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The Science Fiction TV Series The Time Tunnel

Updated on May 25, 2017
John Tuttle profile image

John Tuttle is a young Catholic man, a content writer, and a blogger who has written on topics such as science, history, and entertainment.

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The Release of Time Tunnel

On September 9th, 1966, American television audiences were first introduced to the United States' operation Tic-Toc, the goal of which was to send a man into a different time period other than his own. In the pilot, "Rendevous with Yesterday," a U.S. senator visits the expansive as well as expensive government-funded project. The secret Tic-Toc base is located in a complex constructed hundreds of stories below the surface of a dry desert. Like the giant cyclops battle in Irwin Allen's Lost in Space, the Time Tunnel power plant and the entire complex was something epic that was entirely unseen before on TV.

The Time Tunnel's pilot, like most of the pilots of the series Allen produced, was also written and directed by Irwin Allen himself. Prior to The Time Tunnel, he had created and produced the shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968) and Lost in Space (1965-1968), both of which were still simultaneously running during the original airing of Time Tunnel. TVparty.com claims The Time Tunnel pilot alone came with a price tag of around $500,000, equivalent to over $3,796,000 in modern U.S. currency.

The Actors Chosen for Roles in The Time Tunnel

Once Dr. Anthony Newman purposefully sends himself back in time to prove a point and to gain continued government support of the project, his peer and friend Dr. Douglas Phillips demands that he himself be sent back as well in order to warn "Tony" of the date of an upcoming disaster he will be doomed to play a part in, the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

Portraying the bold young scientist Newman was singer/actor James Darren, who was apparently one of Allen's favorite actors to work with. In March of 1966, before the release of The Time Tunnel, Darren appeared as the main guest star in the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "The Mechanical Man." Later in 1968, after the end of Time Tunnel's brief run, Irwin Allen recruited Darren to star in a new proposed sci-fi series, Man from the 25th Century. A reel depicting the beginning of the story, approximately seventeen minutes long, was created and produced by Allen and featured Darren.

Another main character in The Man from the 25th Century, an alien, was played by John Crawford, who had also appeared in guest roles on a number of Time Tunnel episodes. Many of the set props used in the Time Tunnel complex were reused in this new presentation. However, The Man from the 25th Century was never produced as a series, but you can watch the full presentation by visiting the link here:

The Man from the 25th Century

Several decades following James Darren's association with Irwin Allen Productions, the singer would find himself in another science fiction series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as Vic Fontaine. This role gained him a fresh and revitalized renown and popularity.

It is interesting that Robert Colbert achieved the position of second star of the series. Previously, he had appeared as a guest star in popular such as Bonanza and Perry Mason and in films like Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), a sci-fi comedy film starring the humorous trio the Three Stooges.

If you paid close attention to the information above about Colbert and Darren, you have realized that both actors had some experience acting in the sci-fi genre of entertainment prior to The Time Tunnel. This is a point I am making about Irwin Allen which I also made in another article about his Lost in Space series, its rival shows, and guest stars:

Actor/Singer James Darren
Actor/Singer James Darren | Source

As in his other shows, Allen cast actors who were familiar with the type of acting he desired to fit his characters' experiences and personalities. Time Tunnel was obviously a science fiction show, and the two main actors both had past experience in sci-fi screenplays. Furthermore, he cast other actors who had been especially affiliated with time travel science fiction. The best example of this was Whit Bissel, who portrayed The Time Tunnel's General Kirk.

A few years before this, Bissel had acted in the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel The Time Machine which starred Rodney Taylor. Bissel portrayed an older gentleman named Walter Kemp, one of four friends of the main character George Wells, in whom Wells confides about his time-traveling contraption. Whit Bissel would go on to run his own contraption, the Time Tunnel.


Robert Colbert
Robert Colbert | Source

John Zaremba, playing Dr. Raymond Swain of Time Tunnel, was far from a newbie to science fiction. Previously, he had acted in sci-fi movies like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Zaremba played a rather small part in The Twilight Zone episode "No Time Like the Past," in which one man takes a number of trips in time with the aid of a manmade machine. Whether ironically or intentionally, Zaremba eventually made his way into The Time Tunnel. After his career with that Irwin Allen show, he went on to act in the 1978 TV movie The Time Machine, based off Wells' book and starring John Beck! I wonder if he ever grew tired of time travel.

Lee Meriwether, who played Catwoman in Batman: The Movie (1966) as well as guest roles on popular TV shows such as Star Trek: The Original Series and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., portrayed Dr. Ann MacGregor. She later appeared in a guest role in Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants series, and she is still an active actress to this day. One of her latest roles was in Breaking Legs (2017).

Additional Cast and Crew for The Time Tunnel

Many of the actors who appeared in The Time Tunnel were favorites of Irwin Allen. Michael Rennie, who plays the captain of the Titanic in the pilot episode, had played in a two-parter episode of Lost in Space as well as in Allen's full-length feature film The Lost World (1960). Sam Groom, who played the recurring part of Time Tunnel technician Jerry, went on to star in Allen's TV movie The Time Travellers (1976). Michael Ansara, who had played in Lost in Space and in Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea film, appeared in two episodes as different characters.

Del Monroe, who played a submarine crewman in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (the movie as well as the series), held the guest role of a silver alien who kidnaps Ann MacGregor. Kevin Hagen appeared in a few Time Tunnel episodes, and he went on to play the recurring part of Inspector Dobbs Kobick in Allen's Land of the Giants.

Irwin Allen recruited many of the best individuals in numerous creative fields to try to make the show the best it could be. L.B. Abbott was in charge of the special effects, which were needed for every episode. Abbott, who did the special effects for all of Allen's 20th Century Fox sci-fi shows as well as for the Batman series, was given an Emmy Award in 1967 for his photographic special effects on the series. Allen was fortunate to employ John Williams to compose the main theme and additional scores for the pilot of The Time Tunnel.

Williams also composed themes and scores for Allen's Lost in Space and Land of the Giants series. He went on to be the composer of the Star Wars movies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). John Williams is perhaps now the world's most famous film composer, having composed scores for many of Steven Spielberg's films.

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The End of The Time Tunnel and a Lasting Legacy

John Zaremba's character Ray Swain states nearing the close of the pilot, "It's just a matter of time," and this line comes to mind when thinking about The Time Tunnel's run. It was cut short, lasting but one season with a total of 30 episodes. The cause of this was an ABC executive lobbying for another series instead of Time Tunnel even though it had good ratings. The series which took its place was a flop, running only seventeen low-rated episodes. Later, in the early 1980's, a number of episodes from the original series were cut and edited together into five TV movies. Howsoever, since its cancellation, The Time Tunnel TV show has remained a cult classic for half a century, and I think it shall continue to be remembered and cherished.

Inside Irwin Allen's The Time Tunnel (Interviews and Behind the Scenes)

© 2017 John Tuttle

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