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Indians in The Time Tunnel
(3/17/08)


Let's travel back in time to view a classic TV show: one with swinging guys, subservient gals, and stereotypical villains.

As a child of the 1960s, I watched TV constantly. Kid shows: Bozo the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, Sheriff John, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, The Mickey Mouse Club. Cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Astro Boy, Gigantor, Thunderbirds. Hanna-Barbera cartoons: Ruff and Ready, Tennessee Tuxedo, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones. Old-time adventures: Lassie, Sky King, Superman, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger. Comedies: Gilligan's Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, That Girl, Bewitched. Ocean-based adventures (the sea was big then): Marine Boy, Sea Hunt, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flipper, The Superman/Aquaman Hour. Campy sci-fi and spy adventures: Lost in Space, Get Smart, Wild Wild West, Batman, Land of the Giants. (I probably didn't see much Star Trek until it came on it reruns.)

But one show always stuck in my mind. One that seemed weirder and cooler than the others. I'm talking about The Time Tunnel, of course:

Two American scientists are lost in a swirling maze of past and future ages during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret projectóthe Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new, fantastic adventure somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.

The Time Tunnel opening narration
I could go on about the pluses and minuses of The Time Tunnel, but you can read about the series here:

Irwin Allen's Time Tunnel

The Time Tunnel: Volume One

Time Travel Television Reviews: Time Tunnel

The Time Tunnel

Maybe it was because the shows were set in strange times and places and I didn't quite understand what was going on. Or because it lasted only one season and wasn't repeated ad nauseam. But for 40 I've been thinking about the show and wondering what it was like.

40 years later
Now, finally, it's out on DVD. I watched the first 15 episodes and I must say...it was pretty lame. Except for the first episode, which everyone agrees was good, the series was pure potboiler with little or no substance. The shows were poorly conceived, with mistakes such as:

Doug and Tony knew they were being monitored by their colleagues, but (after the first couple of episodes) rarely spoke to them or asked for help.

Tony and Doug always reverted to the same clothes when they transfer, a green turtleneck sweater and a conservative Norfolk suit, which were magically cleaned and pressed before their passage to the next time.

Everywhere they went people always spoke 20th-century American English.

Another problem was the obvious Western bias of the show. Non-Westernersóthe primitives on Krakatoa, the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the Russian scientists, the Mexican army, the Afghan rebelsówere portrayed as savages, hordes, or evildoers. Moreover, except for the Japanese, they were all played by the usual suspects: Italians, Greeks, or Latinos who could pass for other ethnicities. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a single black person on the show.

With 10 of the first 15 episodes set in and around the 19th century (1790-1920), it was all but certain that one episode would feature Indians. So I wasn't surprised when Doug and Tony dropped into the site of a "Massacre" (the title of the episode). Our boys land somewhere in the American West amid the bodies of Civil War soldiers. Suddenly, three Indians on horseback ride them down.

You can see the intro of "Massacre" here:

Time Tunnel: Season 1, Episode 8: Massacre

"Massacre"
Here's the plot of this episode:

The guys arrive in South Dakota in June 24, 1876, near Little Bighorn. They are captured by Indians, although Doug manages to escape and make it to Custer's camp. Custer refuses to believe Doug's tale. Meanwhile, Tony has tried to warn Sitting Bull. The Indians prepare to burn Tony at the stake, but Sitting Bull intervenes, impressed by Tony's bravery. A trial-by-combat settles the matter when Tony wins against Yellow Elk but spares his life. Tony tries to convince Sitting Bull to approach Custer peacefully, much to the disgruntlement and skepticism of Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull lets Tony go to Custer's camp with a message of peace, but Custer refuses it and locks both travellers up. They manage to escape, and are forced to watch as history plays itself out and Custer and his men are massacred.Produced midway between the monolithic 1950s and the multifaceted 1970s, "Massacre" was an amalgam of mindless stereotyping and dawning awareness. Here's my take on it:

The good

The bad

The ugly

Conclusion

As a historical curiosity, a record of our thinking about Indians at the time, "Massacre" may be worth watching. As a TV drama, it leaves a lot to be desired. I'd give it about a 5.5 of 10.

Related links
TV shows featuring Indians


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