Classic TV: ‘The Time Tunnel’

the time tunnel set

I was a bit too young when “The Time Tunnel” aired for a single season beginning in 1966 to catch the nuances of the show. Same goes for other shows from the same producer/creator, Irwin Allen, like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1964) and “Lost in Space” (1965) and “Land of the Giants” (1968).

Well, there were not a lot of nuances to be found in “Lost in Space.” And “Land of the Giants” was in some ways the purest and most fun of the bunch in its story of little people trapped on a planet of giants.

But “The Time Tunnel,” although it only lasted a season on ABC, made a big impression on me.

Maybe it was because of its premise – two scientists from a top-secret government project (one that cost billions of dollars) go back in time and move, out of control, from one  pivotal moment in history to the next. (Yes, the premise was duplicated in “Quantum Leap.”)

The show had colorful sets and costumes and stories that seem even more preposterous in retrospect than they do now: As time travelers James Darren and Robert Colbert bounce around from one moment in history – and a few in the future – in one episode to another in the next, they get involved not only in the course of human events but, often, try to change the course of human events.

Let’s think about this for a minute: Is there anything less scientific when you’re time traveling than trying to persuade the captain of the Titanic to cross the ocean just a little further to the south? Humanitarian, maybe; maybe even purely an instance of self-preservation, since the scientists in question had time-jumped onto said “unsinkable” ocean liner. But not very impartially scientific.

Anyway, whole genres of time travel stories have demonstrated that, even if you could change the course of history, you shouldn’t. That wasn’t a big stumbling block on “The Time Tunnel,” however.

The show is available on and is pretty fun to sample.

Some stray observations:

If you want to see all the great sets – the mammoth underground research project, code-named Tic-Toc, buried hundreds of stories below the desert floor – you need only watch the first episode. The sets and special effects, which echo the great Krell laboratories of “Forbidden Planet,” are all out there in the pilot. Then repeated endlessly in later episodes.

There’s a wonderful contingent of actors in the show, from Whit Bissell as the military man in charge of the project to guest-stars like Robert Duvall.

Lee Meriwether, who was an also-also-ran among Catwoman fans for her work in the big-screen “Batman” movie, has a nice role as a scientist here.

Allen set up this show like he did with “Lost in Space,” with a teaser ending that led into the next episode.

The show gave plenty of airtime to stock footage from old movies, the kind of Hollywood economizing that probably made the series possible. Why shoot new footage for a Battle of Little Bighorn sequence when Hollywood has already told General Custer’s story?

time-tunnel tumble

The way the time travelers tumbled through time was endlessly amusing and must have seemed as silly to the cast as the “throwing yourself back and forth across the bridge of the Enterprise” scenes were to the cast of “Star Trek.”


One thought on “Classic TV: ‘The Time Tunnel’

  1. chandlerswainreviews

    Nice piece. This was extremely entertaining when it first appeared on TV- a favorite image was the invisible ramp that opened in the desert to disguise the project’s entrance, though how that would explain away all of the tire tracks stopping dead in the middle of nowhere was a mystery. Two thoughts occur to me as I wax nostalgic: (1) I am always baffled by the immense complexity of secret underground installations- whether here, in “Fantastic Voyage” or “You Only Live Twice” -as to just how you’d keep such an installation’s existence confidential when clearly it depended on countless thousands of workers to construct it. Did they off them all as if they were handmaidens in a hidden Egyptian tomb? Also, I suspect the alternate history paradoxes that might occur with time travelers are brushed aside by the series’ uncanny timing of always jumping the duo to a different time sphere before alterations can occur. The underlying message of the show, surely a concession to not imposing too deep a well of thought on the happy proceedings, is that events in time are fixed. Unless I’m wrong (how would we know?) and someone has already altered the past and we’ve been denied Seasons 2,3,4, and 5 of this series which may have already aired. Drat!


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