The Time Tunnel: Review: The Complete Series

DVD review (region 2)
Starring James Darren, Robert Colbert, Whit Bissell
Release date: Out now

Tony Newman (Darren) and Douglas Phillips (Colbert) are scientists involved in America’s top-secret project, The Time Tunnel. After using themselves as test subjects, they find themselves bounced around in time, witnessing famous historical events along the way…

The Time Tunnel has all the hallmarks of a typical Irwin Allen production: a high concept, a big budget and a tendency to treat silliness with an entirely straight face (the later, more comical Lost in Space episodes were the exception to the rule). Like Allen’s Land of the Giants – also recently released on DVD – it’s great fun for a few episodes, rather dull after that.

The opening (and best) episode sees a scowling senator threaten to shut down the expensive Time Tunnel programme if they don’t see results soon. It prompts young, dashing Tony Newman to use himself as a guinea pig. After a tumble through the tunnel, he winds up on a boat. Not just any old boat – the Titanic! After the captain refuses to believe his time travel story (the fool!), Tony winds up locked inside a cabin, facing imminent death-by-iceberg. His colleague Doug Phillips jumps through the Tunnel to save him. And so the show’s formula is set in place, as the pair visit a different period in history each week, punching bad guys, saving women and righting wrongs. Meanwhile, the scientists at the Tunnel programme watch their adventures on a monitor and look mildly worried.

The Time Tunnel has three main problems: its earnest, all-American heroes are boring and far too similar to each other, meaning there’s never any threat of interesting banter between them; the dialogue is ludicrous and po-faced, especially when the pair SPELL OUT EXACTLY where they’ve landed or attempt to explain their presence to onlookers; and the structure becomes wearingly repetitive, with little variation between episodes. Admittedly, Allen and co do eventually throw in a few bug-headed aliens and set a couple of episodes in the future, but even these are strangely pedestrian affairs. There are, however, plenty of unintentional chuckles, whether it’s the ludicrous portrayals of such events as the eruption of Krakatoa or the French Revolution, or the feeble-minded female characters.

Despite its faults, anyone who remembers the show from their youth (either from original broadcast or its many reruns) is likely to get a nostalgic kick out of The Time Tunnel, and the colourful sets (sometimes worked in with footage cribbed from Fox’s back-catalogue), swirling opening titles and theme by John Williams still impress.

The DVD box set is a decent package (with nice lenticular packaging): in addition to all 30 episodes, it comes with the entertaining Irwin Allen–produced TV movie Time Travellers (written by The Twilight Zone head honcho, Rod Serling); the interesting, if flawed, 2002 pilot for a rebooted Time Tunnel (which was never picked up); interviews with the now-elderly stars; and Allen’s on-set cine films (sadly silent – why aren’t they scored to the TT theme?). James Skipp

There’s a neat idea at the heart of The Time Tunnel (its influence can be seen in everything from Quantum Leap to Sliders), but the show is too earnest and repetitive to really impress today.


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