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The Time Tunnel: Reign of Terror

Tic-Toc Project staff watch a clip of The Purple Mask (1955)
superimposed over the "image area" of the Time Tunnel.
Release Year: 1966
Country: United States
Director: Sobey Martin
Writer: William Welch
Cast: James Darren, Robert Colbert, John Zaremba, Lee Meriwether, Whit Bissell, David Opatoshu, Louis Mercier, Monique Lemaire, Joey Tata, Patrick Michenaud, Tiger Joe Marsh, Howard Culver, Dick Tufeld
Music: John Williams
Company: American Broadcasting Company (ABC)
Runtime: 60 minutes


tory: Intrepid time travelers Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) find themselves on the nighttime streets of Paris during the period of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror. Doug is captured by three guards and placed in a cart to be taken to the guillotine. Tony rescues him and they are hidden by a local shopkeeper (David Opatoshu) who recognizes that they are foreigners and thinks that perhaps they have come to aid in the rescue of Marie Antoinette (Monique LeMaire) and her son, the Dauphin (Pat Michenaud), who are being held captive.

The shopkeeper (David Opatoshu) seeks the assistance
of Tony (James Darren) and Doug (Robert Colbert).
Meanwhile, back at the Time Tunnel Complex in 1968, General Kirk (Whit Bissell) and Tic-Toc Project scientists, Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) and Dr. Ann MacGregor (Lee Merriwether), get a fix on the time and location of Tony and Doug as being in Paris in the early Fall of 1793, and witness daylight executions at the Place de la Révolution on the image area of the Time Tunnel.

In 1793, where it is still night, the shopkeeper explains to Tony and Doug that the Queen had once saved his life, and he now seeks to free her and her son from prison. As they talk, a French officer and some troops come to the door demanding entrance to search for the two enemies of the Revolution who the shopkeeper has been reported to have helped. The shopkeeper denies involvement, but is taken away by the troops.

General Kirk (Whit Bissell) convinces Ray (John Zaremba)
and Ann (Lee Meriwether) to send back his ring.
At Project Tic-Toc, General Kirk gets the idea of irradiating his ring, a family heirloom, and sending it back to Tony and Doug to use as a focus for the Time Tunnel's instruments. On the streets of Paris, Tony and Doug, now dressed as revolutionaries, are making plans to rescue the shopkeeper when General Kirk's ring appears before them. Recognizing the ring as Kirk's, the time travelers realize that it was sent back to help retrieve them. They are interrupted by the French officer and his troops who are still searching the neighborhood for them. As the French officer (also played by Whit Bissell) steps into the light, they see that he resembles General Kirk, and mistakenly think that Kirk has been sent back in costume to help them. The French officer (identified in the cast list as Querque—a Franco-phonetic spelling of "Kirk") has them arrested as royalist spies, and confiscates the ring. Reading the inscription on the ring, "To Axel from M.R. with eternal love," Querque believes it to be proof that Marie Antoinette (aka Marie Reine, French for "Queen Marie") had a lover.

General Kirk (Whit Bissell, right) confronts
Querque (Whit Bissell, left) in the Time Tunnel.
Tony and Doug are thrown into a cell with the shopkeeper where they are questioned by Querque, who explains that he believes the ring was given by Marie Antoinette as a love token to Axel von Fersen some years earlier, and he wants them to confirm his suspicions so he can use the ring as evidence for her conviction and execution. Back at the Time Tunnel, General Kirk is embarrassed that Querque bears such a resemblance to him, and denies that he could have been an ancestor, since his people came from Scotland.

Tony, Doug, and the shopkeeper lure two guards into their cell and overpower them. With Tony and Doug dressed in the guards' uniforms, they escort the shopkeeper from the prison and make plans to break into La Conciergerie to rescue the Queen. Meanwhile, the Time Tunnel staff has lost their fix on Tony and Doug because their instruments are focused on General Kirk's ring, now being worn by Querque. They transfer Querque to their time where Kirk confronts his double and demands his ring back. Querque is confused by the time transfer but refuses to part with the ring, since he believes he needs it to have Marie Antoinette beheaded.

Tony (James Darren), Doug (Robert Colbert) and the shopkeeper
(David Opatoshu) with Marie Antoinette (Monique LeMaire).
From the Time Tunnel Complex, Querque sees Tony, Doug, and the shopkeeper enter Marie Antoinette's cell to warn her about the ring and offer to help her prepare a defense. She acknowledges that she loved Axel von Fersen, and though she maintains she never betrayed France, she tells them that she is beyond help. Querque is furious that they may help the Queen escape, so General Kirk has the Time Tunnel's fix moved up one week to October 15th, so he can witness her execution.

Moving the settings back, Kirk again focuses the Time Tunnel on the Queen's cell. Although they can do nothing for the Queen, Tony and Doug suggest that they may be able to help her son, the Dauphin. Querque is outraged that the time travelers may save the boy, and when General Kirk takes the ring and prepares to send it back to Tony and Doug to again try to retrieve them, Querque rushes into the Tunnel and is sent back to 1793 with the ring.

Lieutenant Bonaparte (Joey Tata) on guard duty at the docks.
The shopkeeper supplies Tony and Doug with false papers, and all three bluff their way into the Temple where the Dauphin is being held under the care of his "tutor" Simon (Louis Mercier). Querque and his men arrive at the Temple and the three barely escape with the Dauphin. In the Time Tunnel Complex, Kirk tells Ray and Ann that Research has informed him that a branch of his ancestors did migrate from France to Scotland, so Querque is apparently one of his ancestors after all. The fact cures him of his ancestor worship.

Tony, Doug, the shopkeeper and the Dauphin, all dressed in civilian clothes, make their way to the docks. As the shopkeeper and the Dauphin hide behind some crates, Tony and Doug show their forged papers to Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte, who comes down from the ship they wish to escape on. As Tony distracts the young Lieutenant with predictions of his future glory, Doug smuggles the shopkeeper and the Dauphin on board. As Tony and Doug join them, Querque arrives and tries to prevent the ship from leaving. Tony and Doug jump from the ship to distract him while the ship sails, and Querque and his men chase them to a dead end. As the French soldiers fire, Tony and Doug are transferred by the Time Tunnel and disappear, along with the ring from Querque's finger.

Tony (James Darren) distracts Lt. Bonaparte (Joey Tata) as
Doug (Robert Colbert) smuggles the shopkeeper (David
Opatoshu) and the Dauphin (Patrick Michenaud) aboard.


omment: The Time Tunnel was a short-lived TV series that should have been much better than it turned out to be. Producer Irwin Allen had already created two science fiction/action adventure programs, Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, when the ABC Television Network approached him about producing a series involving time travel in 1964. Expanding on an idea created by author Murray Leinster in his novel, The Time Tunnel, Irwin Allen developed what should have been a sure-fire winner of a program.

In concept the series was brilliant—set in 1968, two years in the future for the audiences of 1966 when the program initially aired, The Time Tunnel told the story of Project Tic-Toc, a secret underground installation far beneath the Arizona desert. Having been in development for more than eleven years, the vast complex is visited by Senator Clark, who is concerned about the huge amounts of money being spent on the project with little to show in return. Hoping to convince the Senator that the project should continue, two scientists become lost in time when they enter the not-yet perfected Time Tunnel in order to demonstrate that it is not a waste of the taxpayers' money. As the Tic-Toc scientists attempt to rescue the two time travelers, they are transferred to various points in time for a series of weekly adventures.

The Time Tunnel complex, far beneath the Arizona desert.
Unfortunately, the series seldom lived up to its full potential, and often fell victim to sloppy writing and low budgets. For all of his success, Irwin Allen cared little for logical plot development, and strongly believed that any show that featured plenty of explosions and running and jumping could be a success on television. After blowing a large portion of the budget on the admirable pilot episode, Allen sought economies in filming the actual series by cutting any complexity in the scripts and cheapening the sets to the point that they only superficially matched the stock footage from the 20th Century Fox film library that was used to reduce production costs. Other than the pilot and a few stand-out episodes, most of the series failed to deliver on the show's exceptional premise, and the program was cancelled after only one season.

Reign of Terror is one of the more mediocre efforts in the series, and highlights a number of the problems with Allen's production standards. For example, all of the scenes of Tony and Doug on the streets of Paris take place at night, possibly on the same night, and yet the establishing shot of stock footage seen through the Time Tunnel (taken from the 1955 Tony Curtis Napoleonic adventure movie, The Purple Mask) takes place during the day. No attempt has been made to match the set design or even the time of day of the stock footage with the action being filmed for the episode. In addition, practically everything that happens on the streets of Paris during the program appears to happen next to the same Dentiste's office. No attempt has been made to redress the sets to make it appear that they are more extensive than they are.

Another problem is the whole gimmick about Kirk's ring. It's never explained how Kirk's Scottish ancestors came into possession of a ring that had apparently been given by Marie Antoinette to Axel von Fersen, who was a Swedish nobleman. It would have made for an interesting paradox had the ring remained in Querque's possession and had subsequently been handed down to General Kirk, who then sent it to Querque in the first place, but either the thought didn't occur to the writer or he wanted to avoid the paradox. In any event, the ring's existence is an improbable coincidence that merely serves to move the plot along while leaving questions in the viewer's mind.

Despite the show's limitations, it is fondly remembered by devoted fans. Although there was scant character development, all of the leads were likeable and played their parts well. James Darren and Robert Colbert made stalwart heroes, and Lee Merriwether, John Zaremba, and Whit Bissell projected just the right aura of caring and competence. In a handful of episodes a few of the actors had opportunities to add depth to their characters, such as Whit Bissell being allowed to play his regular character and an ancestor in Reign of Terror, and the whole premise of the show was captivating. Although the concept's promise often came up lacking in the execution, there were abundant opportunities to let the viewer's imagination run free.


istorical Context: Another of The Time Tunnel's liabilities was its less than total regard for historical accuracy. Although the outline of the story is correct, Marie Antoinette was held captive in La Conciergerie and had been rumored to have had an affair with Count Axel von Fresen, a number of the details are either a bit off or just plain wrong. For example, although General Kirk states that Marie Antoinette was executed shortly after noon on October 15, 1793, she was actually executed on the 16th.

Louis-Charles, the second son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, no longer had the title of the Dauphin after 1791, but it isn't a stretch to imagine that some royalists may have continued to use that title in reference to him—though he was also known as Louis XVII by royalists after his father's execution in January of 1793. Louis-Charles was held in the Temple under the somewhat dubious care of a cobbler named Antione Simon and his wife during the period covered in this episode, which is why his tutor is called Simon, and was reported to have died in 1795 after considerable suffering, though there was some controversy surrounding his death. Rumors quickly spread that Louis-Charles had actually escaped, and that it was some other poor child who had been buried in his place. With this background in mind, the escape of the Dauphin and the shopkeeper at the end of the episode may have been somewhat believable in 1966. Since then, however, DNA tests on the heart of the child who died in 1793 have proven that he was closely related to Marie Antoinette, so it is much more likely that Louis-Charles actually remained a captive until his early death.

The biggest historical blunder is the appearance of Lieutenant Bonaparte in the episode's closing moments. In October of 1793 Napoleon was already a commander of artillery and was famously engaged in the siege of Toulon. He's wearing the wrong uniform, his hair is too short, and the chances that he would have been back at Paris standing guard duty on the docks were really rather remote.

Availability: Reign of Terror is available on the Time Tunnel, Volume One DVD set at Amazon and other outlets.

References: IMDb; Wikipedia; Alpha Control Press.

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© 2010 by Clark J. Holloway.