Thursday, October 15, 2009

Irwin Allen sometimes gets on my nerves.

But Mr. Allen doesn't always get on my nerves. Sometimes--as much by sheer luck than anything else--he manages to entertain me.

Allen is remembered by many people for the seemingly countless disaster movies he produced in the 1970s (including the original Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno), but many science fiction geeks remember the TV shows he produced in the 1960s. Lost in Space was the most successful. And it still has many fans, but in the end, I can't really count myself among them. Poor story construction was all too common in the individual episodes and--I'm sorry--but Dr. Smith is not on my "Favorite Characters of All Time" list. In fact, he literally grates on me.

I appreciate and respect those who enjoy the show for what it is (I can often enjoy silly science fiction myself)--but if I never hear "Oh, the pain, the pain!" or "Danger, Will Robinson!" again, I'll pull through somehow. I will give the show credit for some cool visual designs, though. The Jupiter Two and the Robot both look really good.

Then there's Land of the Giants, in which the crew and passengers of an aircraft fly through a dimensional rift and end up on an alternate Earth where everyone is really, really big. I watched it as a kid, but can't remember any details at all. All the '60s Irwin Allen shows are available on Hulu now, so I'll get around to trying one out eventually.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea started strong and boasted both a good cast and the third best make-believe submarine ever. So it's often a very enjoyable show. The quality dropped in later seasons, though, suffering from the same poor story construction that cursed Lost in Space. All the same, there's some really good science fiction and Cold War yarns scattered around in there.

The Irwin Allen series I remember most fondly is The Time Tunnel, in which a pair of scientists are trapped in the time stream, popping up in different times and places throughout history in every episode. They were at Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, Little Big Horn and aboard the Titanic. And, by golly, they would always get involved. They helped out the French Underground just before D-Day; or fought with the Greeks at Troy; or tried (unsuccessfully) to warn the captain of the Titanic to take a sharp left at that iceberg.

The show benefited from a good cast and a wonderful design for the Time Tunnel facility. It had another thing going for it as well, in that the scientists at the Tunnel trying to rescue their time lost comrades really didn't know what they were doing. The show was successful at portraying them as intelligent, capable people--but it balanced this out by reminding us that they were working with a new technology that hadn't been perfected yet. So they were always trying things that didn't work. I don't remember how many times they accidentally brought the wrong guy forward in time (including Colonel Travis just before the final assault on the Alamo). Once, they snatched up a ticking bomb from Pearl Harbor. Their most entertaining screw-up was when one of the time-lost guys was surrounded by ticked-off Trojan soldiers. They decide to send him back a submachine gun and some grenades to even up the odds and, well, take a look at the episode yourself to see what happens:

If there were ever a case for more Congressional oversight, this is it.

The Time Tunnel only ran for 30 episodes. It is, in some ways, a failed experiment. It would have benefited from more internal continuity. For instance, the rules for whether you could or couldn't change history were never consistent. And the two scientists would always magically "change" cloths back to their original costumes before teleporting to another time. This was done so that the episodes could be shown in any order, but the story possibilties of showing up at, say ancient Troy, while still carrying the German Luger you acquired in 1944 France would have provided a lot of fun and variety.

Also, towards the end of its run, the show did a series of very weak alien invasion episodes (aliens in the Old West, aliens in 19th Century India, aliens in the future) that didn't fit comfortably into the show's theme and inadvertently emphasized its low budget.

But when it was good, The Time Tunnel was a blast. Yes, Irwin Allen did often get on my nerves. But not always. Every once in awhile, he'd do okay.

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