It’s 1968 and we’ve just learned of the existence of a secret government research project called Project Tic-Toc, run by Douglas Phillips (Robert Colbert), Anthony Newman (James Darren) and Lt. General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell). Hidden deep in the Arizona dessert, 800 floors of research and facilities below the ground with over 30,000 employees, the goal is to create a time tunnel, a way for Americans to go back in time and change history in the nation’s favor.
Except after a decade and over $7.5 billion dollars, they still haven’t sent back an actual human being, so Senator Leroy Clark (Gary Merrill) shows up in the first episode, threatening to shut the entire project down if they don’t send someone back — and return them — within a week.
Hothead Tony (Darren) argues vociferously with Senator Clark and ends up running into the time tunnel, pulled back in time to 14 April, 1912. Where is he? On board the RMS Titanic, the day before its ill-fated collision with an iceberg. In an attempt to rescue Tony, Doug (Colbert) is also pulled back in time and the premise of the short-lived series is established: Tony and Doug bounce around time, past and future, as the team at Project Tic-Toc try desperately to pull them back to 1968.
And so begins ‘The Time Tunnel’ which is this week’s Throwback Thursday feature.
I had fond memories of watching ‘The Time Tunnel’ as a young kid and when I dug up a copy of the 30 episodes of the only season that aired, I was quite impressed. The stories are interesting, the episodes are full of action and the effects are actually quite decent, particularly for a mid 1960’s production.
In fact, after watching a half-dozen episodes it strikes me that this series is ripe for a reboot, a perfect theme for a Netflix or Amazon series. Episode 2, for example, “One Way to the Moon,” has Tony and Doug suddenly find themselves on board a spaceship heading to Mars. Problem is, their added weight makes it impossible for the ship to escape Earth’s gravity.
A few episodes later, “The Last Patrol,” they arrive in Louisiana the day before the last battle of the War of 1812 and are promptly taken prisoner by British troops. The next episode has them on Krakatoa, August 1883 just before the volcano at the heart of the island famously erupts.
One of my favorite episodes, muchly because it’s when the writers really started to explore the inherent paradoxes associated with time travel, was “The Day the Sky Fell In,” when they arrive inside the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu, Hawaii the day prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. But young Tony was actually living in Hawaii at the time, and lost his father in the chaos of the attack. When adult Tony meets himself as a boy, what’ll happen? And does he realize that he has faint memories of it happening when he was in Honolulu as a boy?
This series was created by disaster maestro Irwin Allen (who also did the classic dopey disaster films ‘Airport,’ ‘Earthquake’, ‘The Towering Inferno,’ etc) and the first episode was also written and directed by Allen. And yet, it’s all surprisingly well assembled and even the matte shots and model work are all good. Certainly the series holds up to a modern viewing, better than many other sci-fi series from the 1960s.
Now if we can just get a production company to have their interest piqued and start working on a reboot…