Blu-ray review: The Time Tunnel, The Complete Series (1966-67)

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The Time Tunnel: The Complete Series (1966-67)
Revelation Films, certificate PG
Review originally written for UK magazine Infinity

Having explored oceanic depths in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and distant worlds with Lost in Space, legendary producer Irwin Allen switched focus to the fourth dimension for his third science fiction series. Unfortunately, despite garnering solid ratings for ABC in the generally ill-regarded Friday evening slot, three did not prove the charm and The Time Tunnel was relegated to telefantasy history after just a single 30-episode season, in the spring of 1967.

And yet it had all begun so well that previous September, when viewers were introduced to impetuous physicist Tony Newman (James Darren), his more cool-headed colleague Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) and the secret underground installation which gave the show its title.

Threatened with the project’s cancellation unless it begins to justify its astronomical budget, Newman risks his own life to test out the apparatus and finds himself aboard the SS Titanic in the final hours of its fateful maiden voyage. Phillips volunteers to mount a rescue mission, which ends with the pair adrift in the continuum whilst their fellow scientists try frantically to pull them back into the present day.

Later adventures would see them interact with such landmark events as the Reign of Terror, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Custer’s last stand and the fall of the Alamo, with Allen taking maximum advantage of Twentieth Century Fox’s stock footage library. Cost concerns kept non-historical settings to a minimum, but the second episode did feature a moon landing in 1978 and aliens could turn up wearing costumes borrowed from the Lost in Space wardrobe.

Quality predictably varied from week to week, but the show’s writers would occasionally turn in a really ingenious storyline and the series was rarely less than entertaining. Ultimately, however, it was a victim of network politics, initially granted a second season in the 1967-68 schedule, bounced into 1968-69 to make room for an unsuccessful western show and then dropped entirely when ABC had a change of management.

That said, at least we still have the first season and full marks to Revelation Films for this excellent Blu-ray presentation; the image is crisp, the colours deep and the Emmy Award-winning special effects look terrific. Ironically, the pilot episode for a proposed 2002 reboot has fared less well, shot on video rather than celluloid and upscaled from DVD.

Extras: original 1966 pilot (largely identical to the aired version, but with a different ending); unaired pilot for the 2002 reboot (a further attempt in 2005 never got beyond the script stage); tv and radio spots; on-set camera tests and home movie footage; cast interviews; The Time Travellers, a 1976 tv movie produced by Allen and based on an uncredited storyline from Rod Serling; mono / 5.1 audio options.

Déjà vu All Over Again

Echo Beach

[From the programme book produced for the 2005 installment of the Oxford comics convention Caption.]barb-wire

 

There’s nothing original, so they say (and “they” probably stole that aphorism in the first place). Drama entire can supposedly be reduced to a mere seven plots (six-and-a-half fewer if you happen to be Barbara Cartland), which explains the sense of déjà vu typified by watching Barb Wire on video and realising Pamela Anderson is channelling Humphrey Bogart in a gender-reversed Casablanca.

I write as one who has succumbed: the appearance of the eponymous hero in “Inspector X”, a cartoon strip I produced for the amusement of classmates at age 12, was lifted wholesale from “I Spy”, a regular in Sparky, one of the many weekly comics of the early 1970s.

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But such plagiarism is not always conscious. For the past couple of decades, I’ve followed Alfie Bester’s suggestion in Hell’s Cartographers and scribbled down passing ideas in a succession of notepads and sketchbooks. Amongst them was the synopsis for a short story: guy finds secret of immortality, is mistakenly convicted of murder, realises to his horror that this particular US state doesn’t have the death penalty.

Fast forward to early March 2004: I’m listening to BBC R7 on our new digital radio, and catch a 1990s adaptation of Rod Serling’s 1959 Twilight Zone script “Escape Clause”, wherein hypochondriac Walter Bedeker sells his soul to become immortal and is wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder, etc, etc.

Four days later, I tune in by pure chance to Oneword, another digital station, and hear The Inner Sanctum (a rather over-excited spin on the old EC Comics), wherein a scientist’s widow traps his killer, who committed murder in order to become immortal, but now finds himself behind bars for the rest of his (un)natural.

~~~

Okay, okay, I get the point: even though I honestly couldn’t recall seeing the original Zone episode and had never heard of The Inner Sanctum before, I do possess the landmark Gary Gerani / Paul Schulman tvsf overview Fantastic Television (which confusingly juggles the “Escape Clause” details over three columns) and the Jean-Marc / Randy Lofficier programme guide Into the Twilight Zone, as well as Joel Engel’s excellent Rod Serling biography, so it’s pretty obvious this particular meme slipped into my head years ago. Bugger.

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Still, at least I can now devote myself to my latest story idea, positively bursting with originality: two aliens called Adam and Eve crashland upon an unpopulated planet, trip over the Statue of Liberty and fall through a time vortex to kill their own grandparents. I suspect it needs a little work, but I’m sure Interzone will love it.