|Time Tunnel: Season One, Volume Two (1966)
Starring: James Darren, Robert Colbert, Whit Bissell, John Zaremba, Lee Merriweather, Sam Groom, Wesley Lau
Before Irwin Allen made his mark in the 1970s as the king of the disaster movies – “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno,” and so on” – he spent the ‘60s as the prince of sci-fi television. Certainly, the show which remains the greatest part of that legacy is “Lost in Space,” but he was also responsible for “Land of the Giants” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” The shortest-running of his series, however, was one which featured a premise that could’ve theoretically kept it on the air ‘til the end of time, really…and, yet, it only lasted a single season (despite the fact that the box refers to it as “one of the popular sci-fi shows of the ‘60s”).
“The Time Tunnel” revolved around the so-called Project Tic Toc (ho, ho), which was created for the purpose of sending humans through time; unfortunately, when Drs. Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) entered the tunnel before final tests had been completed, they found themselves lost in the vortex, unable to return home but forever bouncing from era to era. Meanwhile, the folks back at home base in the present – Lt. General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell), Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba), and Dr. Ann MacGregor (Lee Merriweather) – are forever trying to latch onto Newman and Phillips, in order to bring them home. Through their time jumps, however, the pair end up encountering everyone from Billy the Kid to Cortez, with stops in the Civil War, World War II, and at the signing of the Magna Carta
It’s a great concept, and lord knows it provides ample plot opportunities…so why on earth, then, did Allen feel obliged to step outside the general concept of time travel and attempt to shoehorn things like ghosts and aliens into the mix? On one occasion, Newman and Phillips end up in Italy during World War I and, bizarrely, they encounter the ghost of Roman emperor Nero; on another, they’re in Arizona in the wild west and trying to ward off an alien attack. Okay, it’s goofy fun, but, c’mon, the premise was already solid; it didn’t require such expanding, certainly not in the first season. Also, just as a point of observation, the production values were probably pretty good for the time, but a staple of each episode invariably involves a member of the duo shouting “Look!”, after which the screen cuts to stock footage from the Fox vault in order to clarify in which time period the duo has landed. Try not to laugh. You’ll fail, but, still, at least try.
20th Century Fox, apparently uncertain as to how well the show would sell when released on DVD, split the series’ lone season into two box sets, each covering half the run of “The Time Tunnel.” It makes things decidedly pricey for the fans, but at least Fox had the courtesy to fill this box with special features. In addition to (relatively) new interviews with cast members Darren, Colbert, Bissell, and Merriweather – the parenthetical clarification is because Bissell actually passed away in 1996 – there are also two attempts to revive the “time tunnel” concepts over the years: a 90-minute TV movie from 1976 and a one-hour pilot from 2002. The former is entitled “Time Travelers,” taking place predominantly in 1871 Chicago, before and during the city’s great fire, and the science behind time travel is almost completely glossed over in favor of spending more time (no pun intended) focusing on the past; it’s a hoot. The latter, however, has phenomenal production values – there’s a World War II battle scene that emulates “Saving Private Ryan” remarkably well – and plays so well that your greatest frustration will be that no actual series resulted from it; maybe it’s because it was too close in concept to the already-in-syndication “Stargate SG-1,” but, still, it’s damned disappointing that no one took a chance on it. It’s so good that it alone ups the rating of the set by half a star.
“The Time Tunnel” is silly enough that you won’t be able to keep from smirking a few times each episode, but it’s fun enough that fans of ‘60s sci-fi will still want to give it a whirl.