Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Television Reviews

Greetings from the Gang at Project Tic Toc

Principal Cast
  Dr. Tony Newman
Dr. Doug Philips
Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk
Dr. Raymond Swain
Dr. Ann MacGregor
James Darren
Robert Colbert
Whit Bissel
John Zaremba
Lee Merriwether

"Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project... the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somwhere along the infinite corridors of time..."

The premier episode of the Time Tunnel, "Rendezvous with Yesterday", tells the story of Project Tic Toc set in an underground labratory in the Arizona desert. We are introduced to the prinicipal cast, including the young, impetuous, Dr. Tony Newman and the mature, rational Dr. Doug Philips, who appear to be the lead scientists on the time tunnel project.

A senator arrives to question the project's billion dollar budget and whether funding should continue. The senator insists that the scientists prove that time travel is possible before further funding is approved. Despite Doug's instance that its too risky to conduct a human expirement, the rash Tony enters the time tunnel to prove its capability. Naturally disaster ensues and the team find they are unable to retrive Dr. Newman who has landed on the Titanic in 1912. Against his better judgement Doug eventually joins Tony in the time tunnel and on the Titanic. The episode ends with Tony and Doug being rescued by the Project Tic Toc team only to be switched in time to another location. Thus setting up the premise for the rest of the series.

Getting Around In Time
The basic operation of the Time Tunnel involves the traveller entering a long tunnel of concentric circles that give an optical illusion of a tunnel extending into the infinite distance. The traveller then gets a radiation bath of blue smoke that enables the project team to later track the traveller in space and time. Each episode begins with the project team attempting to get a temporal and spatial fix on Tony and Doug. The radiation tracking trick allows the project team to view Tony and Doug on a giant view screen that forms at the mouth of the tunnel when needed. Once a fix has been obtained, the team generally begins to generate enough energy to attempt to retrieve the two scientists. Inevitably Tony and Doug find themselves involved in some intrigue or altercation before the team can attempt to retrieve them. The team either uses the stored energy to transport something to the past to assist Tony and Doug, or to switch them to another time and out of danger. Strangely enough the danger is generally passed when they are switched at the end of each episode.

Other notes about the Time Tunnel, there seems to be no limit to the range of the machine, with episodes reaching back to the age of dinasours and into the future. Ann and the other scientists back at the base can also communicate with Doug and Tony in an emergency. In several instances, objects are also succesfully sent back to Tony and Doug from the present.

The Time Tunnel succeeds as a unique blend of sci-fi and action, although it has aged considerably in the 30+ years since it first aired. While planting the seeds for later sci-fi series such as Quantam Leap and Stargate 1, the Time Tunnel is somewhat flawed as a show about time travel. I found part of my disappointment in the series was the lack of rationale for the project. While it was stated that the objective of the Tic Toc Project was to successfully send someone back in time and return them to the present, it would appear to be a very weak justification for the multi-billion dollar project. The series seems more interested in trying to impress its audience with exotic locales and pseudo-historical situtations than exploring the incatricies of time travel.

Granted I'm passing judgement on a series that is more than 30 years old. Taken in context, the series was intially aired at a time when a simply stated goal of putting a man on the moon and returning them successfully to Earth was sufficient to engage the imagination of a generation. It was also aired at a time when sci-fiction series were beginning to make inroads into mainstream entertainment.

Regardless of the rationale for Project Tic Toc, my other greater disappointment with the series stems from the lack of a guiding set of Time Travel ethics. Despite having pioneered the technology, none of the team have apparently given much fore thought to the impact or potential consequences of time travel. On several occassions, Tony and Doug have attempted to convince the locals that they are from the future or else they work to change the outcome of events (e.g. avoid the Titanic's sinking). In a number of episodes future technology is introduced to the past in an effort to save Tony and Doug and change the outcome of events.

Produced by Irwin Allen, whose other 60's sci-fi related shows include Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Land of the Giants, the Time Tunnel lasted only one season from 1966 to 1967. It has been suggested that the original Friday night time slot was the reason for the shows short run, while it has also been suggested that there existed at the time a campaign by executives of the network to get it pulled in favour of another show.

All criticisms aside, there are some interesting dynamics at work among the cast that make the show worth watching. As I touched on earlier, Tony Newman as played by James Darren, perhaps better known to some as Moondoggie of the early 60's Gidget movies, is the impetuous young scientist, who thinks with his heart before his head. Where youth and rebellion are represented by Tony and his casual dress ( a shockingly hip turtleneck), the conservative establishment is represented by Doug Philips in his suit that remains firmly buttoned at all but extremely heated moments during an episode. (A small aside, if I were to suggest a drinking game based on the Time Tunnel, I would certaininly advocate that a manadatory bottoms-up be required during any scene where Doug's suit jacket becomes unbuttoned). Doug Phillips, as played by Robert Colbert, speaks in a halting, know-it-all manner that I find strangely similar to that of another TV character, pompus clotheir J. Peterman of Seinfeld. Authoritative and serious, while boarding on annoying Doug's tone of voice just begs to be mocked. I kept expecting an episode in which Doug explains something serious to Tony and Tony responds by imitating Doug and telling him off in frustration.

One of my favourite characters on the series is Dr. Ann MacGregor, as played by Lee Merriewether. While I am by no stretch of the imagination an authority on the role of women characters in the history of television (now that would be an interesting media course), I find Dr. Ann MacGregor's character a unique one for the late 60's. On the one hand she is protrayed as a professional career woman, a scientist with a doctorate no less, in a project obviously dominated by men. She is portrayed as a quick thinking, strong person capable of saving the day ( which she does on a number of occasions). Yet on the other hand she is often pushed out of the way by her male counterparts when they become frustrated and must try to "man" the controls themselves. I feel that Ann often serves to bring a more human element to the series, often showing genuine personal concern for Tony and Doug's well being when they are in faced with danger. In one episode when the young, brash Tony falls in love with a local girl and threatens to remain behind in time, Ann argues in Tony's favour. Ann asks her co-workers how do they know that Tony hasn't found true love. Ah, always the romantic that Ann.

While the Time Tunnel may not hold up to close scrutinty after 30 years, it can be an entertaining hour of time travel fluff when not being overly melodramatic.

Related Links
The Time Tunnel
The most comprehensive site related to this series you are ever going to find. In addition to containing a detailed Episode Guide that includes guest stars, director and writer credits, this site boasts information and pictures on such cool marketing tie-ins as viewmaster slides, colouring books, and board games that were made related to the series. While you won't want or need to visit any other Time Tunnel related sites, there is a thorough list of related sites here too. Including reference to a number of foreign language fan sites (French, German and Italian).

The Time Tunnel at TV Party
TV Party is an informative site on the history of television and features among other things forgotten TV shows. The Time Tunnel is one of those featured forgotten shows. The Time Tunnel page at TV Party boasts detailed information about the making of the series, its reasons for only lasting one season, and other interesting trivia. Well worth the visit.

Irwin Allen News Network

A site dedicated to the various works of television producer Irwin Allen. Check out information on such 60 classics like Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Journey to the Bottom of the Sea and the Land of Giants. A well laid-out site with some interesting information not only on producer Irwin Allen, but his shows as well. My biggest complaint about this site is that it overlooked the need to give a synopsis of what the shows were about for those that may not have been familiar with the series. In the case of Lost in Space, that may not seem necessary, but in the case of Time Tunnel, an overview of what the series was about is greatly helpful to first timers. As a result of their oversight the site ends up feeling aloof and only for those on the inside. A shame, but still worth the look.

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