Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time...the Final Frontier - The Best Episode of THE TIME TUNNEL...was the classic STAR TREK episode "The City on the Edge of Forever"!

Every few years, I'll pull out the two volume DVD sets and watch all 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel.  It's a good show - no doubt about it.  The production values (extensive use of stock footage aside) are superb....even nearly 50 years later, The Time Tunnel is an impressive production.  However, every time I watch an episode - any episode - I'm left with the nagging feeling that the series could have - and should have been so much better than it was.  As I said, it's a good show - but not a great one and that's a shame.  None of the episodes seem to have that magical, vital "sparkle" to make them something truly special.  Creator Irwin Allen had little use for characterization or stories with an "emotional" angle to them.  This may or may not be a direct quote, but from all accounts Allen saw The Time Tunnel as a "running and jumping" show - high on action, low on emotion or characterization.  The Time Tunnel premiered on ABC-TV on September 9, 1966 - only 24 hours after the premiere of Star Trek on NBC-TV on September 8, 1966!  Nearly fifty years later, Star Trek is widely considered to be **the** Greatest sci-fi TV series of all time...while The Time Tunnel is merely a footnote.

The last episode of The Time Tunnel aired on April 7, 1967 - an over-the-top "alien" episode called "Town of Terror".  A mere 24 hours earlier on April 6, 1967, Star Trek aired the single best time-travel episode of ANY television series, the undeniable classic "The City on the Edge of Forever"; written by Harlan Ellison [I won't go into the well-known controversy that Gene Roddenberry - and other members of the Star Trek creative team - extensively re-wrote this episode over Harlan Ellison's objections] and directed by Joseph Pevney.  Watch this amazing episode of Star Trek....and any episode of The Time Tunnel will appear hopelessly outclassed!

How is it possible that the best episode of The Time Tunnel (which aired concurrently with Star Trek's first season) was produced as an episode of Star Trek instead?  It's weird to think that when Star Trek steps into Time Tunnel territory with a time travel story - the result is "The City on the Edge of Forever"...a Masterpiece for the Ages!  Conversely, when Time Tunnel steps into Star Trek territory with several infamous "alien" episodes ("Visitors from Beyond the Stars", "Chase Through Time", "Raiders from Outer Space", "Town of Terror")...the results are...far less than "stellar".  Most Time Tunnel fans absolutely cringe when the topic of the "alien" episodes comes up...!  These episodes - although certainly entertaining - are a challenge to take with any degree of seriousness.

Harlan Ellison worked for Irwin Allen in 1964, writing an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea called "The Price of Doom" which aired on ABC-TV on October 12, 1964.  Ellison's unhappy experience (to put it mildly!) with Irwin Allen regarding this episode has been well documented elsewhere, so I won't go into in here.  This may be a stretch, but maybe in some alternate reality somewhere, "The City on the Edge of Forever" **might** have been pitched to Irwin an episode of The Time Tunnel!  It's interesting to speculate for a moment, how a Time Tunnel version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" might have played.  Perhaps General Heywood Kirk could have been accidentally injected with an experimental drug and then jumped through the Time Tunnel in a madness induced frenzy that alters history.  Dr. Ann MacGregor could have shifted Tony and Doug in their time travels in order to follow the General....and all three might have ended up in 1930's Depression Era New York.  Tony or Doug (but probably Tony) might have met and fallen in love with Edith Keeler....and so on.  Could this classic scenario have worked in the stiff, rigid (let's face it - emotionally vacant) Time Tunnel format?  Who knows?  Quite frankly - I doubt it!  It's interesting to speculate though...!

The Guardian of Forever
 shows the Enterprise crew the distant past  
Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever
The time tunnel control room
The Time Tunnel

Spock and Kirk travel through
the time portal to Earth's past
Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever
 (NBC-TV, April 6, 1967)

Tony and Doug travel through the time tunnel
The Time Tunnel (ABC-TV, 1966 - 67)
The Time Tunnel is copyright (c) 20th Century Fox and Irwin Allen Productions; created by Irwin Allen.
Star Trek is copyright (c) CBS / Paramount; created by Gene Roddenberry.