Monday, September 09, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Do You Remember These 1960s Science Fiction TV Series?" Edition

I had something a little different planned for today's Movie Monday. And then I found this while I was looking around for something else on YouTube:

This short documentary (with bonus Bill Mumy) highlights four science fiction television series from the 1960s that are widely considered to be "bad" science fiction, but which were fixtures of my television experience during those years. And, indeed, seen from today, they were mostly bad. The writing was often horrible. The production values, especially compared with what we see on-screen today, even in television, were lacking. The acting was sometimes, well, hammy, although not necessarily much better than other television acting at the time. All of them were produced by Irwin Allen.

All the same, I loved those shows as a child and early adolescent.

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was the first of the shows covered in the clip above, beginning September 14, 1964 and running through 1968. This show is old enough that the first season was shot in black and white. There were four seasons and 110 episodes of the show, which grew out of the 1961 film of the same name, also produced by Allen. This was a great favorite in our house, for all that my father and I would sit there and make fun of the pinging sound that was often in the background. We called it "sea chickens". The show consisted of the continuing adventures of the nuclear submarine Seaview and its crew, which was tasked with doing undersea research and, oh, yeah, saving the world on a regular basis.

"Lost in Space" came next, running from September 15, 1965, through the end of the 1968 television season. Again, the first season was shot in black and white. This was a sort of "Swiss Family Robinson" in space, and in fact the family that made up most of the crew of the Jupiter 2, their spaceship, was named Robinson. There were the mother and father, Doctors John and Maureen Robinson; their older daughter, Judy; a younger daughter, Penny; and the youngest, their son Will. In addition, there was the pilot, a military man, Major Don West. There was also a stowaway, Dr. Zachary Smith. Dr. Smith set out to sabotage the mission, and instead because stuck on the ship. His botched attempt at sabotage was the reason the mission got lost. Intended to only remain for the first few episodes of the show, Dr. Smith became sort of the bumbling villain you loved to hate. There was also Robot who, despite being a robot, became an essential character in the show, and his most famous and repeated line, "Danger, Will Robinson", has become iconic. If you were there at the time, you probably remember this:

Yes, I was a confirmed "Lost in Space" fan, for all of its silly stories and shaky sets, even after "Star Trek" came along in 1966, with similar production values but much better stories and writing. I loved (and still love) "Star Trek" in it's original incarnation, but "Lost in Space" was still something I loved to watch. Of course, I was nine years old when it began, but still...

Next in the Irwin Allen universe came "The Time Tunnel" which, coincidentally, debuted on September 9, 1966. I knew there was a reason why I wanted to write this post today. "The Time Tunnel" only lasted one season, probably deservedly. But it was time travel, and time travel stories are probably my favorite flavor of science fiction. The premise of the show was that the government had sunk ten years and billions of dollars into a secret project to determine if time travel was possible. The time had come to either prove the project, immediately, or have their funding cut off. One of the directors of the project, Dr. Tony Newman, says he is willing to be the guinea pig and try to travel into time, but he is turned down by another of the three directors, Dr. Doug Phillips. Dr. Newman sneaks into the lab that night, powers up the time tunnel, and disappears into it and, presumably, into time somewhere. Feeling responsible, Dr. Phillips follows him. But something goes wrong and the two of them spend the rest of the series being shuttled from time to time, getting into trouble everywhere they go.

Again, the acting wasn't top-tier, some of the writing wasn't the best, and the production values, despite what is said in the clip at the beginning of the post, weren't top-notch. But it was time-travel stories, and I watched faithfully.

And then there was "Land of the Giants", which ran for two seasons, from September 22, 1968 through 1970. This was my least favorite of the four series. I think this has to do with the fact that by the time the show debuted, I was older, entering junior high, and my demands for story in TV had grown a bit, helped along by having watched "Star Trek" since it's beginning. The premise in "Land of the Giants" was that a suborbital ship making a run from Los Angeles to London ran into some sort of anomaly at the edge of space, sending the ship and its crew to a planet where everything, including the inhabitants, are much larger than on Earth. It turns out that this particular craft is not the only one to have come to the planet by the same means, but their crews had never fared very well, and none had ever returned to Earth. This does not stop this group of travelers from attempting to repair their craft and return to Earth, but during the run of the series, they never make it back to their home planet.

No point to all this, really, I suppose. Just a remembrance of the television I used to watch. With the exception of "Lost in Space" which got the big-screen treatment in 1998 in a film starring William Hurt and Gary Oldman (and which I have not seen), and the fact that "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", the series, came out of an original film, there is no real connection between any of these four series and the movies I usually write about here on Movie Mondays. Although, to be honest, I'd like to see someone try to translate "The Time Tunnel" to the big screen with today's production values and much bigger budgets.

Oh, and the idea that television, especially science fiction television, was not always necessarily the best of TV in the past, it was often the most fun. But that might just be my inner science fiction geek talking.

No comments: