Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who knew Time Travel would be so AGGRAVATING?

The Time Tunnel only ran for one season (1966/67), but it was a rare TV show during the 1960s that didn't get a comic book adaptation no matter how brief its run.

The Time Tunnel comic, in fact, managed a two-issue run. Both had amazingly cool covers painted by George Wilson and both had nice interior art by Tom Gill. And the stories (written by Paul S. Newman) teach us an important lesson about time travel--if you travel to the past, prepare to have the most aggravating time of your life.

There were three stories in the first issue and two in the second. Three of these tales involve Doug and Tony (the two time-lost scientists) desperately trying to warn people about an impending disaster, but failing miserably. In fact, they often end up simply getting themselves in trouble without accomplishing anything useful.

We're going to look at a story from the first issue, in which Doug and Tony try to prevent Lincoln's assassination. But there's a few interesting points about the series as a whole I want to mention first:

1. The character of Lt. Gen. Heyward Kirk, played by the great character actor Whit Bissell, does not appear in any of the tales. There might have been a legal reason for this, but I suspect that the short length of the stories required the cast of regular characters be streamlined a little.

2. In the TV show, everyone always spoke English no matter where and when the main characters appeared. As in Star Trek, the show broke from reality here to avoid unnecessary storytelling complications. In the comics, three of the five stories are set in places where English would have been spoken. A story set in Pompeii had Doug speaking Latin he learned in school. There's a story involving English-speaking Nazis from the future who were trying to use time-traveling nukes to take out the Allied fleet on D-Day--but maybe they were American Nazis, so what the hey.

3. Writer Paul S. Newman was probably given the premise of the show without any details about individual episodes, because the comic and the TV series each have their own versions of Doug and Tony at Little Big Horn, in France on D-Day and on a rocket in the future heading for Mars. Also, both media had a Lincoln assassination story, but the TV show had Doug and Tony foiling a plot in 1861.

Anyway, on to the story:  Doug and Tony find themselves in Washington DC on April 14, 1865--the day Lincoln would be shot. They try to convince the manager at Ford Theater that there's a plot afoot, but (in a nice touch), they remember a detail wrong and discredit themselves.

Next, they try to track down the conspirators to find solid proof of their story, but nearly get arrested as sneak thieves. They attempt to warn Lincoln in person, but someone mistakes their mention of assassination as a threat and they have to run for it again. By now, everyone they've met think they're either nuts or assassins themselves. From Doug and Tony's point-of-view, it really is one enormously aggravating moment after another.

Well, Lincoln is killed and Doug and Tony are thought to be part of the plot: "If they knew, they must have
been in on the conspiracy! Kill them!"  They're actually forced to follow after John Wilkes Booth, which simply makes them seem more guilty. Fortunately, they are teleported away by the Time Tunnel scientists just before they get lynched. Of course, they end up in Pompeii just before the volcano erupts and no one listens to them there either. Time travelling really IS aggravating, isn't it?

It's a fun, well-constructed story, using the idea that everything they do to help backfires against them to successfully generate suspense. Taking the five comic book stories together, it's possible to see in hindsight that the comic depended too often on the heroes trying to change history when they are fated to fail--it meant that they often didn't get to accomplish anything at all. It might have been better focusing on stories that allowed them to save innocent bystanders or achieve other small victories.

On the other hand, one tale does have them saving the D-Day invasion from future Nazis, so perhaps that made poor Doug and Tony feel a little better about time travel.


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