Monday, November 12, 2012

Great TV Episodes: The Day The Sky Fell In

“The Day the Sky Fell In”
September 30, 1966
Writer: Ellis St. Joseph
Director: William Hale

THE TIME TUNNEL was the third of four science fiction series Irwin Allen produced for network television in the 1960s. After exploring beneath the ocean’s surface in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and beyond the Earth’s solar system in LOST IN SPACE, Allen decided his next show should traverse the flow of time. Allen, who became a household name in the 1970s as the “Master of Disaster” producer of blockbuster “disaster movies” like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, and THE SWARM, was never accused of thinking small.

James Darren, a handsome young actor and pop singer who had been seen on the big screen in THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and GIDGET, and former Warner Brothers contract player Robert Colbert, who briefly replaced James Garner on MAVERICK, were signed to play the leading roles in Allen’s THE TIME TUNNEL. Scientists Tony Newman (Darren) and Doug Phillips (Colbert) were the two men in charge of Operation Tic-Toc, a major government experiment in time travel taking place at a top-secret underground facility.

Rushed to show results by an impatient senator or have their funds cut off, Tony jumped into the untested Time Tunnel in the pilot episode and became trapped aboard the U.S.S. Titanic on its fateful voyage. Donning period clothing and carrying a newspaper with the next day’s headline, Doug leaped into the tunnel to save his friend’s life, just as the massive ship smashed into the iceberg that would sink it later that evening.

Working feverishly back at the laboratory, Time Tunnel technicians Ann MacGregor (Lee Meriwether), Ray Swain (John Zaremba), and General Haywood Kirk (Whit Bissell) managed to tune in to Doug and Tony, but instead of pulling them back to the present of 1968, only sent them spinning through time to land in a different place and period every week. It could be Little Big Horn during the time of General Custer or a rocketship on a mission to Mars. Neither the time travelers nor the harried staff back at the Time Tunnel knew where Tony and Doug would end up next.

The fourth episode telecast, “The Day the Sky Fell In,” was certainly one of the series’ finest, if not the best. It certainly offered more dramatic chops than Allen’s shows were known for, as VOYAGE and LOST IN SPACE were generally more concerned with colorful monsters, blinking lights, and over-the-top spectacle than characterization. Tony and Doug drop into Honolulu on the evening of December 6, 1941, where an eight-year-old Tony lived with his father, Tony Sr. (Linden Chiles), a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. Lt. Comm. Newman was declared missing in action and assumed killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Tony and Doug rush to warn his father of the attack in hopes of saving his life.

Primarily an action show, Ellis St. Joseph’s script gives equal weight to the pursuit of Tony and Doug by Japanese spies, who are flummoxed by their knowledge of the sneak attack and try to kill them before they can make anyone believe their warnings. But the best parts of the episode are Tony’s scenes with his father, who, of course, refuses to believe the strangers’ paranoid warnings of an attack that could never happen on American soil without the Navy knowing about it.

The first time they meet, it’s at a dinner party Tony remembers attending with his father. As the time travelers attempt to convince Tony Sr. of their story, the young Tony Jr. enters the room, and the tickled look on Colbert’s face as he watches his friend confront himself as a boy may be the most human moment in the entire TIME TUNNEL series.

After being captured and interrogated by Japanese spies, culminating in an exciting fistfight and escape deftly staged by director William Hale, Tony and Doug fail to prevent the attack, of course, but they do manage to get to Tony’s dad on the base and help him use the radio to warn the U.S.S. Enterprise away from Pearl. Chiles and particularly Darren turn in stellar work, as Tony Sr. dies in his son’s arms, content that his son will survive to become an adult.


Tom Doty said...

Interviewed Colbert and Darren at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention last August. They wowed the audience with recollections of making the series and were hilarious. Colbert has a ribald sense of humor that had the SRO crowd in stiches.

Jeffrey Talbot said...

It's great to see THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC 1966-67) get some well-deserved online attention and "The Day the Sky Fell In" (30/09/1966) in particular is certainly one of this classic 1960s SF tv series' outstanding efforts.

What truly marvellous way to relax and enjoy a Friday evening by being entertained by such exceptional television presentation.

I wish that THE TIME TUNNEL had lasted much longer than it.