I’m old enough to remember The Time Tunnel, which ran for one season, 1966-67, on ABC. It’s currently re-airing on MeTV, and this past Saturday night I caught an episode I’d never seen (or at least didn’t remember): #29 (the penultimate one), entitled “Raiders from Outer Space.” The stock 1960s bug-eyed aliens are not actually the most memorable aspect, however; it’s that they invaded Earth in the 1880s, and set up their main base–complete with death rays intended to obliterate London, the capital of our most powerful empire–in Sudan!
This allows the show’s time-traveling protagonists, Drs. Anthony Newman and Douglas Phillips, opportunities not just to fight aliens but the Sudanese Mahdists, and our heroes wind up in besieged Khartoum. Battle footage from the 1955 film Storm Over the Nile is mixed with shots of Tony and Doug helping the Brits fend off the Mahdi’s minions.
Sure, this episode had British officers with American accents, melanin-deprived Sudanese, and alien invaders almost as stupid as those ones in Signs (who were allergic to water, yet tried to take over a planet 70% comprised of the stuff–while naked). But it was great fun. At least for academics who have studied Mahdist Sudan.
And The Time Tunnel, for all of its 1960s-era cheesiness, did at least assume a historically literate audience. Its 30 episodes included ones dealing with the War of 1812, the Trojan War, the Reign of Terror, Kipling’s Afghanistan, the Magna Carta, the Israelite siege of Jericho, Cortes in Mexico, the First Barbary War, Kublai Khan, Arthur’s Merlin, and of course Khartoum. Could a TV show like that even make it past the pitch stage today? I doubt it.
Now I feel an urge to rewatch Chuck Heston take on the Mahdi….