Saturday, August 04, 2007

Time Tunnel

When I was eight I was fascinated with a science fiction TV show called Time Tunnel. I loved this show and even got my friends to play "Time Tunnel" at a local Storm Sewer. It left a lasting impression on me but since I was so young, maybe I didn't appreciate how cheesy the show really was. Through the magic of Blockbuster, I was able to find out.

Time Tunnel only lasted one season on ABC in 1966 but I remember thinking it was the greatest show ever.

Set in 1968, Time Tunnel was about project Tic Toc, a secret government endeavor to travel through time. When a Senator comes to investigate the project, located 800 stories underground in the Arizona dessert, he threatens to pull the funding unless the team members can prove that this giant apparatus they have built at great Taxpayer expense actually works.

To prove it and thereby save the project, one of the Scientists, Tony Newman, configures the device for the past without permission and sends himself back in time. He ends up on the Titanic on April 13th 1912 just before the great liner sinks. Another Project Tic Toc scientist, Doug Phillips, is sent back to rescue him and the two then become trapped in time, never to return to 1968 but can be moved from one time period to another if the Scientist "Ann" played by Lee Merriweather can "get a lock on them".

And so Tony and Doug helplessly travel travel through time every week, aided by the staff of Project Tic Toc as they try to bring them back to 1968. Every week Tony and Doug are rescued at the last minute and sent spinning off in time to another adventure.

Each week TV viewers hear the announcer as he says:

"Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on 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."

Did I mention I was eight?

Watching it now, some 41 years later, I realized how ridiculous this show was:

1. It was in color. Vivid, Living Color. This was age of color for color's sake on TV. Things were bright colors even when they didn't have to be so. When I was growing up, we didn't have a color TV, we only had Black and White so seeing it in color was, well, different.

2. History is never boring. Tony and Doug always seemed to land in the middle of the most exciting times in Earth's history. They never land in Nebraska in 300 BC, on a Tuesday, in the middle of the great plains, with no humans around for thousands of miles. This is in spite of the astronomical odds in favor of doing precisely that or being flung to some remote planet 1 million years ago with no air.

This is because this would make for a very boring TV show and so Tony and Doug land just before Custer's last stand, Jericho as the walls come down, Pearl Harbor on December 6th, 1941.

They also always seem to land 24-48 hours in advance of the event.

Every. Single. Week.

Someone should have a look at that Time Machine. I think its broke.

3. Tony and Doug are very poor salesmen. No matter what Tony and Doug do, they can never, ever convince people that they know the future. They are always looked upon as crazy people but yet somehow are allowed to wander freely about. All this is despite being dressed as men from the 20th century US.

The more that they passionately plead with people that Krakatoa is about to explode, the Titanic is going to sink or that the Japanese are about to attack Pearl Harbor, the more strange people think they are. Yet, they are able to move freely about talking to the captain of the Titanic, prance into any office on the Pearl Harbor Naval station or get thrown into Ulysses's tent.

You would think they would learn something along the way, like a new angle on convincing people they knew the future.

  • Use Money: I'll bet you $10,000 the Japanese attack tomorrow so let's go out to that radar station and hang out.
  • Slowly lead people to the truth: Don't you think that these massive earthquakes on this tropical island with the giant volcano will lead up to a massive explosion?
  • Use the Obvious: Are you kidding me? Look at how I am dressed. Do you think I just found these funny looking clothes and made all this up? Why would I do that?
  • I am a god: Therefore you should listen to me.
  • Ignore the whole thing and get rich: Yes, Japanese, in planes, that's really, really bad. I'd like 10,000 Shares of IBM stock please.

4. Traveling through time cleans your clothes. No matter what happens in the previous episode, Tony and Doug always land with freshly laundered clothes in the next episode. Tony in his green turtle neck sweater that says "yes, I'm a swinger" and Doug in his 1910's era suit that he changed into right before his "rescue" of Tony on the Titanic. Its as if they picked up dry cleaning while falling through the "time vortex".

Also of note: Being that we are watching in living color, Doug is wearing a bright yellow tie. I can't keep a tie clean through lunch yet Doug gets in swords fights, knife fights and fist fights and yet the tie remains perfect.

5. Tony and Doug are really,really good at history. They should be on a freaking game show some where. They know the exact time and date that Krakatoa explodes, they know all of the details of the events leading up to the Trojan Horse and the exact time and date of the Alamo, all without Google or Wikipedia.

If it were me, I may generally know that being near Krakatoa is bad but who the heck knows that it blew at 10 AM local time on the 27th of August in 1883? Doug, of course, since he wrote a book on the topic.

If my wife were the Time Traveler, we'd have been screwed. I am not sure she ever even heard of Krakatoa. She would say "My husband would know" and that would be the end of the episode.

6. Tony and Doug get in lot of fist fights. Every week Tony and Doug get in bare knuckles fights with the native inhabitants of the time period. This is a fight practically everyday and in fact every episode could be boiled down to:

Tony and Doug fall into time period X. They attempt to convince Y that some tragic event is about to happen. Unconvinced, they then get into fist (knife/sword) fight with Y's minions. Tony and Doug win the fight and then at the last minute are yanked from the time period by the beautiful Dr Ann.

The reality is that fist fighting was a 60's and 70's TV plot must-have and every dramatic TV show of the period had fist fights. For example:

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: The Seaview goes to location X where a secret base of Y's is located. Y's minions sneak on the Seaview by an unguarded hatch and get in fist fight with the crew.

Star Trek: Jim Kirk is trapped on some far away planet where he must fist fight some giant alien being twice his size to save the ship while the crew watches on the giant plasma screen on the bridge. It's like pay-per-view.

Bonanza: Little Joe gets in a fist fight to save the ranch.

Think about it: Batman, The Green Hornet, The Rat Patrol, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. etc all had bare knuckles fist fighting as a major plot device in every single episode and every single sixties show short of Match Game involved fist fighting of some kind.

They say that our TV and Radio signals travel endlessly through space and that our first impression with any alien race will be our broadcasted entertainment. If this is true, then don't be surprised then when Aliens show up in Washington, DC in their flying saucer and then send their own Jack Dempsey, dukes up, down the ramp to beat the crap out of the President.

Back to Time Tunnel: I think Project Tic Toc has another secret: Tony and Doug might have a problem with anger management and the other scientists in Project Tic Toc know this, and therefore deliberately prevent them from returning so they don't have fist fights in the secret project lair 800 stories under the Arizona Dessert (and who builds a "story" underground?)

7. Maybe some of the project Tic Toc budget should have been saved for HR screening. If Tony weren't such a hot head and have used the Time Tunnel in an unauthorized fashion, none of this would have happened. Don't you think Tony showed warning signs of such poor judgment before jumping into the tunnel? Hot heads like Tony always do. A fist fight or two in the employee cafeteria? ("I told you, I don't like green jello!") A disagreement about parking? Shouldn't he have been kept away from the controls or had his access limited? Processes and procedures about who should be in the control room alone? Who the heck is in charge of security on the project? Shouldn't the security leader have been fired? Don't they have annual reviews?

He's an idea: only build 700 stories underground instead of 800 and then get some Security and HR folks involved.

8. In the future, there are a lot of pissed-off Aliens. Every single episode involving the future was about Aliens. Aliens steal the oxygen out of the Earth's atmosphere, Aliens kidnap Dr Ann and Aliens attempt to conquer Earth. There are Aliens freeking everywhere on this show.

Here Dr Ann admires the size of an Alien's "ray gun".

9. When the writers run out of history, they just make crap up. Here is a plot summary from Raiders from Outer Space, an episode that first appeared on March 31, 1967:

"The two travelers arrive in the middle of a battle between British and Arab forces in the Sudan. In their efforts to hide from the battling armies, they encounter two aliens who take them prisoner." WTF? Aliens in Sudan? Another episode had Machiavelli at Gettysburg.

10. All the Men Scientist think Dr Ann is an idiot. Dr Ann is allowed to "try and get lock on them" or read the stupid clock on the machine and tell us things like "They are somewhere near at least 100 BC" but when push comes to shove, the men scientist push Dr Ann out of the way to take the controls. There is no way they are going to trust a woman with things like locking onto a bomb and bring it back to the Time Tunnel or to be the voice that speaks to Tony and Doug through time.

The only one who doesn't do this is a scientist character named "Jerry". "Jerry is even lower on the Tic Toc totem pole than Ann. It would not surprise you to have General Heywood Kirk and Dr. Raymond Swain pull "Jerry's" underwear over his head and give him an "Atomic Time Warp". "Jerry" is just lucky that he isn't an extra operating the "computer" in the background.

In the end, the American viewing public was right for not tuning in every Friday at 8PM to watch as Tony and Doug fought Aliens and the disbelieving.

In the light of being more truthful, the voice over in the beginning episode should have been:

"Two American pugilists, dressed in colorful clothing and posing as scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages (but mostly past), during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, picking up dry cleaning and fighting Aliens somewhere along the infinite corridors of time. And Ann is pretty hot."


jwright said...

"They should be on a freaking game show some where. They know the exact time and date that Krakatoa explodes, they know all of the details of the events leading up to the Trojan Horse and the exact time and date of the Alamo, all without Google or Wikipedia."

This was also before the days when schoolteachers still could teach, and still could flunk students.

Remember those days? Lots of memorization. Schoolkids knew when the Titanic sank, when the Battle of Hastings was fought, when whether the Book of Job was in the Old Testament or the New.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. We've also been Watching TT on DVD and as cheesy as it is, we must admit it keeps us entertained. You pretty much covered everything except for the extensive use of stock footage from old movies to beef up the production values. Irwin Allen must've been one cheap SOB. What's hilarious about this...besides the fact that they'll cut to Doug and Tony on the same Iverson Ranch that we've seen in dozens of other TV shows, then to a mid-'50s epic filmed on location in the Hindu Kush, then back again as if this is supposed to be the same the fact that all the stock footage messes up the already anachronistic episode even more, ie: "they're carrying flintlocks! In the 20th century?"

We do want more backstory on Jerry, the most enigmatic of the show's characters. He only seems to exist in order to say something foolish so Whit Bissel or the other guy can say, "No, Jerry, we can't risk it!" or whatever. But surely Jerry has hopes and dreams of his own. What's his favorite food? When he was a kid did he always want to be a Time Tunnel assistant 800 stories below the Arizona desert? What kind of music does he listen to? Nope, they're not telling anything...Jerry's just a big ol' blank. He's kind of the Ted Bessel of time travel.

suburbanstories said...

is of Caucasian decent. When not on duty at the console of the Time Tunnel, he likes making time with the La-dies in the canteen on level 655. He had been known to enjoy a Harvey's Bristol Cream until those commercials came out in the 70's claiming that a woman was free to invite a man up for Harvey's Bristol Cream.

Jerry writes his Mom every week from the Time Tunnel but she thinks he is a Missionary to Bolivia. Jerry secretly dreams of skydiving, hang gliding and other high risk activities but would never actually try them in real life.

Jerry is an accomplished pianist and enjoys the music of Liberace but has been known to listen to Tom Jones. Sometimes, secretly in his quarters 503 stories below the Arizona Dessert, Jerry pretends he is Tom Jones and sings in his government issued underwear.

Jerry is a Sagittarius and is secretly in love with Ann.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for the skinny, suburbanstories! Who knew Jerry was such a seething cauldron of passion?


See my blog for my veiws on the Time Tunnel