Closely Connecting History and Scifi: The Time Tunnel (TV Showcase #29)

I’m a huge fan of time travel, and the intricacies that lie within. I even like reading about real-life consequences should time travel ever become a reality. So when I heard about this show, I really wanted to try it out. And the show’s explanation of time travel rules was pretty legitimate for the 1960s. On the other hand, I know that alot of people enjoy time travel adventures for the first-person look at history. And this show also did very well in that area. So let’s take a trip to the past as we ourselves enter “The Time Tunnel”. Gosh, that was cheesy.

“The Time Tunnel” (TT for short) began in 1966, created by Irwin Allen (who also made “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, “Lost in Space”, and “Land of the Giants”). The show ran for 30 hour-long episodes over one season, ending in 1967. The plot is focused on a collection of scientists in an underground facility, trying to perfect time travel through a government-funded program called Operation Tic-Toc. The tunnel that they’re using as their time machine is close to working, but with so much money poured into the project, the government has decided to put a stop to the whole project. A young and passionate scientist named Tony refuses to let it happen, foolhardily launching himself through the tunnel and into the past. An older coworker of his named Doug voluntarily goes after him to keep him safe, and the two become stuck in the imperfect tunnel, being thrown about through time and experiencing different points in history.

First of all, let’s talk about Irwin Allen himself. I’ve mentioned him and his shows alot in past Showcases, both for good things and bad things, but as far as TT goes, I’m only going to mention his better attributes when it came to TV show-making. What really sold his shows was his incredible sets and backgrounds. If you Google “time tunnel complex”, photos will pop up of the huge complex in which thousands of scientists lived, and you’ll also see the whole time tunnel. I think these effects were done with 3D art, which can be animated to look real, but if I’m incorrect about that, then I have no idea how it was done. I mentioned this before in “The Twilight Zone” 1980s post, how the viewer’s mind knows that the set is an illusion, but it can’t figure out how. So the set of the time tunnel complex looked very real and very large, when in reality it probably wasn’t that big at all.

There’s also a historical side of things. Alot of the show’s historical sets were filmed at locations rather than created sets (though there were some of those), and Tony and Doug looked like they were experiencing historical events as they actually took place. The reenactments of battles and cities full of people were very well-done, giving the show a very real feel to it, which was great not only for history buffs but also for people who couldn’t quite grasp complex theories of time travel. Near the end of the show, Tony and Doug started running into aliens who were mixed up in the historical events, which I liked, and I think the show would’ve doe alot more of that had it been renewed. The show had a very “Doctor Who” feel, and it would make sense. If Irwin Allen had watched some first Doctor episodes and liked the idea of living through history, all he had to do was put more money in to appease an American audience, and they’d never know the difference. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this had been the case.

The connection between the scientists in the complex and Tony and Doug in history was pretty neat, if you ask me. Because of Tony and Doug’s connection to the time tunnel, the scientists in the complex were able to watch them through the tunnel itself, and occasionally they sent items to help the pair. They also were able to wait for the opportune moment to send the two somewhen else so as not to mess with history. Additionally, it made for a nice break in the norm when a character was somehow able to travel to the present day through the tunnel. So the scientists were just as affected by the time travel adventures as Tony and Doug, but the reasons why they were able to see them and interact with them was legitimized.

Sadly, the show was cancelled because some other dude thought his show was better, and the network decided to let him try. It failed. But for the brief time that “The Time Tunnel” was on the air, it was a great example of how history and scifi can work closely together without one overtaking the other. What do you think?

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