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Feature Story - May 2002

From Here to There and Back
-  TV Time Travel Devices
by Jerome A. Holst    

At the theaters this spring is a fun time travel flick called Clockstoppers. The film follows the antics of a teenager who gets hold of a high-tech wristwatch that has one "way cool" feature. It can stop time. Not completely, but slow it down so much that it appears to stop time. The payoff is that whoever holds the watch is protected in a temporal barrier so they can move about while everyone else seems to stay frozen. The potential for all sorts of teenage pranks and sexual fantasies are mind boggling. Anyway, as I watched the promo for the movie I realized that this plot was awfully familiar. Where had I seen this before?

Flipping through my mind's rolodex of TV shows, I recalled other similar time travel stories like The Twilight Zone episode "A Kind of Stop Watch" about a loudmouth con man who tried to exploit a pocket watch that stops time. And then it occurred to me that Clockstoppers was a remake of The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything Else, an ABC TV movie that aired in the 1970s starring Pam Dawber. Of course, Clockstoppers is filled with more hip teenagers, flashier cloths and dialogue to accompany the times, but, all in all, its the same film. With the focus on "Timepieces" in both these film, it got me thinking about other types of vehicles and devices that have been used to travel through time.

So, for the sake of categorization, let's take a look at what kind of vehicles or mechanisms have been used to achieve time travel on the old boob tube.

The Hand Held Devices

    Omni, The
- Time traveling device used on the science fiction adventure VOYAGERS/NBC/1982-83. The Omni is a gold, hand-held device similar in size to a pocket watch. It was used by travelers knows as Voyagers when they patrolled the corridors of time. A normally functioning Omni glowed red when history was out of sync; and green if history was taking its proper course. One day, an Omni belonging to a Voyager called Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) malfunctioned, causing him to crash-land into the bedroom of Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce), a young boy living in New York City. When Jeffrey's dog ate the Omni's instruction manual, Phineas (more brawn that brain) recruited Jeffrey, an historical whiz kid, to aid him on his assignments until he could get a new instruction manual.

Omni Time Travel Device - VOYAGERS
Close-up of the Omni Device

The Portals & Complexes

    The Time Tunnel - Fantastic time travel device featured on the science fiction adventure THE TIME TUNNEL/ABC/1966-67. Located under the Arizona desert in a secret headquarters called Tic Toc Base, the Time Tunnel was designed to transport men or objects through time. The device was the ultimate invention and potentially the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal of the United States government. Dr. Douglas "Doug" Phillips (Robert Colbert) and Dr. Anthony "Tony" Newman (James Darren) were the chief research scientists on the project. The Time Tunnel project is a large conical shaped tunnel with alternating bands of black and white ringing its interior. Anyone entering the tunnel is bathed in a cloud of blue radioactive particles. These particles enabled the Time Tunnel computer to lock onto travelers and located them in time. Once a traveler had been pinpointed in time, the front of the time tunnel acted as an oval view-screen into the past. This gave the Time Tunnel the ability to record actual events in history and use them for further study.

Ziggy - An unseen computer intelligence on the sci-fi series QUANTUM LEAP/NBC/1989-93. Ziggy was part of a time travel experiment called "Quantum Leap" developed by Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott  Bakula). Forced to prove his theories of time travel or lose his funding, Dr. Beckett entered a time machine and vanished. He found himself transported some thirty years in the past occupying the bodies of strangers. Ziggy was revealed to be a large sphere filled with a bluish liquid. Its voice was female and Sam at one point said he regretted programming Ziggy with the "ego of Barbara Streisand." Ziggy had a memory storage capacity of one billion gigabytes and was programmed not to feel guilt. When Sam said "Gimme what I want, baby," Ziggy responded "Euuu, If you weren't my father."

    WABAC Machine - Time traveling machine on the animated cartoon PEABODY'S IMPROBABLE HISTORY and first seen on THE ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS/ABC/1959-61. The WABAC Machine was created by a bespectacled, white dog with a bow-tie named Mr. Peabody (voice of Bill Scott) who with the assistance of his boy, Sherman (voice of June Foray), traveled back into an "improbable past" to help move along history. The machine was a large cluster of blinking lights and funny sounds with a central time portal entry/exit. Each episode began with Mr. Peabody asking Sherman to "set the WABAC for the year..." and ended with Mr. Peabody telling some awful pun like Sir Isaac Newton's brother, Fig being responsible for the Fig Newton.

WABAC Time Traveling Machine - MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN
Mr. Peabody & Sherman in front of the WABAC

The Sleds & Spheres

    Time Cop's Time Sled - The sci-fi series TIMECOP/ABC/1997 featured the adventures of cocky Timecop Jack Logan (T. W. King) who worked for the Time Enforcement Commission in the year 2007. His mission: to hunt down rogue time travelers and bring them to justice before they can alter the past and thus change history. To accomplish his mission Logan traveled back into time on a time sled. Mounted on rails much like an amusement park ride, the time sled would accelerate towards a wall and just as it appears the sled would crash through it, the time sled time warped into another reality. As Jack Logan once said " "In the past, things were simpler ...There's black and white, right and wrong...There's good and evil...But, that's history...We're not allowed to change history" The TV series is based on the 1994 movie Timecop starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Max Walker a police officer in the year 2004 whose job was to go into the past and stop other time travelers from changing history.

    Back-Step Time Sphere
- Time travel vehicle powered by 100% alien technology featured on the sci-fi series SEVEN DAYS/UPN/1998-2001. Based in the deserts of southern Nevada in an area called Never Never Land, the top-secret Back-Step project credits its existence to alien technology retrieved by the US Government after a crash of a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) in Roswell, New Mexico in 1954. Using fuel found in the alien spacecraft,  members of the Back-Step project routinely send a large blue geodesic-shaped sphere back in time seven days to change the course of history. The Back-step project was headed by Project Head Dr. Bradley Talmadge (Alan Scarfe), who reports to the NSA, and mobilizes his troops into action. His staff included Lt. Frank Parker (Jonathan La Paglia), the chief Back-Step Chrononaut (time traveler), a former Navy SEAL and CIA black ops operative with a photographic memory and an extreme threshold for pain.  As he travels back in time, his cockpit shakes violently while images of the past seven days are seen in reverse. When Parker arrives in the past he quickly reports in by using the password code "Conundrum." When asked about the rigors of time travel, Frank explained traveling through time was like riding inside of a food blender. 

The Do-It-Yourself Devices

    Crime Traveller Time Machine
- On the short-lived but exciting sci-fi series CRIME TRAVELLERS/BBC/1997, police science officer Holly Turner (Chloe Annett) and maverick police detective Jeff Slade traveled back in time to find evidence to solve crimes. They took their excursion via a time machine created by Holly's father, Frederick Turner, an eccentric quantum physics professor. Unfortunately, he disappeared in a loop of infinity and Holly took up her father's research in hope of retrieving him from his temporal purgatory. Holly kept her father's invention a secret until one day she revealed its existence to fellow police officer Jeff Slade. Holly had traveled back in time to prove Slade innocent of false charges that were about to destroy his career. Grateful and curious as to how Holly got the evidence that exonerated him, Slade pushed Holly to explain how she could be at two places at once. Reluctantly, Holly agreed to show Jeff the Time Machine. Holly's time machine was nothing grand in the sci-fi tradition but rather a jumble of wires, circuitry, crystals and DIY technology that cluttered Holly's apartment. The secrets to the invention were a watch that synchronized with the machine's temporal fields and a set of time rules that could not be broken. Holly's machine generates a tachyon bombardment that creates a wormhole and thus allowed travelers to enter the past. 

         Jeff & Holly in front of the Crime Traveler Machine

    Time Helmet - On episode No. 78 "Once Upon a Time" (12/15/61) on the sci-fi anthology TWILIGHT ZONE, Buster Keaton starred as William Mulligan, a clumsy janitor living in the 1890s town of Harmony. Upset with all the noise, Mulligan seeks some peace and quiet. When he sees a "Time Machine" in the form of a helmet created by a local scientist, Mulligan puts it on his head and suddenly appears in the middle of a 1960s traffic-filled street. When Mulligan tries to return to the past, a supposed "Good" Samaritan steals it and tries to travel back in time without Mulligan. Thinking quickly, Mulligan jumps into the time wake created by the helmet, and both he and the Good Samaritan return to the past. While Mulligan was glad to be back home, the man from the 1960s complained about the lack of modern conveniences like TV dinners, electric blankets or girls in bikinis. To shut the man up and get some peace and quiet, Mulligan placed the time helmet on the man's head and sent him back to the future. Moral: The grass isn't always the Twilight Zone.

The Phone Booths

    Circuits of Time Phone Booth
- On the science fiction fantasy BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURES/FOX/1992, teenage rock musicians William "Bill" Preston (Evan Richards) and his pal Theodore "Ted" Logan (Christopher Kennedy) traveled through time in a specially designed phone booth called the "Circuits of Time Phone Booth." When they wanted to transport themselves somewhere in the past or future they entered the booth, closed the door and dialed the number 7560. When they arrived at their destination, they placed an "Out of Order" sign on the booth to protect it. The "Circuits of Time Phone Booth" was the invention of a futuristic society based in the year 2692 founded on the philosophies of the "The Wyld Stallyns" [Bill & Ted's 20th century rock group]. To protect the Bill & Ted [a.k.a. "the Holy Ones,"] the regular "Holy Ones" from the future assigned Rufus (Rick Overton) to safeguard Bill & Ted and thus preserve the peace and harmony of the future. As revered "Holy Ones," Bill & Ted's perks included access to the Circuits of Time Phone Booth in which they had many "most excellent" adventures. 

     T.A.R.D.I.S. - Blue Police Call Box that can travel to any planet, or to any time in history on the British sci-fi series DOCTOR WHO/BBC/1963-89. The TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) carried Time Lord Doctor Who about the universe as he explored strange new species and battled evil. Its piloting system is controlled by a six-sided central console panel that includes such gadgets as the Dematerialization Panel, the Master Control Panel, the Exterior Monitor Panel, the Navigational Control Panel, Auxiliary Systems Panel, and the Informational Controls Panel. The Ship's time rotor (a transparent cylindrical column that rises and falls during each flight) is located at the center of the control console. Above the control console is the power octagon that links with its power source. While traveling through time and space, the Doctor uses a scanner located behind the control console to view the world that exists outside of the TARDIS.

So there you have it, the methods of time travel are varied. Besides the methods mentioned above, you can travel through time in a starship, fall a sleep (shades of Rip Van Winkle) like Lister, a crewman of the spacecraft Red Dwarf who awoke out of stasis three million years later, and/or by the twitch of a nose or the blink of an eye as in Samantha the Witch on Bewitched or Jeannie the Genie of  I Dream of Jeannie. But no matter how you get there, the big question is what are you going to do when you arrive in the past or future. Just go sightseeing? Or change history? Do I see the makings of a good Time Travel plot in the makings? Lets hope so. Time Travel is fun to speculate about and even nicer to experience, if only through the eyes of such intrepid time explorers as Bill and Ted, Dr. Who and the likes.

Gotta go now. Time waits for man. Unless, of course, he's got the right equipment. I'll be back.

See section on TIME MACHINES for a complete list of devices.


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