The Time Tunnel

English version of the DVD booklet for the re-release of the tv series “The Time Tunnel” 


Irwin Allen Biography

Irwin Allen was born in New York in 1916, but already at the age of 22 he was drawn in by the allure of Hollywood, where his degree in journalism soon secured him work as a writer. But Allen was a born showman and fell in love with Hollywood, that grand machinery that produced the moving pictures. Thus, after a while he became a filmmaker and at first directed documentaries like The Sea Around Us (1950), which even earned him an Oscar. He soon realized though that his desire for spectacle and entertainment was better fulfilled in fictional films with striking special effects.

The Animal World (1956) marks his departure from pure documentary, blending that genre with sensational scenes that should become his trademark. In the case of The Animal World, Allen combined animal documentary with stop motion scenes of dinosaurs, which was only a small step from the dinosaurs in his first fantastic film project The Lost World (1960). In this film, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, dinosaurs did not just appear but played the main role – this time in the form of alligators and lizards dressed up by creative make-up artists.

It is precisely these scenes that elucidate another of Allen’s hallmarks because they repeatedly crop up in his tv-series in the form of archival material re-used for his other productions. He was a professed recycler of pre-filmed material and re-used scenes from the rich studio archives in order to keep his shows, such as The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) within acceptable budgetary boundaries and still be able to tell grandly spectacular stories. He was known to be frugal to the point of being a miser, but he nonetheless managed to negotiate large production budgets for his series (e.g. for Land of the Giants [1968-70] $250.000 budget per episode). He even risked cancellation of a show rather than accepting the studio’s budgetary cuts.

This way, Allen was able to produce four successful shows during the 1960s, which have been raised to cult status by science fiction fans around the world. Aside from Voyage and Giants, he produced Lost in Space (1965-68) and The Time Tunnel (1966-67), which received the most praise and enthusiasm by fans and has become a cult classic. The 1970s saw Allen return to the movie set for the praised direction of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) while his tv-productions like The Swiss Family Robinson (1975) could not reach his former successes of the 1960s .

His predilection for action films and movies about catastrophe, of which he produced around a dozen films during the 1970s, brought him the Hollywood nickname and infamous title of “Master of Disaster”. During the 1980s he tried a return to the genre of science fiction but could not convince his fans. His tv-production of Alice in Wonderland (1985) ultimately marked the last success of his career. No matter how his last productions were seen though, his fans will remember Allen, long after his death in 1991, for his innovative tv-series, his spectacular action scenes and his famous dictum: “If I can’t blow up the world in the first ten minutes then the show is a flop.”

The Time Tunnel – History of the production

It was Friday night, on September 9th in 1966, when The Time Tunnel premiered on ABC and already the series had to fight the strangest odds to become a success. In contrast to the Allen shows The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, both of which had an uncomplicated start due to air time slots without much competition, CBS and NBC both held the cards for Friday nights with their hit shows The Wild Wild West (1965-69) and Tarzan (1966-69). Both shows had been successful for a while and thus already established themselves in the Friday night prime time spot. To add to the problems, ABC had decided to place The Time Tunnel on the half hour slot after its superhero show The Green Hornet (1966-67) so that potential viewers would not only miss the end of said shows but also the beginning of the following shows, Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71, CBS) or The Man from UNCLE (1964-68). Since all four shows were highly regarded by viewers, The Time Tunnel faced a stiff competition during its inauguration.

Nobody knew, when the show premiered, that only the day before a science fiction franchise debuted that should, viewed in historical hindsight, eclipse the success of all of Irwin Allen’s shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Still, the show’s time travel adventures found an audience and even though it did not become an immediate financial success, it had gathered enough viewers in the relevant target group during its first season to convince ABC of renewing the show for a second season. But there is no second season, not because Allen rather opted for cancellation, as he did with Lost in Space, than accept budgetary cuts. And not because there was too little an audience, but rather because ABC had changed management and the new powers that be decided to revise the decision and cancelled the show for programming reasons. As a consequence it rained protest letters and calls when ABC announced the cancellation in 1967 and the series has until today kept a devoted following. Reruns of the show continue to thrive and receive good ratings. Similarly, the cultural influence of the show and its time travel motive can be felt throughout decades of science fiction on tv.

One reason for the show’s continuous success might be found in its target audience in the 1960s. While the 1950s have been named the “adult western” era by scholars, programmers in the 1960s for the first time realized that a much younger audience had discovered the medium and tried producing more juvenile shows accordingly. Many of those shows were meant to be mostly entertaining and did not need a sophisticated story line. They emphazised spectacular effects and flashy showmanship rather than elaborate stories and credible character development. It seems obvious why Irwin Allen was the right man for those shows, winning an audience with grand special effects and sensational story settings. In science fiction is a widely known truism that the “Golden Age” of SF is twelve. At twelve years old, most science fiction fans are won over for life and never loose their taste for the otherworldly: aliens, space ships, robots and foreign worlds are the stuff of dreams – at the age of twelve. But behind this platitude lurks a truth about Allen’s shows as they catered perfectly to the teenagers’ hunger for sensation, their desire for exotic places and far and foreign times, their need for adventure and escapism. It is precisely these teenagers, the last wave of post-World War II baby boomers that became the first generation of science fiction fans to grow up with television as a medium. They replaced 1940s and 1950s pulp magazines with the serial thrill of television entertainment and in becoming adults have nurtured a nostalgic feeling for their favorite tv-shows. Their ongoing interest in The Time Tunnel has made the show a cult classic of science fiction television.


German Localization of the Show

German television of the 1960s was preoccupied with discussing the merit and purpose of tv shows, especially taking into account the what German legislation called tv’s “educational mandate”. Thus, it took responsible managers quite a while before they became convinced of the benefits of serial production and broadcasting of tv serials and series. Their prejudices were too grave, that tv series might be considered the tv equivalent of pulp magazines and that masses of viewers would only be served escapism fantasies. Consequently, US-productions of series were only reluctantly bought and dubbed for German audiences.

This climate of hesitance might also explain why the German ARD decided to buy and release only 13 of the original 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel. Allens flamboyant penchant for sensation, his use of abstruse alien invasions and the in part ludicrous plot devices of the show were kept in check by limiting the broadcast to 13 episodes. The ARD officials concentrated their efforts on episodes which dealt with relevant events in world history and for example ignored too obvious US-centric topics, as well as all those episodes that would not conform to standards of sophisticated entertainment. As a result German viewers never got to see the antics of Allen’s infamous rubber masked aliens in the Wild West (as in “Visitors from Beyond the Stars”).

When the ARD decided to present The Time Tunnel to its German audience in 1971, they chose the 13 most suitable episodes and had them localized by experienced voice actors. For the German synchronization Peter Kirchberger (Tony Newman), Horst Stark (Doug Philips – who was renamed Dan Philips for German audiences), Helmo Kindermann (General Heywood Kirk), Renate Pichler (Dr. Ann MacGeregor) and Günther Jerschke (Dr. Raymond Swain) were won as performers of the main cast. Kirchberger was known to audiences as the distinctive German voice of Elvis Presley, whereas Stark was popular for his performance as Adam Cartwright from Bonanza. Similarly, Kindermann (as the voice of Charlton Heston and Marhall Thompson from tv-hit Daktari), Pichler (as an actress in German tv-series such as Hafenpolizei) and Jerschke (as well-known film and tv actor of the 1950s) were known and well-liked by the German television audience. It is mostly due to their excellent work that the original dubbing, made in 1971, remains a favorite with the German audience for its authenticity and gravitas. Another alternative dubbing, made in 1997 by the private station Sat.1, which even provided German versions for all 30 episodes, on the other hand did not fare as well. The time distance of 30 years to its production and the already mentioned more ludicrous episodes resulted in a different approach to the synchronization. The new version won Gernot Endemann (Tony Newman) and Edgar Hoppe (Doug Phillips) as performers but was modernized in speech and style. This resulted in the series feeling like a farce and sometimes provided unwarranted comedy where seriousness should have prevailed. The 1971 version of the series though, proved to take Allen’s show seriously and consequently refers back to the German discussion of merit and purpose of tv entertainment. In spite of all the action, special effects and sensationalism, Allen did not set out to produce a comedy but rather great entertainment and adventure for Friday night. Especially the show’s care in researching historical facts and transporting it in each episode is characteristic of the show’s value. The misplaced modernization, slang and ironic style of the 1997 German dubbing could not, in the eyes of fans, do the show justice.

As is often the case in science fiction, especially in Germany, The Time Tunnel is easily (and mistakenly) assessed as a juvenile or pulp production. This happened a few years ago, for example, with the first DVD release of the series which attracted attention mostly for its low quality and cheap production value. The relevance of the series for Allen Irwin, for science fiction as a genre and for the fans was not reflected in this boxed set of the original 30 episodes and the 1997 dubbing. As was to be expected, resistance of fans soon formed against this devaluation of their favorite show. It is the express purpose of this latest DVD release to alleviate this injustice and to provide fans, for the first time since its first run in 1971, with the original ARD-version of the series. The show has been restored to its former glory and this DVD box allows fans to revisit the past – as if the episodes themselves made use of the time tunnel.


Translation of DVD Booklet for Studio Hamburg release of the German series.