‘60s #37: ‘The Time Tunnel’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence.

#37: The Time Tunnel: ‘The Day the Sky Fell In’

In the fall of 1966, film and television producer Irwin Allen, with two successful prime-time science fiction programs already on the air, launched a third: ABC’s The Time Tunnel.

Allen’s first two shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, both took a serious approach to their subject matter in their first black and white seasons and subsequently took an unabashedly juvenile and campy tone in their later color years.

The Time Tunnel featured the adventures of two scientists, Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) and Tony Newman (James Darren, left), working on a secret government time travel experiment in a massive complex beneath the Arizona desert. Attempting to prove the viability of their experiment to a visiting U.S. senator in order to continue its funding, the two became lost in time. Each week, they were relocated to a different period of history with the rest of the Time Tunnel staff unsuccessfully attempting to return them to the present.

Like Allen’s previous series, The Time Tunnel certainly had its juvenile and campy elements. The premise was more fantasy than pure science fiction, and historical inaccuracies abounded (such as when Phillips and Newman visited ancient Greeks who used Roman names for their gods). And there were often laughable lines of dialogue (in one episode, a Time Tunnel technician orders an assistant to “run a check on all the circuits, from one to infinity!”)

In addition, the program emphasized action and fisticuffs over more cerebral scripts and the last handful of its episodes in its lone season devolved into silly alien invasion stories in an apparent attempt to emulate Doctor Who.

James Darren, The Time Tunnel
(James Darren in ‘The Day the Sky Fell In.’ Source: IMDb)

The Time Tunnel, nonetheless, was an imaginative and entertaining program, and its format allowed Allen to employ the grand historical spectacles which were his forte as a film director.

At least one early episode proved that the show was capable of offering a serious drama full of pathos. In “The Day the Sky Fell In,” which aired September 30, 1966, Doug and Tony find themselves in Pearl Harbor on the day before the infamous attack. Tony has a deep personal connection with the event – his father was a serviceman stationed at the base who lost his life in the catastrophe. Tony will not only encounter his father but himself as a young child. Will the duo be able to warn the populace of the imminent attack and change history, and will Tony be able to save his father’s life?

The Time Tunnel, The Day the Sky Fell In
(Source: IMDb)

Allen’s TV series seldom aspired to such heights as this entry, and it deserves recognition for such. One IMDB reviewer put it best when he said, “Despite the flaws and inconsistencies, an engaging, dramatic episode.”

You can see “The Day the Sky Fell In” for free over MeTV on Sunday. May 6, at 4 am ET. MeTV is available over the air via an antenna connected to your TV set and on many cable systems. To find your local channel number, visit MeTV’s Where to Watch page.

You can also stream the episode for $1.99 from Amazon, or buy all 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel for $9.99 from Amazon or  iTunes.

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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