And so with The Time Tunnel we come to yet another show that is on my very large bucket list. By which I mean shows that I have on DVD tucked away somewhere and am the editor for at TVcom. And just need to get around to watching so I can add more than just the basic info. Which is easier than it sounds, because there's plenty of existing and new shows that keep chugging out new episodes. So, you know, priorities.

So why swing around to The Time Tunnel? Well, I was talking about Robert Duvall in my reviews of The Outer Limits, since the 60s was a big time for Duvall, TV-acting wise. And somehow he ended up on The Time Tunnel. Who knows why? All God's children need money, I guess, and Duvall probably was having a pool put in. It can't be because of the great acting opportunity, because at least The Outer Limits episode "The Chameleon" gave Duvall a chance to act. Not so much in "The Inheritors", but at least he had a few moments in what was considered a "prestige" show.


No such luck with The Time Tunnel, though. Tunnel is probably the least of Irwin Allen's four s.f./fantasy TV series. It doesn't have the prestige of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (at least, the early seasons), or the campiness/goofiness of most of Lost in Space. Some people prefer Tunnel to Land of the Giants: I'm not one of those. Sorry. And somebody somewhere must have agreed with me because Tunnel was canceled after only one season. Giants ran two seasons, Lost three and Voyage four. Yeah, supposedly the ABC executives wanted to get rid of the Irwin Allen stuff and put their "mark" on the network. But like they say, money talks, nobody walks. If Tunnel was making money for the network, would they have blown it off? Possibly, but not likely.

In fact, I'm surprised that Irwin Allen took another stab at s.f after the "failure" of Tunnel. Tunnel ended in '67, Giants started in '68. One suspects that Allen learned from his mistakes. Giants had a bigger budget, and better acting. There wasn't much in the way of characterization, but at least it was there. Also, if ABC executives wanted to make their mark, then why give the green light to Giants at about the same time they dumped Tunnel?


And that's what always bugs me about Tunnel. a) It looks cheap, and b) it's poorly acted. Robert Colbert, who plays one of the two time travelers--Doug Phillips--must be one of the most wooden actors in the history of Hollywood. James Darren as Tony Newman is a little better, and Whit Bissell, John Zaremba, and Lee Meriwether back at home base yell technobabble that didn't make sense even back in '67. One can't imagine Meriwether had a fun time of it: her character Ann was inevitably getting shoved aside and told she was doing something wrong by General Kirk and fellow scientist Ray, the characters played by Bissell and Zaremba respectively.

The other thing is that Tunnel is Irwin Allen at his cheapest. Stock footage is used for historical sequences, some footage gets recycled from the much-more-expensive pilot, alien outfits get recycled from Lost in Space as we'll soon see, Tony and Doug inevitably have the same clothing episode after episode after episode, and the last few minutes of any given episode are "cliffhangers" leading into the next episode. Which means they get to use the same footage twice. Allen's other shows had cost-cutting measures, sure. But nothing like Tunnel.


And I've read one review that said that Lost recycled stuff from Tunnel. That seems a bit… iffy to me. The second season of Lost ('66-'67) ran congruently with Tunnel (also '66-'67). So at best, it was more sharing than handing off. But silver lamé aliens didn't look good on either show. At best, they kind of matched the campy Batman-esque atmosphere of Lost. They stood out like a sore thumb on Tunnel.

Tunnel also used the kind of s.f. clichés that Hollywood was either abandoning or recognized were clichés. People didn't just teleport: they vanished in loud bangs and puffs of smoke. Shows like Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Buck Rogers (1979) were a bit more... retro and you got the impression they were laughing with the audience. There were still s.f. clunkers in the earlier 70s--Invisible Man, I've looked at you--but shows like Star Trek gave s.f. on TV a little more prestige and showed that it could be cerebral.


60s Doctor Who had better characterization than Time Tunnel. Heck, early 60s Twilight Zone and Outer Limits typically had better characterization than Tunnel. There's only so many excuses you can make for Tunnel, and none of them seem to quite jibe with reality.

That brings us to "Chase Through Time", which starts off with Doug and Tony landing in 1547 Arizona. Which means nothing, they do nothing, and they encounter no one. Meanwhile, technician Raul Nimon (Duvall) kills the scientist on duty at the Time Tunnel, which seems kinda odd because they've just made a transfer with Tony and Doug. Which is usually accompanied by shouting and yelling by the home team. I guess the guy who is killed is the Project's third-shift: the Maytag Repairman of Project Tic-Toc.


So Nimon kills the scientist and plants some kind of fuse device. The main team shows up and after a weird chase where Nimon ducks behind what look like walkway rails to evade gun fire, he doubles back, briefly takes Ray as a shield, and then jumps into the Tunnel. This lands him near Tony and Doug, who can talk to home base through the Tunnel. Sometimes. Tony decides they'll use a fire to lure Nimon in. For some reason, he falls for this but everyone gets transferred to 1 million AD!! You can almost hear the exclamation marks.

Tony and Doug get separated and soon discover that the future is inhabited by humans with either silver or gold skin: it's never explained why. The future society is apparently based on bees, because there are "masters" and "workers". The workers wear what appears to be opaque hoods.


In one of the shows few attempts at timey-wimey stuff, it turns out that Nimon arrived ten years earlier than Doug & Tony, and since the future humans want a time travel machine but lost the secret of making one, Nimon is now working for them to build a new device. Why he was working as an undercover spy when he could build a working time machine is one of the great mysteries of the show.


Fortunately, one of the workers, presumably nicknamed "Zee" since that's her name in the credits, is female and hot. She takes a liking to the two guys, and after they get marched in and out of their cell a couple of times by the silver-skinned security chief, Vokar, Zee gets chosen as an experiment for Nimon's first time-travel attempt. She's genetically imperfect, although we're never told why. Doug MacGyvers a way out through the magnetic force field on their cell, and Zee finds them and leads them to the teleport room. They fight Nimon as well as some other poor worker who shows up and is quickly disposed of. The guys capture Nimon, and Ann transfers them out. Along with Vokar and Zee. However, because the equipment doesn't work or Ann is a lady driver or something, they end up in 1 million BC. Whoops!


The quartet runs around and bumps into some stock dinosaur footage, even though there weren't any dinosaurs in 1 million BC. Nimon falls into some awfully dry quicksand and the guys rescue him. He's about to tell them where the bomb is when Vokar arrives and arrests them all.

Vokar breaks his leg but then realizes that it's a sprain. He's incapacitated long enough for Doug to grab his gun and refuse to kill him because he doesn't "feel" like killing another human. FYI humans in the future don't know what emotions are. Nimon runs off and Tony captures him. However, they fall into a giant beehive, because I guess Tunnel had a paleontologist on staff that told them that bees were big back in the Jurassic era. Doug, Vokar, and Zee try to rescue them and fall into the beehive as well. Vokar grabs his gun from Doug, aims it at Nimon, and tells him to spill the... umm, bee-ns about where the bomb is. Nimon does so, and the base is saved.


The funniest line is probably Vokar giving the reason for why he's done a reverse heel turn at the last moment. He nods to Doug and blank-faced says "I like him." 'Nuff said.

The Project doesn't have enough power to transport them all at the same time, so they transport Tony & Doug out first. Then they teleport Zee and Vokar out, and... run out of power. The bees are returning (No! Not the bees!), and Nimon grabs what looks like an old blanket and pulls it over his head. And we cut away.


We never find out what happens to Nimon. We never find out what happened to Zee and Vokar. At the end, Doug & Tony end up in the Civil War for next week's exciting episode, "The Death Merchant", and we get a couple of minutes of footage for that.

In other words, the episode basically just ends. It's hard to muster much interest in Zee and Vokar, who are holding hands at the end. Because we never find out what happened to them. Were they transported to the Civil War? Back to 1 million AD? Did they bring emotion to their fellow b-workers? Lead a rebellion? Who knows? Who cares?


We never get to see Nimon get his just desserts, either. He's probably still hiding out beneath a blanket in 1 million BC. Or maybe there's a skeleton lying there. It's like writer Carey Wilberf just reached Friday at 4:58 pm, reached the allotted time for the episode, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "I'm outta here, guys."

Why do humans have metallic skin in the future? Who knows? Why do they act like Mr. Spock? Who cares? Who are the mysterious "masters" that rule them? We briefly see a character identified as "Magister" in the end credits, but we never find out about the masters. There is a very slight symmetry when they say that humans in the future act like bees, and bees at the end (don't) show up in a giant prehistoric beehive. But it's not enough to justify... well, prehistoric bees. And then the show is too cheap to even show us any bees.


There is a certain irony in the emotionless Doug teaching the emotionless people of the future about emotions. Although writer Wilber doesn't seem aware of it.

As one reviewer noted, Tunnel hasn't aged well. Yes, there were good episodes. But the far-future ones with silver lame aliens, what relatively few there were ("Visitors From Beyond the Stars" and "Raiders From Outer Space"), were not among them. Check out the big-budget premiere "Rendezvous with Yesterday", an exploration of Tony's childhood in "The Day the Sky Fell In", a couple of decent performances by actors Mako and Kam Tong in "Kill Two By Two", and even the cheesy goodness of "Merlin the Magician", if you want to see better episodes.

If you want a serious exploration of time travel... well, Tunnel ain't it. Apparently Tony and Doug can't alter history time, but they sure spend a lot of time trying even after they've learned that they can't rewrite history, not one line! It was apparently the first "serious" American series (rather than an anthology) to look at time travel. But it was written by the standard writers of the 60s, and the time travel hook was mostly just a justification to launch the boys into a different adventure each week.


As far as Robert Duvall... his Nimon is paper-thin. He became a spy because the Americans apparently didn't appreciate his technological skills. Although Nimon doesn't mention it, his father probably beat him and his dog got hit by a car, too. Duvall prances around in the latter half of the episode wearing a silver skullcap for some reason, and meets what is presumably an ignominious off-screen death. It neither demonstrates the promise that Duvall displayed back in To Kill a Mockingbird, or that manifested later in Duvall's later movie career.

Tunnel does have a cool theme (see below) by "Johnny Williams", i.e., John Williams. Who did the themes for Lost in Space and the two seasons of Land of the Giants. And of course would go on to do themes for Jaws, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. You can tell that he had talent, and I'd consider his Irwin Allen show themes to be the equal of his later work.


But all that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think

-----

Here's the theme, as sorta promised above.



And sorry, but The Wicker Man remake has ruined any mention of bees for me. That's part of why I write these reviews, to share my pain.


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