest of the team – Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell), Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba), and Dr. Ann MacGregor (Lee Merriweather) – all desperately try to drag their boys back.
In 1966/67, having a female scientist was awesome. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons my family of all women watched this show – we had nice visuals with Darren and Colbert, and a role model with Merriweather (she was better as Catwoman, though). Ann’s job is to be sensitive and scared and have hysterics when a woman should, while also being smart, until the episode where she has to not believe in God, and also kinda sorta Doug’s love interest, in the most chaste way possible.
Doug and Tony find each other and the first thing – the very first thing – they do is swear not to alter the timeline by changing anything.
Note that this is ALWAYS the first thing time travelers swear they’re going to do. Name one that’s done it. I’ll wait. Right. They don’t. They literally can’t. I mean, you’re interacting with people from that time, that changes the timeline right there. And, sure, accidents happen.
But Doug and Tony really go for it. Every time they say they won’t alter the timeline, they do something to…wait for it…alter the timeline. Sure, they’re supposedly keeping the timeline accurate, but who would actually know? The scientists working to get them out supposedly go home, but I get the feeling that “home” is merely another room in the huge, multi-storied, underground for at least a mile facility in the Arizona desert everyone works in. (And for those of you who read my Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, you’re now going aha again.) Doug and Tony are bouncing all over. No one’s really watching to see if things have changed “outside” all that often. More on this later.
Okay, we don’t have a show unless they’re doing the Route 66/The Fugitive/The Incredible Hulk thing of saving this town and moving on. So, fine. They’re going to hit a ton of different points in history and around the globe and get involved, willingly or unwillingly. That makes the show fun.
Now, however, we need to take a look at what those “back home” are doing. Which is…not managing to bring Doug and Tony back. But it’s more than that.
The time tunnel allows the scientific team to see what’s going on, as if watching a movie, as long as they get the right fix. MUCH is made about getting the right fix, with a lot of technobabble about time and space attached to it. But, somehow, every episode, they manage it, usually by dramatically twisting knobs and pushing buttons. So, they can see what’s going on.
Getting a fix on Doug and Tony is key. KEY! They have to be sure the fix is right and all that jazz, and they want to grab them both together so one isn’t stranded without the other. (This actually makes sense – it’s hard enough to be dropped where and whenever on the timeline, but losing the only person who really understands what’s going on who will also have your back would be a bad thing.) And yet, a firm fix is almost impossible. Where Doug and Tony are concerned. Oh sure, they can watch them for an hour, but getting that TRUE fix, it’s hard. (The temptation to make some drug jokes here is high, because with this show, they write themselves, but I’m going to show restraint and refrain.)
Somehow, though, the time tunnel will allow the scientific team to, in no particular order: affect the weather wherever/whenever Doug and Tony are; send weapons to wherever/whenever Doug and Tony are; bring people FROM THE PAST to the science center, interact with them, and send them back; send messages to Doug and Tony; affect things inside the science center due to whatever’s happening wherever and whenever Doug and Tony are; send people TO THE FUTURE and bring them back; and on and on. The only thing they can’t do? Bring Doug and Tony back.
Oh, they do bring them back twice. Well, Tony twice, Doug once. Only the first time is an accident of sorts and the second time Merlin does it. (Don’t ask.) But, both times, everyone other than Doug and Tony are frozen in time, so the guys have to go back into the time tunnel.
The “rules” of the time tunnel change almost episode to episode. One episode, they can just manage to send a weird brick that will disappear or explode back to where Doug and Tony are to warn them. The next week, they can bring that person from the past to the present, interact with them, and send them back. And so on. There is no scientific consistency and that means no continuity, since whatever they say can or can’t be done is proven wrong within two episodes.
The folks back home have another job – to explain what’s going on, over and over again. Doug and Tony land in the Old West and identify to each other where and likely when they are. “They’re in the Old West now!” someone back in the lab says. If the folks “back home” didn’t have to repeat everything, these episodes would have been thirty minutes instead of sixty. This show lives by its own motto – show AND tell.
To make things ultra-convenient, every time the time tunnel “grabs” them and tosses them around through time, it also puts them right back into the clothes they were wearing when they first entered the tunnel. Fans of Archer will be glad to know that the tactical turtleneck is appropriate for all eras (that’s what Tony is wearing, in green) because almost no one ever freaks out about how these two men are dressed. The stylish ‘60’s are apparently timeless.
The historical inaccuracies are astounding, especially because most of the times and places they’re going are well-documented. The show purports to be about smart people but it spent no money on research to make them accurate smart people.
Also, Doug and Tony are THE most kickass scientists the world has ever known, at least before Tony Stark became Iron Man and Bruce Banner became the Hulk. Doug and Tony kick ass. Tony knows karate. They’re both expert marksmen. They can wield any weapon from any era. Broadsword? Sure. Bow and arrow? Of course. You name it, they can use it as if born to it. But, you know, fisticuffs are great. There isn’t one episode where they aren’t punching someone, and it takes a lot of people to bring them down. Maybe the tunnel was delayed because these two were always in the gym or at the shooting range.
Where the show lost me forever, however, happened during the third episode. Tony is separated from Doug somehow during the time toss, and he ends up back at the time tunnel headquarters, just outside the security fence. Only, he’s landed ten years in the past, before he’s joined the team, meaning no one knows him. Okay, fine, cool setup.
Keep in mind that Doug and Tony do not ever lose their memories of anything that’s happened to them (barring brainwashing, which happens to Doug a lot, or a hard hit to the head providing temporary amnesia, which happens to Tony a lot). Keep in mind also that every person on the show is touted as brilliant, and Tony is considered the MOST brilliant of all of them.
So, Tony is fully aware of what’s going on. Or, at least, you’d think so. He sees people he knows. They don’t recognize him. He sees Doug, who’s driving a car, and starts shrieking hysterically at him. Doug has no idea who this lunatic is, and drives off, with Tony screaming, “Doug! DOOOOOUUUUUGGGGG!” while he runs after the car in that crazy, pathetic way all desperate people supposedly do.
Ann sees this and shares that poor Tony is so distraught that no one knows him (in case the audience somehow missed him screaming Doug’s name for five minutes). But what she, and everyone else, should have said was: “Why is Tony freaking out? For God’s sake, man, just tell Doug that the time tunnel he’s working on works and give him information ONLY someone on the inside could know. TELL HIM YOU’RE TRAVELING THROUGH TIME. He’s the one person out there who would believe you.”
But no. Tony “Mr. Brilliant” Newman does not tell the ONE person who’d get it that the time tunnel is operational and he needs Doug’s help. He just shrieks Doug’s name like a lunatic. He has told and will tell OTHER people he’s a time traveler. You know, while he’s not affecting the timestream. But Slightly Younger Doug? Nope, why tell HIM?
When someone is touted as being brilliant and then is too stupid to think of the obvious, it kind of ruins that character for me. Tony is one of the two main characters. That he’s this stupid is, to put it mildly, off-putting.
The couple of future episodes are unintentionally hilarious, and, this just in, everyone in the future or from another planet is silver-skinned. Pass it on.
There’s a lot of use of stock footage in this show. Any scene that doesn’t have one of the principal actors in it which also depicts a time and place is definitely stock footage. Some of this is really well integrated, some is not.
The show ends in an interesting manner. The show was doing well for ABC in the Friday night “death slot” and this mattered because ABC was in the toilet during this time. However, a new executive wanted The Legend of Custer, so he canceled The Time Tunnel abruptly. (The Legend of Custer lasted 17 episodes and was loathed by critics and, apparently, audiences.) I have no idea if the show’s production team had enough time to have planned this ending or not, but I’d like to think that they did.
Each episode ended with a preview of what was going to happen to Doug and Tony in their next adventure. You got to see three to five minutes of the next episode at the end of “this one”. So, for the last episode, when it’s preview time, what we see is…Doug and Tony on the Titanic.
Per the hubs, he feels that this means that Doug and Tony are in a loop and will never get out of the time tunnel. He may be right. (There were novelizations and comic books that say that he’s wrong, but whatever.) It made for an interesting ending to an uneven show.
The added bonus on the complete DVD set is the unaired pilot for the Time Tunnel remake, made in 2002 for Fox. It’s a very different take. Remember how I said that no one was watching the store, so to speak, in the original series? Well, I’m not the only one who thought so. The folks that did this remake covered that.
The Department of Energy is trying to create hot fusion and instead creates a time storm. For 240 minutes time’s whipping around uncontrollably until they get one end of it pinned down. The other end is still loose. And history has changed in small and large ways, and the only ones who know it are those who were down in the bunker where all this happened. Meaning they’re the ones who have to fix it or keep things as is, depending.
Doug Phillips (David Conrad) is a former Marine, a current DoE drone, and happy family man who’s recruited by his friend Flynn (Kavan Smith) to join the time tunnel team because of Doug’s knowledge of a particular battle in WWII that’s having a major time anomaly happening. Toni Newman (Andrea Roth) is a scientist and, like Flynn, was in the bunker when the Two-Forty event happened. Unlike with the original show, a full team can go back and be retrieved, as long as they hit the location and time right.
Because of when this show was made, it doesn’t have all the things I didn’t like about the original. It was a pretty interesting hour, and I’d have liked to have seen more of it. But it was not to be. Why? Fox chose to go with a different show, instead: Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
Would this version of the Time Tunnel have lasted longer than Firefly did? Only Doug Phillips and Tony Newman can answer that.
3 stars out of 5 (the hubs rates it a 5, I rate it a 2)
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