Though not nearly as well remembered in the annals of kitsch 1960s TV history, The Time Tunnel first aired the day after Star Trek’s first official episode (not including its original pilot) ‘The Man Trap’. You know the one – Captain Kirk fights a big salt monster thing on an alien planet. Alright, so that was every other week in Star Trek, but you can probably recall a good few of those colourful skirmishes in your mind’s eye. Could you say the same for episodes of The Time Tunnel?
This probably should have been a much bigger hit which carried down the decades with the same kind of cultural cache as Star Trek, Mission: Impossible or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Set at that point two years hence in 1968, the premise from super-producer of the time Irwin Allen (famed for cult television and cinema) foreran the better known Quantum Leap some two decades hence; following a government experiment, Project Tic-Toc, to create a working ‘time tunnel’, leading scientist on the project Dr. Anthony Newman (James Darren) in conducting a human test and his partner Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) become lost in time, buffeted from one period of history to the next week on week.
Inevitably, they find themselves at key points in human history, both past and future (to 60’s eyes). Tony first arrives on the deck of the SS Titanic as it unwittingly approaches the iceberg which triggers the most infamous maritime disaster in history – next week they’re on the first manned mission to the Moon (in 1978, bless them) where they must try and thwart a saboteur. Week by week they mainly bounce around historical time zones, even as far back as 1184BC to ancient Troy in ‘Revenge of the Gods’, indeed ‘Chase Through Time’ takes them both a million years into the past and future.
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The Time Tunnel, despite being placed in the Friday night ‘death slot’ by network ABC, nonetheless suffered less terrible viewing numbers than the mercurial whims of network executives, cancelled after the 30-episode first season to make way for a show that was cancelled even faster in the end. This is a shame because while The Time Tunnel has very little depth or substance behind the science-fiction artifice, it is about as fun and escapist as the 1960’s gets when it comes to TV, and considering half a century has passed it hasn’t aged all that badly; the set for the Tunnel (much as it may now remind you of Dr Evil’s ‘time… machine’ from the Austin Powers series) is cavernous and impressive, even by today’s standards.
In other words, it’s worth checking out if you like a good dollop of inventive science-fiction, even if it lacks the nuance of modern storytelling. The Time Tunnel complete series BluRay thankfully, as well as making this old series look visually sharp, comes loaded with extras; the original unaired Pilot episode, an unaired 2002 remake Pilot, interviews, behind the scenes features and more. There is a lot to enjoy and with 30, 50-minute episodes, this will keep you busy for some time.
The Time Tunnel: Complete Series is now available from Koch Media.