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Series / The Time Tunnel

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The main Time Tunnelers. Top row, left to right: Tony and Doug. Bottom row, left to right: Lt. General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell), Dr. Ann MacGregor (Lee Meriwether) and Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba).

"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 somewhere along the infinite corridors of time."

Irwin Allen, the man behind Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, also gave us the Science Fiction series The Time Tunnel.

The premise? Project Tic-Toc is an attempt by the American government to create a Time Machine. When a senator questions the project, scientist Tony Newman (James Darren) impulsively jumps into the titular tunnel to prove that it works, and his colleague Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) goes after him. Unfortunately, while the Time Tunnel is great at sending people back and forth through time, the Tic-Toc staff has imperfect control over the device, so they're unable to bring Tony and Doug home. The result: our heroes wind up bouncing around in the timestream like a pair of human ping pong balls, encountering a lot of Stock Footage and never quite grasping that You Can't Fight Fate despite their attempts to help the people they meet. Meanwhile, in the Future…, their contemporaries watch and try to decide when things are going badly enough for Tony and Doug that it wouldn't hurt to just send them off to yet another random date.

This was Allen's favorite of his series, but lasted only one season.

The Trope Tunnel:

  • Adventure Towns: Combined with adventure eras.
  • Apathetic Citizens: In "The End of the World", the residents of a small town in 1910 cross the Despair Event Horizon because they're convinced that Halley's Comet will soon cause an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. This is why only a few of them are willing to help Tony and Doug rescue 200 miners trapped in a cave-in; what difference does it make when The End of the World as We Know It is almost here? Fortunately, the miners are saved when our heroes prove that the world isn't doomed.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: In "The End of the World", the return of Halley's Comet in 1910, causing worldwide panic monitored by the Time Tunnel control room, interposes an obstacle to saving over 200 miners trapped in the cave-in of the "Emperor Mine". Relocated to this time period, Tony and Doug try to organize a rescue party, but all of the townspeople have left town to wait for the end of the world predicted by a respected professor.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Sgt. Itsugi asks one of Lt. Nakamura in "Kill Two by Two".
    Itsugi: Lieutenant, now you must decide. Will you die honorably or will you live in shame?
  • Artistic License – Space: Episode "End of the World". Halley's Comet is depicted as a brightly glowing ball in space, like a miniature sun.
  • The Backwards Я: The Cold War-themed episode "Secret Weapon" includes several signs in fake Cyrillic; most are complete nonsense, with "letters" that include a backwards 4 and an upside-down Q. The one comprehensible sign reads РЯОᒐEꓘꓕ А-13, with a flat-topped A probably meant to suggest a Д.
  • Bee Afraid: In "Chase Through Time", the characters encounter giant bees in the prehistoric past. The episode ends with the bees about to kill the episode's villain.
  • Book Ends: They start on the Titanic, they end on the Titanic, but see "Groundhog Day" Loop below.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Doug in "Invasion" after being caught by the Nazis, is psychologically reprogrammed to hunt down Tony.
  • Cassandra Truth: Time-Traveler's Tip #47: Don't tell anyone you meet in the past that you're from the future. C'mon, would you really expect them to believe you?
    • Nicely played with in "The Day the Sky Fell In" when Doug and Tony, succumbing to truth serum, lead their captors to believe they must be professional spies who have been conditioned to spout nonsense when drugged.
  • Changed My Jumper: Sometimes used and sometimes averted. The boys' Limited Wardrobe is actually fairly flexible: Doug's suit, designed to be accurate for 1912, wouldn't be drastically out of place in the middle nineteenth or late twentieth century, and Tony's turtleneck lets him pass for a sailor or laborer over an even greater span of time.
  • The Chase: In "Chase Through Time," Doug and Tony travel from A.D. 1547 to A.D. 1,000,000 to 1,000,000 B.C. in pursuit of a murderous spy.
  • Chronoscope: One of the Tunnel's functions.
  • Cliffhanger: Every episode ends with a suspenseful clip from Tony and Doug's next adventure.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: Sometimes the context in which a cliffhanger took place would change details at the beginning of the next episode. For example, you find that the heroes weren't in as much danger as you thought they were, or, at least, that it was a different kind of danger than you thought.
  • The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed: And so is pretty much anything else Tony and Doug stumble upon. The Time Tunnel is supposedly sending them to random eras unpredictably, but they always seem to arrive while some famous, exciting event is happening, or about to happen.
  • Comet of Doom: The episode "End of the World" centers on the then-most recent appearance of Halley's Comet in 1910 and the resulting panic. Huge, huge liberties are taken with what actually happened. In the episode, the source of the trouble is a fictional scientist who has predicted that the comet will hit the Earth, but Doug disproves this using some Hollywood Science nonsense.
  • Compilation Movie: Five, believe it or not.
    • Aliens from Another Planet= "Chase Through Time" + "Visitors from Beyond the Stars."
    • Revenge of the Gods = "Revenge of the Gods" + "The Walls Of Jericho,"
    • Old Legends Never Die = "Merlin the Magician" + "The Revenge Of Robin Hood,"
    • Kill or Be Killed = "The Day the Sky Fell In" +"Kill Two by Two."
    • Raiders from the Moon = "The Kidnappers" + "One Way to the Moon."
  • Cool Gate: The Time Tunnel itself.
  • Cut Short: Canceled after one season; the stranded time-travelers never made it home.
  • Demonic Possession: In "The Ghost of Nero", the title character possesses three men during a World War I battle. The first is a German soldier whom he soon abandons. Tony is next, but the scientists at Project Tic-Toc send a jolt of electricity to force Nero out of Tony's body. After a detour where he attacks the Tic-Toc staffers but gets sent back through the Tunnel, the episode ends with Nero finding a suitable host — a young Benito Mussolini.
  • Dirty Communists: In "Secret Weapon", Tony and Doug uncover the Soviet Union's attempt to develop a similar Time Tunnel as the United States. Of course, it's up to our heroes to prevent them from succeeding.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: In "Rendezvous With Yesterday", Althea Hall refers to her brain cancer only as being "ill" and having a "growth."
  • Dull Surprise: Doug Phillips. Robert Colbert seems to have made a career of playing unemotional characters.
  • Easy Amnesia: Episode "The Death Merchant". Tony is knocked unconscious by an artillery explosion and wakes up with amnesia. In a fight near the end of the episode, he's knocked unconscious again. When he comes to, his memory has returned.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The base for Project Tic-Toc (the government organization that created and operated the Time Tunnel) was hidden beneath the Arizona desert.
  • Eternal English: Every person in every time period speaks perfect 20th Century English, no matter how far into the past or future the travelers go or what country they are visiting. Sometimes foreign characters will have stupid accents when the travelers end up in a place like France or Germany, but that's usually as far as it goes. "Kill Two by Two" handwaves how the two Japanese soldiers know English; Sgt. Itsugi has picked up the language, while Lt. Nakamura is fluent because he was educated at Stanford. The 2006 revival pilot solved this problem by giving its cast Universal Translators.
  • Evil Colonialist: "Idol of Death" has Doug call Hernán Cortés "one of the worst butchers in history", and the episode depicts him as a Hate Sink who lives up to that title. He ruthlessly kills the Tlaxcalan natives, whom he regards as subhuman "savages"; the first thing we see him do is torture and murder a helpless elderly chieftain and his wife while their son and Tony and Doug watch.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Sure, maybe the Tic Toc team was able to transfer Doug and Tony to yet another location that they'll need to get out of sooner or later, but they never actually get them home.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: A major part of the premise.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: In "The Walls of Jericho", Dr. MacGregor firmly claims that she does not believe in the supernatural. Yet, she and her colleagues had just witnessed a ghost in the previous episode, "The Ghost of Nero".
    • By contrast, Dr. Swain states that he “always wanted to believe, but secretly doubted”, while General Kirk follows along with his personal Bible as the story of Jericho plays out in the Tunnel.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: In "Attack of the Barbarians", Tony falls in love with Sarit while she's administering medical care to him after being tortured on the rack.
  • Genre Blindness: Doug and Tony's continual failure to grasp the fact that You Can't Fight Fate.
  • Gold Fever: In "Idol of Death", the MacGuffin is a golden mask that serves as a symbol of authority for the Tlaxcalan people. Hernán Cortés wants the mask because he thinks possessing it will force the Tlaxcalans to accept him as their ruler. A contemporary archaeologist whom General Kirk calls in for his knowledge of the era turns out to be obsessed with the mask; he tries to bargain for it by refusing to help Tony and Doug unless the Tic-Toc staff retrieves the mask for him. He actually gets it for a few moments, but is forced to send it back. Meanwhile, the son of the murdered Tlaxcalan elder realizes that "Somehow the yellow metal must have made [Cortés] sick"; Tony and Doug say his ability to resist the call of greed makes him worthy to take over as chief.
  • Go On Without Me: Tony in "Kill Two by Two". Doug, obviously, does not comply.
  • Grandfather Paradox: In "The Day the Sky Fell In," Tony tries (sort of) to save his father from the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initially he sets out to only find out what really happened to him, but in another example of You Can't Fight Fate he soon tries to warn his father about the impending bombing. There is also some hand-wringing by the Project team about what happens if Tony's seven-year-old self is killed by his adult self changing history.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: In theory the entire series, since the last episode ends with Doug and Tony onboard the Titanic... exactly where they started out. The same footage is played and Senator Clark is back in the control room. However, this is an unintentional example: Martin Grams' book The Time Tunnel: A History of the Television Series states that it was done so that the last episode would lead into the summer reruns.
  • Historical Domain Character: Doug and Tony met plenty of them.
  • The Homeward Journey: Never completed due to the series' cancellation.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Nakamura hunts Tony and Doug in "Kill Two by Two."
  • Identical Grandson:
    • "Reign of Terror" features Whit Bissel playing one of Robespierre's men as well as his regular role of General Kirk. Kirk is quite confused as his family is from Scotland rather than France, but discovers that this man is from an obscure branch of it that left for mainland Europe.
    • "The Last Patrol" has Carroll O'Connor as a British general in the War of 1812, and his descendant in the present day.
  • Identity Amnesia: In "The Death Merchant," Tony is shell-shocked and ends up fighting with the Confederates in the Battle of Gettysburg. He attacks Doug, who is fighting on the Union side. A punch (Tap on the Head) restores his memories to normal.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous
  • Instrumental Theme Tune
  • Interrupted Suicide: Tony intervenes Just in Time to save Althea Hall from letting herself go down with the Titanic in "Rendezvous With Yesterday".
  • Living Prop: Those scientists standing in the background at Tic Toc checking readings and turning knobs.
    • About the only technician who gets any dialog at all is “Jerry” (played by Sam Groom); he sometimes came up with ideas that were resisted by Ann, Ray, and the General—but worked.
  • Lost Technology: In "Chase Through Time", the dystopian government of A.D. 1,000,000 has lost the "art" of time travel, so they recruit one of the Time Tunnel techs to turn Double Agent and get it for them.
  • Magical Defibrillator: Episode "End of the World". After Time Tunnel technician Jerry suffers a heart attack, Ann uses some ripped out electrical cables to shock his heart into beating again.
    • Could the MacGregor family be related to the MacGyver family?
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In "The Walls of Jericho," Ann and Ray respectively argue whether the fall of Jericho was caused by a naturally-occurring tornado or the power of God.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: The guys at the lab are not able to rewind or fast forward through their view of Doug and Tony's current locale; it's all they can do to keep the equipment trained on them at all.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum
  • Mistaken for Spies/Time-Travelers Are Spies
  • My Future Self and Me: Tony meets his child self in the Pearl Harbor episode. Notable because time travel stories (at least, in TV and film) didn't do this kind of thing very often in the years before Back to the Future popularized the idea.
  • Newspaper Dating
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The show was produced in 1966-67, but used 1968 as the present year.
  • Nonindicative Name: "Night of the Long Knives" is not set during the Nazi purge by that name, but rather in nineteenth-century British India.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Doug refuses to leave Tony behind in "Kill Two By Two", even though his ankle is sprained.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Somewhat undermined in the pilot. Senator Leroy Clark is legitimately concerned that the billions they are spending is a waste of money and time. And his threats to shut down the project precipitate Tony making an unauthorized time transfer. But he does pitch in, and at the end he pledges his support to keep the project going until they bring Tony and Doug back.
  • Once per Episode: The guys at the time lab will try to bring our heroes back, and accidentally scoop up someone or something else from the Era of the Week (and we'll zoom in on their shocked expression as they emerge from the Tunnel). If it's a person, they'll be very confused, and may or may not understand any explanations, but ultimately they'll go back or get sent back. If it's a thing, odds are that it's a bomb or something else dangerous that they'll need to get rid of fast.
  • Opening Narration: See the top of this page.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Doug carried Tony like this in "Attack of the Barbarians" because he was unconscious after his experience on the rack.
  • Penal Colony ("Devil's Island")
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. Tony Newman.
  • Punishment Box ("Devil's Island")
  • Random Transportation: The series has its heroes being randomly transported to various points in the past and, on occasion, the future.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lt. Gen. Heywood Kirk.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Lt. Nakamura in "Kill Two by Two" definitely thinks this way. He was a kamikaze pilot who lost his nerve, choosing to crash his plane rather than go ahead with his Suicide Attack, so his own men punished him for his cowardice by abandoning him on an island with only the elderly Sgt. Itsugi for company. By the time Tony and Doug arrive on the island, he's gone into Death Seeker mode; he plays Hunting the Most Dangerous Game with them, hoping that they'll grant him an honorable demise in battle. Doug refuses to kill him, but Nakamura finally gets his wish when he provokes an American GI into shooting him in self-defense.
  • Reign of Terror: The title of an episode about The French Revolution.
  • Revival: A pilot for a reimagined Time Tunnel, complete with Tony Newman recast as a woman named Toni Newman, was made in 2002 but never broadcast; it was released as an extra on the series' DVD collection in 2006. The Sci Fi Channel announced another revival attempt a few years later, but it never got out of Development Hell. invoked
  • Sadly Mythtaken: "Revenge of the Gods" is swarming with errors regarding Greek mythology and The Iliad.
  • San Dimas Time
  • Screen Shake: What Irwin Allen production would be complete without it?
  • Seppuku: Undermined in "Kill Two by Two." After dishonoring himself in battle (see Redemption Equals Death above), Lt. Nakamura plays Hunting the Most Dangerous Game with Tony and Doug because he can't bring himself to commit seppuku and hopes that his victims will kill him.
  • Shout-Out: Part of the unsold revival pilot takes place in the World War II Battle of Hürtgen Forest (vs. the ever-popular enemy, Nazi Germany). Two of the heroes masquerade as German soldiers named Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz.
  • Status Quo Is God: Whatever happens to Tony and Doug, at the end of the episode they always miraculously revert back to their usual clothing, and venture towards another time period in the timestream, clean and unharmed.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Ann is the only female regular on the series. Kirk and Ray often disregard her suggestions and, if anyone is going to be kidnapped or held hostage, it will be Ann. If a dangerous situation arises in the control room, Kirk always shouts "Get Ann out of here."
  • Snap Back: Tony and Doug inexplicably always end up back in the same physical state they were in when they first went into the tunnel: wardrobe changes, dirt, Clothing Damage, and in one episode even injuries disappear.
  • Spiders Are Scary: In "Kill Two by Two", a tarantula crawls on Doug while he's hiding from Lt. Nakamura and Sgt. Itsugi. He can't do anything while the two soldiers are there, but the moment they leave he immediately gets the thing off him.
  • Stable Time Loop: In "The Day the Sky Fell In," Young Tony would have died if Tony hadn't gone back in time and made sure Young Tony left Pearl Harbor before the 1941 bombing.
  • Stock Footage: About 30% of the show was stock footage from various 20th Century Fox films.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Tony does this to Althea Hall to a certain extent in the series pilot, "Rendezvous With Yesterday". Althea's initial intent isn't to commit suicide; however, when the Titanic is sinking, she decides to take advantage of the opportunity because, due to a brain tumor, she's going to die soon anyway and she doesn't feel she's worthy to take a place on one of the lifeboats. Tony is luckily able to talk her out of it.
  • Tick Tock Tune: John Williams' theme music. (He was “Johnny Williams” back in the day.)
  • Time Travel: The premise of the series.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: "Billy the Kid" features a variation. Sheriff Pat Garrett's deputies capture Tony because they think he's the notorious outlaw, and a bloodthirsty lynch mob forms outside the sheriff's office. Tony protests that he's not Billy, but the deputies seem inclined to give him up anyway. When Garrett arrives, he both shames the mob and tells them that Tony isn't Billy, but neither plan works; he finally gets rid of them by causing an Animal Stampede through town that forces them off the streets.
  • Trapped in Another World: The past, most of the time, with the future occasionally.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: You all remember that manned mission to Mars in 1978, right?
    • NASA at that time was planning for a Mars landing mission in 1982, powered by nuclear rocket engines being developed and tested by Aerojet and Westinghouse.
  • Twisted Ankle: Tony sprained his ankle in "Kill Two By Two" and has to lean on Doug for almost the entire rest of the episode, inevitably leading to him telling Doug to go ahead without him. Doug replies with an "Are you kidding?" and pulls him along anyway.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Episode "Visitors from Beyond the Stars". Space aliens come to the Earth in 1885 to steal all food supplies. When the aliens enter a town, they order the human inhabitants to gather all livestock within 10 Earth miles of the town.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: See Identical Grandson above.
  • War for Fun and Profit: In "The Death Merchant", Niccolò Machiavelli is more about the fun than the profit. He regards war as a thrilling spectator sport, but only if both opponents are equally matched. Therefore, when he winds up at the battle of Gettysburg due to a technical fluke of the Time Tunnel, he tries to give the Confederates a large cache of gunpowder because they're the weaker side of the conflict.
  • What Year Is This?
  • World War II: In both the original series and the revival.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Recorded history can't be changed. Sometimes our heroes will try (with no acknowledgement of what a mess they might make by succeeding), but it does seem to eventually sink in that this is futile, and they're more likely to spend the episode playing The Cassandra, i.e., "You're going to lose this battle. No, you're really going to lose this battle. No no, you're really going to..." However, smaller events that wouldn't necessarily make it into the history books are still malleable (or may as well be, since their fates are not recorded), like making sure specific people they meet make it through a historical event okay, even if they can't change the larger event. For instance, they know they stand a chance of saving Tony's father at Pearl Harbor because his body was never found.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Machiavelli uses the phrase almost verbatim before he kills a wounded Confederate sergeant in "The Death Merchant".
  • You Have to Believe Me!
  • Young Future Famous People: Doug and Tony encounter several of them, including...