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The Time Tunnel

May 6, 2013

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Though it ran for only a single season in 1966, The Time Tunnel was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. It was one of Irwin Allen’s formulaic TV shows. Once an Irwin Allen TV series plot was established, not even a Presidential order could alter it. He enjoyed the theme of having his characters lost for some reason. Lost In Space, for instance, featured the intrepid but hapless space family Robinson who were lost in, well, space and there was no letting them ever find their way home. Time Tunnel was no different, as time travelers Tony and Doug were never rescued from the “infinite corridors of time.”

The setting was the far-flung future of, wait for it, 1968! (Insert sounds of gasps.) Tony and Doug were scientists working for a secret government project named appropriately enough “Project Tick Tock.” The Time Tunnel was the apparatus that was supposed to allow humans the ability to travel though time. Unfortunately, young brash physicist Anthony (Tony) Newman, in an attempt to show that the tunnel worked just fine and dandy, used the device before all the kinks had been worked out. And, as luck would have it, he landed smack dab on board the Titanic. Tony was played by singer/actor James Darren (who you might remember as Moondoggy in Gidget and William Shatner’s co-star in T. J. Hooker).

Tall, handsome and daring Dr. Douglas Phillips (Played by underrated Robert Colbert, best remembered for filling James Garner’s boots in Maverick) follows Tony to either rescue him or share in his impending doom. Time, as we discover, is unalterable and the Titanic sinks on schedule. Tony and Doug are snatched from the clutches of the (literally) freezing hand of fate at the last minute and saved only to land in another critical moment in history. And this same plot was reenacted each week, with the guys finding themselves at the Alamo (just before the final attack), with Custer (just before the Little Big Horn), Jericho (just before the walls came tumbling down), Pearl Harbor (just before December 7, 1941) and…you get the idea.

Heaven forbid the guys would land in 1378 and meet Glutton Ashby, a fourteenth century English peasant trying to eke out a living on his small country farm. He is trying to keep his family from starving through another winter. Tony and Doug join in the backbreaking, unrelenting farm routine and with diligence, hard work and perseverance they are just about to bring in the harvest when a bunch of evil brigands invade the land. Will Glutton and his family be saved, or will the bad guys destroy everything and rape and, or, kill the peasants? We’d probably never know for sure, as Tony and Doug would have been snatched out of the plot before the final outcome was revealed. Oh, well.

The cast also featured, in my opinion, the most beautiful woman to grace the TV screen in the 1960s—Lee Meriwether as Dr. Ann McGregor. Lee Meriwether was 1955’s Miss America. She was Catwoman in the horrendously campy 1966 Batman movie with Adam West and Burt Ward. She went on to star with Buddy Ebsen in Barnaby Jones for a successful seven-year run.

In the cast as well, as General Heywood Kirk (as far as I know, no relation to Captain Kirk), was Whit Bissell. Mr. Bissell was a prolific character actor, easily seen in numerous movies and TV westerns. I can think of at least two Rifleman episodes I’ve seen him in. I enjoy Whit Bissell most of all because he has, hands down, the most fun name to say out loud in all of Hollywood history. Whit Bissill. Try it: “Whit Bissill.” See what I mean?

Finishing off the main cast was John Zaremba as fellow scientist Dr, Raymond Swain. Frankly, until I did this post, I had no idea what this gentleman’s name was. Every time I saw his face show up in an old movie or TV show, I’d say, “Hey, there’s that guy from The Time Tunnel!”

Sometimes main characters found themselves, through various machinations of plotlines, in the time and stream and reunited with the trapped time travelers. The writers were always able get said characters back to 1968, but Tony and Doug remained, as per Irwin Allen’s unalterable Law of TV episode time travel, lost in “the infinite corridors of time.”

The reason I’ve written, “the infinite corridors of time” a couple of times is because that was part of the opening narration of nearly every episode. It went like this: (and you have to imagine a great, resonate voice saying the words) “Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments of America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Ah, dang! After all these years, I still dig it. While this narration was read to the audience, Tony and Doug were pictured tumbling through a rippling, ever-changing, lava-lamp-ish background featuring all the bold colors that were requisite for showing off color TV in the 1960s.

I remember playing Time Tunnel with a grade-school friend in a pasture beside his house. We’d tumble down a grassy hill pretending we were Tony and Doug landing somewhere in the distant past. I’m not sure if I was Tony or Doug. I liked Tony better, so I might have played him. Doesn’t matter. It was all just plain imaginative fun, played in an era long before video games and DVRs. My friend and I enjoyed our adventures very much and, unlike he Irwin Allen characters, never once had to worry about actually becoming lost in “the infinite corridors of time.”

(I’m a sucker for any story, movie or TV show that deals with time travel. I’m sure that in future posts I will write about other movies and TV shows, using a time travel theme, that had an impact on me. Stay tuned…)

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One Comment
  1. This series is one of my favorites during the 60’s. Who wouldn’t want to be lost in the infinite corridors of time.

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