Time travel and alternative timelines have always been a favorite of mine in all forms of media. Whether movies such as the Planet of the Apes or the Time Travelers to name just a couple, television such as Doctor Who and the venerable British series Timeslip or the Time Wars novels of Simon Hawke I am invariably drawn to the subject matter. The genesis of that interest can be traced back to an old ABC drama called The Time Tunnel, which is the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday. Hulu has all 30 episodes available to watch via their free streaming service.
Fans of such shows as Quantum Leap, Voyagers and Sliders will recognize familiar elements and undoubtedly what was some of their inspiration in the show that ran in the 1966-67 television season on ABC. Project Tic-Toc is a secret government installation hidden in the Arizona desert that is working on creating a time machine, known as the time tunnel. In the opening episode a Senator arrives and threatens to shut down the project unless substantial progress is made in the form of sending someone back in time. Dr. Anthony Newman, played by former teen idol James Darren, ultimately takes the risk with fairly predictable consequences and a colleague, Robert Colbert’s Dr. Douglas Phillips, is sent back in an attempt to rescue Newman. The series then follows the adventures of the pair as they attempt to return back to safety.
As an actor James Darren has always fascinated me as someone who I expected to be a huge star and yet wasn’t. He’d played a brooding killer, to good effect, in the classic war movie The Guns of Navarone that featured an all-star cast including Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and Anthony Quayle (in a film that also had one of the greatest themes in cinematic history). That should have been a jumping off point for the Philadelphia native who also had good looks and an excellent singing voice that compared favorably to the likes of the great Eddie Cochrane. Instead however, by the time the show The Time Tunnel came around Darren’s movie career had stalled and the one season for the series was not enough to vault him back into prominence. The actor turned up in the late 90’s as the Vic Fontaine, the crooner on the holodeck in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine only to emphasize, at least to me, that Hollywood missed a trick in not casting him more often.
While Darren’s Tony Newman is impulsive by contrast Colbert plays a more restrained character and the difference and camaraderie is deftly played. Traveling to numerous significant historical events the two scientists usually become pivotally involved in the action with a foreknowledge of what is due to occur and when. The attack on Pearl Harbor, the eruption of Krakatoa, the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Siege of the Alamo and the D-Day invasion of Europe are just some of the locations in which Doug and Tony arrive.
Back in the ‘modern’ day of 1968 in which the show was set, two years ahead of the air date, the personnel of the control room look to bring the scientists home while occasionally being able to aid them in the past. Lee Meriweather, who a few years later would play Betty Jones in the CBS Series Barnaby Jones, is Dr. Ann MacGregor while the complex is over seen by Whit Bissell as Lt. General Heywood Kirk.
There have been a couple of attempts to remake the series, curiously enough including the aforementioned Time Travelers, which became a movie after the pilot wasn’t picked up. In 2002 Fox commission a pilot that was never aired, although it can be found on The Time Tunnel DVD and YouTube. I thought it had potential coming at things from a different angle, but alas it was not to be. The series shows it age especially when it comes to some of the special effects and aliens, but overall The Time Tunnel is a nice nostalgic trip and well worth the time invested.
– Wallace Poulter