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Yes, I have been watching television again, and I apologise wholeheartedly. Before we get to all of that, though, a little public service announcement. If you feel lacking in books or amusement in your life, fear not, for I am a helpful soul, and come bearing recommendations. Well, a recommendation. Well, perhaps not so much a recommendation as a warning, but nonetheless. The book is called The Time Tunnel, written by Murray Leinster, and it claims to be the novelisation of the exciting new television series by Irwin Allen. It features two scientists who travel back in time, but there the resemblance to the TV series ends, for the book is a catastrophe of epic proportions. The TV series is not exactly Shakespeare, admittedly, but it is (mostly) entertaining. Mind you, the heroes do make it home at the end of the book, whereas Irwin Allen had them hurtling around in ever decreasing circles in time for ever. Which is an even less satisfying end for a time travel series than Quantum Leap's.

So, why is the book so bad? Well, to begin with, it tells us that the Time Tunnel project is a wonderful thing in the hands of the Americans, because they can be trusted to guard history. To rewrite it if necessary, in keeping with the great vision of sixties America. This is even more terrifying a notion than Captain Kirk trying to convince the entire galaxy that it should remodel itself in the image of, again, sixties America - albeit sixties America pretending to be the 23rd century. "You can trust us to only rewrite the bits of history that need rewriting!" This gobsmacking bit of self-importance is only one stage of this book's endless hilarities, however. There's a female character in the story. In the TV series she's a physicist, although admittedly they do veer rather between respecting her training and patronising her horribly. In the book I don't know quite what she is. A secretary or something. She knows that she can't be trusted to think sensibly, anyway, given that she's only a woman, so she slips away to make coffee and sandwiches for the menfolk when things get tense. And yes, the text does actually say that. I shudder to think what would have happened if there had been any black characters.

I don't really know why I'm regaling you with all of this, unless it's to underline the fact that, no matter how bad the TV series gets (and it does have one or two dubious moments), it could have been a whole lot worse. Instead of manic Americans trying to rule the world - because hey, sixties America was perfect, right? - we get Doug and Tony, free-falling through space, time, and the 20th Century Fox film library, and trying not to get killed by everything they meet. They're not without fault, admittedly, but they're a good deal better than they are in book form. Which is something of an understatement.

So, the American government has thought up Project Tic-Toc, because every scientific project on TV must have a daft name. It's the law. Project Tic-Toc is all about coming up with a way to travel in time, for reasons not specified, and is run by our two heroes. Doug Phillips is the fabulously stoic and square-jawed type, rarely seen without a tie, and rather inclined to pose manfully in moments of peril. Tony Newman is younger and more dynamic, and can usually be counted upon to yell at anything and everybody, especially when under pressure, and almost invariably in extreme close-up. In their amazing underground base they build a tunnel, but when government funding seems about to be cut, Tony decides to hurl himself backwards into history just to prove that it's possible. This actually turns out to be very clever, because by getting lost in time, he obliges the government to keep funding the project in order to try to get him back. Something that NASA should consider, perhaps, next time they get landed with cutbacks. Anyway, Doug decides that he has to hurl himself into history as well, because Tony will get lonely otherwise - there's absolutely no way that he can help, so presumably that was his reckoning - and for the next twenty-odd episodes, they tumble from one historical inaccuracy to another, in the name of entertainment. Well, why not?

The first batch of episodes are a bit so-so, but then that's often the way with a new series. In episode one, the boys land up on the Titanic. What is it with time travellers and the Titanic?! They all seem to go there sooner or later. By now half the passenger list must consist solely of tourists from other centuries. There's at least four incarnations of the Doctor on board for starters. Anyway, Tony attempts to convince everybody that they're going to sink, seemingly in the firm belief that they'll buy it if he says that he was born in 1938. Well that's bound to work. He's really, truly horrible at explaining things, it must be said. I like Tony. He's played by James Darren, which means that he can do no wrong, obviously, but he's still lousy at explaining things. He should certainly never be allowed anywhere near a physics lecture. Oddly enough, the ship then hits an iceberg and sinks, which is about as much of a surprise as the sun rising in the morning. It does rather underline one of the disadvantages of setting so many time travel stories there, too. They all tend to end the same way. Susan Hampshire gets a place on a lifeboat, though, so that's good. I like Susan Hampshire. She was in my favourite Cliff Richard film, which I realise is an alien concept for most people. Yes, I do actually have a favourite Cliff Richard film. And it's a good one, so there.

Then in episode two they go into the future, and find themselves on a manned voyage to Mars, although nobody gets any further than the moon, which is a bit disappointing. Sadly this is a very uneventful episode, so it's rather a shame that it's the second one. Hardly a sparkling start to the season. Pretty much the entire plot of the episode is about trying to refuel the ship in twenty-two minutes, which is unfortunate for several reasons. The first reason is that nobody tells us why twenty-two minutes. If they're not refuelled by then, they won't be able to leave, but why? Does the moon have really strict parking laws? Does your vessel get clamped or towed if you fail to be gone within the specified time? The other reason is that they're parked half a mile away from the local petrol station. This means that two crew members walk half a mile and have a fight, Doug goes to join them and has a fight, Tony goes to join them and has a fight, and Doug goes back to the spaceship, and then goes to find Tony and has a fight. And all in twenty-two minutes?! It was made in 1966, so nobody really knew about walking on the moon being a slow motion thing, but even so. Even jogging, you'd be hard put to do all that in twenty-two minutes. The writers seem to have realised that they'd come up with a rubbish plot, because they gave up and ended it ten minutes early, filling time with a bizarre tag scene where Tony gets zapped to the Time Tunnel project before he started work on it. This means that everybody looks younger than they should, and don't know him. He realises this, but bellows and screams at everybody about who he is anyway, and insists that they recognise him. I'm not sure what the point of this scene is, other than to make Tony look a bit pathetic, but fortunately it's over with pretty quickly. Then it's back to business as normal, tumbling about in the Disco Tunnel, and hoping each time that their next leap will be the leap home. Or something.

Not the finest beginning to a series ever, but it gets better. And always remember that it could have been so very much worse.

Meanwhile, it's pretty picture time.

An underground base. Everybody must have been very proud of this base, because they show it to us every ten seconds in the pilot. Possibly to make up for the fact that they'd put so much work into it, and then never really needed it again.

Yes... You know, Project Tic-Toc might find itself a little less strapped for cash if it didn't keep building itself such ostentatious lifts.

It really is a very nice underground base, isn't it.

The Time Tunnel.

And did we mention that we have an exciting underground base?

Doctor Doug Phillips, winner of Mr Square-Jaw-And-Shoulders 1966.

Doctor Tony Newman, for once not dressed in green.

Tony blows himself up in the name of budgetary constraints.

And check out our underground base!

Having found himself aboard the Titanic, Tony sets about telling everybody that they're going to sink. Which he knows, see, because he was born in 1938, see, and "You have to believe me!"

Back in the sixties, Doug prepares to follow Tony, taking with him a 1912 newspaper with a Titanic headline as proof of what's going to happen. Yes, Doug. Absolutely they'll believe you, and your obviously real, time-travelling newspaper, which couldn't in any way be faked at all, oh no. His belief in that newspaper is really quite sweet.

The control room. This, for me, is the show's biggest failing. Every five minutes we leave the interesting, time-travelling action, and skip back to the sixties to watch some people worrying about Doug and Tony. They sit there and press buttons, and explain bits of plot for the hard of understanding, and it really kills the pace. Also, one of the technicians is ghastly. His name is Jerry, and he sobs about the danger every five minutes. He badly needs to explode.

This is the show's other main failing. I realise that there had to be a way of getting the boys falling about through time, but I'm sure there could have been a better way to do it than this. The people back at Project HQ can snatch Doug and Tony from wherever they are in time, and set them back in free fall. Conveniently they can do this whenever the boys are in mortal peril; but conveniently for the plot, they need the length of an average episode to get an accurate fix. This leads to many lame moments where the gang back at HQ worry about the boys, but have to come up with increasingly rubbish reasons why they can't rescue them. Basically "We can't rescue them until the episode's about to end, otherwise it won't be exciting enough." This can get pretty excruciating, and I really do wish that the whole headquarters thing had been dispensed with after the pilot. In Voyagers! they controlled their own time travelling, and in Quantum Leap Sam Leaped after completing a mission, and both of these are infinitely preferable to a gaggle of co-stars watching everything on a magic TV, interfering all the time and ruining the tension.

Tumbling through time.

A trip to Mars in 1978. I love the idea that NASA would have a spaceship capable of generating its own gravity (and air, apparently) by the end of the seventies. I wish they'd been right.

The spaceship departs at the end of the longest twenty-two minutes in the history of inexplicable time limits, leaving Doug and Tony behind on the moon. Naturally this is the moment when HQ is finally able to get a fix and transport them. Why this procedure always causes them to change clothes, I have no idea. It's very useful for the costume department, and even more useful for the schedulers, since it allows episodes to be shown in any order. It's still a bit baffling, though. It certainly can't be anything to do with them reverting to some sort of default setting either, since on Doug's first trip he was wearing a silly hat.

Bless them, they get so excited.

Cue wibbly music.

I should add that Murray Leinster wrote two books called The Time Tunnel (actually, I think one didn't have the "The"). The first dates from c. 1964, and has a plot completely unrelated to the TV series (although I wouldn't put it past Irwin Allen to have nicked the title!). The second dates from around 1966 or '67, and is The Novelisation Of Great Facepalm. Just in case anybody wants to destroy their brain in an effort to read it. Well, somebody might.

Next on The Time Tunnel, the world is about to end. Or probably it isn't, but that wouldn't have been such a good cliffhanger.


( 5 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Jun. 14th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
That was pretty much my opinion of the control room too. Just as things are getting really exciting, they take us away from the action for ten minutes of a lot of people talking about how there's nothing they can do. Well shut up and go away then, and let us get back to the exciting bit!

Other than that it's a good show. James Darren's a good lead, but the other one's a bit wooden.

And I want an underground base.
Jun. 14th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
With a pterodactyl in it? ;)

Yes, the control room is getting a bit beyond a joke now, and just a few episodes in. I was watching an episode last night where Tony was having a great fight, and the tension was building nicely; and then suddenly - blam! - we're back in 1968, watching some people press buttons and talk about how he's on his own. It completely destroys the atmosphere. The time travel stuff is good, though, and so are Doug and Tony. Mind you, the fact that they keeping falling into old movies is getting rather funny. :D
Jun. 15th, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC)
Yes. :D You just know somebody was going through all the old films, deciding which bits they could borrow and build an adventure around. Irwin Allen loved stock footage!

Not sure if they could have got rid of the control room? Using it less would definitely have been better though. Bookending scenes at the beginning and end of the episodes or something.
Jun. 15th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
I think they could have got rid of the control room easy enough. No way would somebody invent something like the time tunnel without having a remote device of some kind, so that people who travelled through it could get themselves back. Obviously it wouldn't work, and they could still use the "it needs to get a proper fix" excuse for not leaving as soon as things get dicey. Then there'd also be some added drama with them losing the thing, or having it stolen occasionally. Far easier on the budget than employing all those extra actors, too! ;)
Jun. 17th, 2011 02:04 pm (UTC)
That could work, certainly. And it could be funky sixties tech. That would be cool. Maybe like watches or something like that. Gratuitous flashing lights ahoy. :)
( 5 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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