Remote Outpost: THE SCIENCE FICTION TV SHOWS OF IRWIN ALLEN! – PART 2
Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
This week: A VOYAGE OF THE LOST IN THE TIME OF GIANTS
PART 2 OF 2
Hello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter……And now back to the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen!
Our third entry from Irwin Allen was my favorite show of his, THE TIME TUNNEL. Ironically, it is also his least successful, lasting only one season from September 9, 1966 to April 7, 1967. The Time Tunnel is a secret government installation under the Arizona desert, code named Project Tic-Toc. The only way inside was via a large secret panel in the desert floor; when it opened, a car could descend into the complex. The Tic-Toc base was a futuristic series of complexes 800 floors deep and employing over 36,000 people (“12 thousand people in each of those complexes”). Its design was inspired by the complex of the Krell in FORBIDDEN PLANET.
In the pilot, a senator tours the facility and concludes it is a waste of money—he is going to shut it down. To prevent this, headstrong young physicist Anthony “Tony” Newman, dressed in slacks and a swingin’ green turtleneck, powers up the giant device all alone and plunges in—and lands on the deck of the Titanic. (Ironic horn sound effect here). Tony tries to convince the Captain that the ship is doomed, and is thrown in the brig. Dr. Doug Philips is outfitted with a suit from the period and sent after Tony. He is successfully placed on the Titanic, armed with a newspaper that shows the Titanic sank (Remember, the DVD with Leo and Kate hadn’t been invented, yet). The Captain (Michael Rennie of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 1951) throws the newspaper away, and throws Doug in the brig as well.
Tony and Doug do manage to escape and help evacuate the sinking ship—just when it seems like our heroes will perish, the crack team of scientists at the Time Tunnel pluck them from the icy waters and send them tumbling through psychedelic corridors of time, to land in the next historically-vital time and place. They never land somewhere insignificant or devoid of people; they never run into anyone that doesn’t speak English; and their clothes were always clean and fresh (Doug’s even update to a more modern look). And, since Irwin Allen was at the helm, they run into their share of aliens. Allen seemed especially fond of spray painting people silver and putting them in a spacesuit or metallic garb – voila, alien!
THE TIME TUNNEL starred James Darren as Tony and Robert Colbert as Doug. James Darren was a handsome fellow who was in a lot of GIDGET movies before becoming lost in time… He later found himself working as a cop on a series called T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), opposite some unknown named William Shatner. Robert Colbert (no relation to Stephen) was a workman-like actor who appeared in films like MACABRE (1958) and guest-starred on about a zillion series.
Back at the lab, always reliable Whit Bissell was Lt. General Heywood Kirk, John Zaremba was Dr. Raymond Swain and the lovely Lee Merriwether was Dr. Ann MacGregor. Whit Bissell is best remembered for turning Michael Landon into a Lettermen-jacketed lycanthrope in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), but he was also Dr. Frankenstein in the same year’s I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN —clearly, a bad influence on teens. Whit also appeared in THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and SOYLENT GREEN (1973). John Zaremba appeared in EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). Lee Merriwether was Catwoman in the BATMAN movie of 1966 (she was neither as sexy as Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt on the subsequent TV series). She, like the others, did a ton of TV, but I seemed to confuse her with Mariette Hartley, who seduced Mr. Spock in “All Our Yesterdays”. Sorry, Lee.
Dr. Ann was in love with Doug, but tried to hide her feelings—though very skilled at her job, various men usually pushed her out of the way with impatience to “get the job done.” THE TIME TUNNEL relied on the notion that “the past is immutable and cannot be altered,” a notion that most of us geeks deny. Every week, Dick Tufeld (who voiced the Robot in LOST IN SPACE) would intone: “Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments of America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Not so infinite, THE TIME TUNNEL only lasted thirty episodes, and the finale put Doug and Tony back on the Titanic… How’s that for a nice one finger salute to the loyal audience?
Irwin Allen’s final excursion into 60s sci-fi was LAND OF THE GIANTS, a series that ran two seasons from September 22, 1968 to March 22, 1970. LAND OF THE GIANTS takes place in the “futuristic” year 1983. Passengers are flying from L.A. to London on the sub-orbital vehicle The Spindrift. The Spindrift passes through a strange cloud and the group crashes on what is either a parallel Earth or an unknown planet in our own solar system (this is never definitively stated and the science is even sloppier than other Allen productions). Anyway, everything on this unknown planet is twelve times larger than our heroes are used to. (If this were a roast on Comedy Central, now would be the time you’d send your kids out of the room.) Apparently, other Earth ships have crashed here before, and the Giants (as our heroes call them) are on the lookout for “little people.” It seems our technology is ahead of theirs, yet the Giants seemed to have mastered cloning and teleportation… Huh?
Our heroes consisted of Captain Steve Burton, Co-Pilot Dan Erickson, Stewardess Heather Young, surly engineer Mark Wilson, pretty Valerie Ames Scott, young boy Barry Lockridge (and his dog Chipper) and the somewhat mysterious and villainous Commander Fitzhugh (a bank robber on the lam). Allen really tried to appeal to all markets with this one—all the men except Fitzhugh were handsome, Valerie wore low-cut tops and mini-skirts (a bit impractical for jungle life and adventurin’) and the relationship between young Barry and Fitzhugh was pretty much identical to Will and Dr. Smith on LOST IN SPACE.
Gary Conway was Captain Steve, and he was the pimply monster in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, mentioned above. He also appeared in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958). Co-Pilot Dan was played by Don Marshall, who was Boma in “The Galileo Seven” on STAR TREK TOS (the officer who mouths off constantly to stoic Mr. Spock) and was a doctor in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), where the head of rich bigot Ray Milland is sewn onto the already-headed body of death row inmate Rosie Grier – why this never became a sitcom, I don’t know. The rest of the cast had many series credits, as actors in Irwin Allen series tend to do, but I would be remiss to all my knife-fightin’ pals if I did not give you a most amazing credit for actress Deanna Lund, who played pretty Valerie Ames Scott. In 1989 Lund would have a role in the movie ELVES, which has this synopsis on IMDB:
“A young woman discovers that she is the focus of an evil Nazi experiment involving selective breeding and summoned elves, an attempt to create a race of supermen. She and two of her friends are trapped in a department store with an elf, and only Dan Haggerty, as the renegade loose-cannon Santa Claus, can save them.” Wow. And again, wow.
(NOTE: By the way, they apparently took a lot of “cheesecake” photos of Deanna Lund with a model of the ship, but nothing of the men—sorry, girls! As far as I can tell—ah, the pains of research—they didn’t do this for any of Irwin Allen’s other shows…)
Beyond the premise that the planet was filled with super-sized people, pets, appliances and breakfast foods, the writers didn’t delve very deeply in the culture, history or politics of the place. The society of the Giants was totalitarian but not very oppressive or militaristic, and most episodes concerned the castaways trying to get home, someone getting caught that had to be rescued, or the Captain preventing them all getting home because the method in question would also allow the Giants access to our world.
The budget per episode was $250,000, which was a record at the time. John “Johnny” Williams wrote the score, which I think may be his worst work—it’s not at all memorable (I could recall the other themes without playing them). The show was cancelled after 51 episodes, and ended without a cliffhanger or the castaways returning home. Despite the presence of Deanna Lund, I grew bored with the series and after just two or three episodes I looked for better fare… I’m sure you did, too. (Looking at the schedule for Sunday nights in 1968, I probably just waited for The FBI, followed by The Smothers Brothers…)
(Static… garbled swearing… feedback) Just a second! Before we lose contact again, I wanted to comment on a modern-day series, AWAKE, the Jason Isaacs series that was cancelled after one season.
(SPOILER ALERT) As you know, the series concerned a police detective who survived a terrible car accident and lives two realities—in one, his wife survived and his son died. In the other, his wife is gone and his son lived. He goes to sleep in one reality and wakes up in the other. He has a different partner in each, and a different therapist, each trying to tell him the other world is but a dream. Often, insights gained in one help him with a different case in the other. I loved this show—it was creative, well-written and had some wonderful actors. My wife (the lovely Tobey Crockett) had the theory that Detective Michael Britten was in a coma—I loved that—and someday he would wake to find both his wife and son alive… Perhaps the conspiracy behind the accident (involving heroin and other cops, including his Captain) would be real, and he would have solved the whole thing while unconscious… beautiful.
So what was the conclusion? IT WAS ALL A DREAM!… Both realities were dreams within a dream that he had in one night – he woke to find his wife and son alive, no accident, and presumably no conspiracy. Show creator Kyle Killen said he always considered one of the realities a dream, but hadn’t decided which one when the cancel order came on down. Now, I am a forgiving, easygoing feller – I liked the conclusion of LOST while others wanted to hunt down everyone from the creators to the caterers… But this… A dream, really? Ack—at least give us a dream while the guy is on a ship to Mars, ala the American version of LIFE ON MARS (2006-2007). I expected more from you, Kyle, who gave us LONE STAR (2010) and who is supposed to reboot Daredevil… A dream—SHEESH!
Outpost… out. (This time for real)
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh