Probably the best of cult 1960s TV producer Irwin Allen’s shows, The Time Tunnel is perhaps best known for its much-lampooned opening title sequence, with cut-out animated silhouettes of the series’ two protagonists falling through a swirling retro striped tunnel.
Look beyond that dated image though and you’ll find a highly entertaining show that could easily be seen as a precursor to more modern series such as Quantum Leap, Sliders and the Stargate franchise.
Set in an imagined near-future to its original one-series airing from 1966 to 1967, though clearly way back in the present-day viewers’ past, the stoic, stern-faced James Darren and Sixties pop heartthrob Robert Colbert play our heroes; scientists Tony Newman and Doug Philips.
Tony and Doug have been working on a top-secret government experiment under the Arizona desert, codename Project Tic-Toc, an attempt to navigate the “infinite corridors of time”, as our narrator puts it. Of course, military interference and a pressing deadline for results throws a spanner in the works and the pair end up thrown through their device, the titular time-tunnel, into all sorts of historical scrapes as their team members (including a post-Catwoman Lee Meriwether) try and get them back home.
Like the other productions in Irwin’s stable, including the likes of Lost In Space and Land Of The Giants, The Time Tunnel‘s blend of dodgy science, even dodgier set design and far-flung adventures is a shining example of high-camp, dated television. With glaring errors in terms of continuity and even common sense (Tony and Doug are hilariously heavy-handed with their reckless interference in major events), The Time Tunnel is very much an Irwin Allen baby.
Still, there is much that marks it out. Time is a brilliant playground for any writer. Unhindered by logic (apparently the time tunnel is also a teleportation device, sending its users all around the world) and any historical accuracy (colourful characters are gleefully exaggerated and tinkered with), it’s obvious the show’s many writers had a ball thinking up the plotlines. Darren and Colbert are just right as the straight-men thrown into all manner of mad situations, ranging from the Titanic to the American Civil War, Krakatoa to ancient Greece. Some great guest appearances from favourites including Robert Duvall and John Saxon help the outlandish plots along smoothly, as does the score from a young John Williams.
However, the show’s real strength comes when the writers really lean on the absurd angles. Simultaneously imaginative and ridiculous visions of the earth’s distant future, complete with cheap tin-foil and cheaper machinery prove to be great fun. Likewise, the postmodern placement of characters outside of their own time periods interacting with key historical events they had nothing to do with works very well indeed, as is the case with Machiavelli thrown forward in time to the great battle at Gettysburg.
Allen’s show doesn’t stop there, though. Why be limited to real events when you can embrace the fictional world as well? Indeed, Merlin, Ullyses and others make guest appearances as fact, fiction, past, present and future get mixed up into an enjoyable science fiction McFlurry, if you will.
Ultimately very silly – and you might well ask what’s wrong with that – this limited edition 9-disc release of Irwin Allen’s classic series in its original broadcast order comes stuffed with fascinating extras, including the 2002 pilot episode of an ill-fated remake and all thirty episodes.
A must for fans and solid, unpretentious entertainment for anyone else, The Time Tunnel‘s winning combination of low-rent novelty action and intelligent, reality-bending ideas makes for hours’ worth of classic sci-fi fun.
Released on DVD on Monday 13th June 2011 by Revelation.
Watch the trailer…