‘The Time Tunnel’ is cheesy, but clever

James Darren (left) and Robert Colbert (2nd from left) find themselves trapped in the past
James Darren (left) and Robert Colbert (2nd from left) find themselves trapped in the past

I first discovered this series back in the early days of the Sci Fi channel. When it first premiered, it ran all sorts of old television series. Its morning was populated by virtually all of Irwin Allen’s early works, such as Land of Giants and The Time Tunnel, and of course, Lost in Space. All of them were horribly campy, but often enjoyable.

The Time Tunnel was no different. The premise was intriguing, often putting its main duo into famous historical events and disasters. However, I think the series would be pretty hard to swallow for some viewers today. The low-budget silliness of it all can be rather comical, and as a result, it’s sometimes difficult to take the show seriously. Still, looking at the stories themselves, there were some clever ideas.

This short-lived series died largely because Allen refused to cut the budget after network demands. And while I think it may have been interesting for the series to continue forward, it could very well have been better off. What I didn’t like, at least about this second half of the show’s 30 episodes, was the introduction of aliens. This was a little goofy, and stretched the concept into areas it never really needed to go.

“Kill Two By Two” was a surprisingly good episode. The complex tale has the stars Tony (James Darren) and Doug (Robert Colbert) coming up against two Japanese soldiers during World War II. Meanwhile, back at TickTock (the headquarters where the time tunnel was located), Ann (Lee Meriwether) and General Kirk (Whit Bissell) get help from a Japanese consultant who turns out to be related to one of the two soldiers. I loved the complex nature of the story, and it was one of the highlights of this DVD set for me. “Chase Through Time” is also fairly good, with Tony and Doug in pursuit throughout different points in history of a terrorist named Niman. And while “The Kidnappers” was one of those aforementioned “alien” episodes, its actually quite good.

At the same time, I really didn’t like the final two episodes of the show, which really got into otherworldly scenarios. I don’t know exactly why the alien bits bothered me. Perhaps because of the cheesy effects. But it also seemed strange that they felt the need to insert aliens into a series that was already dealing heavily with one science fiction concept — time travel.

There are several good extras on this four-disc DVD set, including interviews with Robert Colbert, the still beautiful Lee Meriwether, Whit Bissell and James Darren. The best extras, however, are the two bonus episodes. One is Time Travellers, a TV Movie Allen produced that is basically a kind of remake of The Time Tunnel. Then there’s the never-aired TV pilot from 2002. This remake was produced for Fox, but ultimately abandoned.

I didn’t care much for the 1976 Time Travelers, but the 2002 pilot was actually pretty good. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, still it had something that could have been intriguing. This project isn’t completely dead. The SciFi channel has greenlit yet another remake for 2007, which involves some of the producers behind the 2002 pilot.

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