Updated date:

The Time Tunnel – The Granddaddy of Time Travel Shows

Background

Irwin Allen created the television series, The Time Tunnel. It is a science fiction action series where much of the action involved stock footage. This was a big change from most of the action on television shows. Robert Colbert (Dr. Doug Phillips) explained during a retrospective about the series; Action scenes on television usually consisted of a few men from the stunt union and maybe a couple of horses. With stock footage The Time Tunnel would have movie scenes of epic battles. Keen eyed viewers could pick out what movie scenes were included in an episode. The show’s premise is two men are trapped in time. The time machine can send them to a different, albeit random, time and place as a deus ex machina, or as a chance to get them back to their current time, 1968. No matter where or when they land people speak modern English. The series ran for one season, 1966-67. This article contains spoilers.

The First Episode – Rendezvous with Yesterday

The series begins with Dr. Doug Phillips taking U.S. Senator Leroy Clark (Gary Merrill) to a complex in a limousine. They are driving in the desert and Dr. Phillips makes a call from a car phone. A rectangular patch of the desert slides open and the limousine drives into an underground complex. This was a cool opening in 1966.

The underground complex is huge. The centerpiece is a seemingly endless high-tech tunnel. The project seems on the verge of success but there are some technical issues. Senator Clark looks at the project as 7 billion dollars spent with nothing to show for it. Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren) is upset that the project might be canceled.

When no one is around Tony turns on the Time Tunnel and walk into it. Time travel consists of explosions that send the traveler hurtling around a sequined abyss then tumbling in for a landing. Tony lands on the HMS Titanic.

He tries to convince Captain Malcom Smith (Michael Rennie) the Titanic will sink but Captain Smith doesn’t believe his story. Those at the control center could see and hear what is going on. Dr. Doug Phillips goes into the Time Tunnel, armed with a newspaper, to convince Captain Smith the Titanic is in danger. The newspaper doesn’t convince Captain Smith.

The concept of a time paradox, standard in time travel movies and future TV shows isn’t discussed. With the ship sinking, and Doug and Tony getting blown over the side, the scientists operating the Time Tunnel freeze time and transport Doug and Tony to another time and place. Each episode ended by showing where and when they landed. This meant the characters couldn’t stay out of trouble for 5 minutes after they arrive.

Subsequent Episodes

The second episode, “One Way to the Moon”, they are in 1978 on a space ship with 4 astronauts headed for Mars. The MEM project is in the planning stages so they get someone on the project into the Time Tunnel. This episode shows there are spies in the Time Tunnel and the MEM project. Cold War reminders appear in other episodes. This episode established that no matter what the time travelers are wearing they will have their original clothes put on before they travel to the next time period.

In the episode “Crack of Doom” they are on Krakatoa in 1883 a few days before the volcanic eruption that blew it off the map. This episode the staff changed the view to see Java, after the eruption. This, Episode 6, had a variation from the usual plot line. Tony returns to the time tunnel. Everyone there is frozen in time. Tony leaves a note on the console in front of Dr. Ann MacGregor’s (Lee Meriwether). Tony goes back into the tunnel and Dr. MacGregor does what has to be done to set everything right. Tony and Doug are transported to a battlefield outside of Troy.

The stock footage in “Revenge of the Gods” includes scenes from, The 300 Spartans (1962) and Helen of Troy (1956). In the episode’s telling of the incident Helen (Dee Hartford) had grown to hate Paris (Paul Carr). The Greeks think Tony and Doug are gods. They willingly went into the fight on the Greek side. The Time Tunnel staff attempted to send some grenades and a machine gun to help Tony. The initial attempt failed and with the possibility of the grenades going off inside the Tunnel Sgt Jiggs (Wesley Lau) attempts to retrieve them. The Tunnel sends Sgt. Jiggs back in time. Sgt. Jiggs immediately mows down a bunch of Trojans with the machinegun. The scientists bring Sgt. Jiggs back. He comes back as an elderly man. Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell) has him go back into the Tunnel and that corrects the age problem. Doug and Tony are transported to 1876 near the Little Bighorn.

In “Massacre” they arrive at a scene where a U.S. Calvary unit was wiped out. Native Americans capture Doug and Tony. Doug, with the help of Trooper Tim McGinnis (Jim Halferty), escapes. Though they don’t fight each other, this puts Doug and Tony on opposite sides in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.[i] This is the first episode where someone from the past, Yellow Elk (Lawrence Montaigne), is brought to the time tunnel. In many future episodes, entities are either brought into the complex through the Time Tunnel or pop into the complex through their own accord.[ii]

In Episode 12, “The Death Trap”, the Time Tunnel scientists make passing mention that indicates changing the past is impossible. In Episode 13, “The Alamo”, the stock footage was of the 1960 Movie, The Alamo. Early in the episode Doug and Tony learn Davy Crockett died the day before the final assault on The Alamo. The popular belief in the 1960s was Davy Crockett was one of the last defenders to die in the battle. Some accounts claim Davy Crockett was captured and executed.

Episode 18, “Visitors from Beyond the Stars”, is the first episodes involving space aliens. Doug and Tony tumble onto an alien spacecraft. The aliens (Jan Merlin and Fred Beir)[iii] are surprised earthlings have teleportation technology. The aliens are unimpressed when they learn it’s time travel technology. Time travel is a primitive form of teleportation. Doug and Tony no nothing of stealth technology since they believe when the Aliens enter the atmosphere the U.S. air defenses will be on to them. Doug and Tony don’t know they are in 1885.

The aliens are out to conquer the Earth. Doug and Tony defeat the aliens. Other aliens teleport into the complex. They learned those in the complex have information about their spacecraft that went missing in our year 1885. The aliens make threats but when they see the aliens left Earth safely the aliens teleport out.

In “The Ghose of Nero” Doug and Tony tumble into Italy during World War I. They are in the villa that has Nero’s tomb. The episode ends with Nero’s ghost possessing Corporal Benito Mussolini (Nino Candido). In this episode Dr. Macgregor says as a scientist she has to be open to the idea of ghosts. Doug and Tony are transported to 1550 BCE Israel.

In “The Walls of Jericho” Doug and Tony are in ancient Israel. Doug and Tony become the two spies mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Joshua. Dr. MacGregor is a non-believer and unimpressed by the biblical account. She claims as a scientist she cannot believe in biblical miracles.[iv] When things look bad for Doug and Tony the Time Tunnel has a malfunction, apparently caused by divine intervention. The walls come down and Doug and Tony are transported to 1519 Mexico.

“Chase Through Time”, Episode 24, has the series second jump into the future. Raul Nimon (Robert Duvall) is hired by a foreign government to destroy the Time Tunnel. He plants a bomb and escapes through the Time Tunnel. This is the first time the controllers used a transmitter to speak with Doug and Tony. Doug and Tony find Nimon, in Arizona, 1547. Before they can grab Nimon he is transferred to 1 million CE. The controllers send Doug and Tony after Nimon. This dystopian society is structured like a beehive. Bees and many other animals are extinct. The controllers transfer Doug, Tony, Nimon, and two indigenous people, Zee (Vitina Marcus) and Vokar (Lew Gallo) to 1 million BCE. These 5, wander around separately for a few hours then end up together in a cave. With impending danger, the controllers transfer Zee and Vokar back to their original time zones. Doug and Tony are transferred. They are unable to transfer Nimon, leaving him to face a horrible demise. Doug and Tony are transferred to the Gettysburg area right before the famous battle.

Niccolò Machiavelli (Malachi Throne) is accidentally brought into 1863. Machiavelli learns how to use modern firearms. Tony gets amnesia from an explosion. Doug ends up with the Union and Tony ends up with the Confederates. The episode depicts Machiavelli as a blood thirsty character who would love to see the bloodletting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Missing the battle is a great disappointment for Machiavelli.

In “The Kidnappers”, Episode 28, Dr. MacGregor is kidnapped by an Alien, OTT[v] (Del Monroe), from the year 8433 CE. The other Time Tunnel scientists transport Doug and Tony through time and space to a planet in the Canopus system, described as 98 light years from Earth.[vi] OTT works for a Curator (Michael Ansara) who collects people of historic significance and syphons their knowledge. Dr. MacGregor was used as bait to get Doug and Tony. The Collector intends to syphon Dr. MacGregor since her knowledge would be of some value. This episode first aired on March 24, 1967. “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, another Irwin Allen creation had an episode, “Time Lock”, that had a similar premise. “Time Lock” first aired on November 12, 1967.

The last episode of the series was “Town of Terror”. It is set in 1978. In this episode Aliens are trying to steal the Earth’s oxygen. The episode doesn’t show any futuristic technology. Doug and Tony correctly conclude the weapons would be similar to the ones in their time.

[i] Known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass by Native Americans of the Great Plains.

[ii] This is reminiscent of Gilligan’s Island which frequently had people show up on the island.

[iii] The alien names are Centauri & Taureg.

[iv] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0723777/trivia, last accessed 10/5/20. This isn’t necessarily a plot hole because people often have inconsistent beliefs when it comes to the supernatural.

[v] OTT stands for Official Time Traveler.

[vi] In 1967 estimates of the distance of Canopus from Earth ranged from 96 – 1,200 light years. The distance was established as 310 light-years in 2007 by the satellite telescope Hipparcos. F. van Leeuwen, “Validation of the new Hipparcos Reduction”, Astronomy and Astrophysics 474(2) 653-664.

Town of Terror

Episodes with Familiar Plots

EpisodePlot

The Day The Sky Fell In

Return to childhood home

Reign of Terror

Double of a main character

invasion

Fight the Nazis

The Manhunt

Kill Two by Two

Visitors Beyond the Stars

Space Aliens

The Ghost of Nero

Gothic

Billy the Kid

Wild West

Pirates of Deadman's Island

Pirates

The Death Merchant

Amnesia

The Kidnappers

Kidnap a main character

Raiders From Outer Space

Space Aliens

Town of Terror

Space Aliens

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 18, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. There was a pilot for a new Time Tunnel series but it didn't get picked up. The pilot is on YouTube. Time travel is an interesting topic since there is always the question in the movie/TV show's universe; can the past be changed

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 18, 2020:

Thanks, John! I'll look for it!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 18, 2020:

Flourish, there is a recent series called "Timeless" that is very similar in concept. they go back in time ..one guy trying to alter history and others trying to stop him.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 18, 2020:

This sounds like a very enjoyable series. I love the concept and wish they’d pick up the idea now.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 17, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

John Hansen - You may be thinking of Planet Earth, there were 2 TV movies, John Saxon was the star. He was a 20th century man who was put in suspended animation and, thank to a nuclear war, woke up in the 22nd century.

RoadMonkey - It may have been. I don't know if or when it was shown in the UK. Maybe some of our other UK readers could answer that question.

RoadMonkey on October 17, 2020:

I am not sure whether I saw that or not. Some of the plots seem familiar. It certainly is the kind of show I would have enjoyed watching. It may have been shown at a time when I did not have access to TV, for instance when I was a student.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 17, 2020:

I remember Time Tunnel well, in fact it was one of my favourite shows as a child.for some reason though I thought John Saxon was one of the stars in this. Perhaps there was another similar series that he was in that I have confused with this. Thank you for bringing back memories, Robert.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 12, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. They have at least some of the episodes on YouTube. They may also have them on Hulu. Pardon the pun but it does make a good time capsule.

JEREMIAH MWANIKI KILUNDA from Nairobi on October 12, 2020:

I'm looking forward to watching this TV series. From the review, it sounds to be very captivating. Good work.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 09, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Pamela Oglesby - Irwin Allen had a knack for fun shows and movies.

Peggy Woods - It's the problem when a show lasts one season. If memory serves it was on Friday night, which had a certain disadvantage for some.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2020:

I haven't see this TV series. Thanks, Robert, for an excellent review of this series as the "Time Tunnel" sounds very good.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2020:

Somehow, even though I like science fiction shows, I missed viewing this one. Thanks for the write-up about it.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 08, 2020:

Thanks for a great write up on this show. I think The Time Tunnel is a fab show!

Liz Westwood from UK on October 08, 2020:

Thanks for informing me about this series, which I was not aware of. If I had to pick a time travel themed presentation, it would be the 'Back to the Future' film series.