THE TIME TUNNEL
BILLY THE KID
Dir-J. Juran (Nathan Juran--?) That would explain the very tense, crisp direction
After the opening narration, Tony and Doug land out of the time vortex---wait! Stop! A word here about the time tunnel, the time vortex, the popping in and out of people and objects, and Doug and Tony's landings...they don't seem very inter-related to me. I mean we see people enter this long tunnel which must have an end..at least physically it must end at the walls of the complex in the Arizona underground...then we see the same person either travel through the time vortex and more usually and time and money saving, we see them just materialize out of thin air. All of this makes a rather fine visual demonstration but it doesn't explain how the tunnel works...even a little. Is one end in 1968 and the other in the other time zone...in this case April 1881? This was the case in TUNNEL THROUGH TIME, an excellent teen novel from 1966 by Lester Del Rey. Perhaps one end can fluctuate while the other is stable in the present. What I don't see is how walking into the tunnel transfers a person into those twinkly vortex thingies that we see Tony and Doug fly through each episode in one way or the other. At some point in the tunnel, the person or object must dematerialize and materialize in the time vortex (the center?) and then it appears (Tony and Doug usually) that they rip out of it through a hole or tear (?) and land on the ground in the time, the vortex then vanishing (and presumably the tunnel exit?). In other episodes, most notably PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND, people are bopped around by vanishing and reappearing, similarly this is usually how Tony and Doug leave one time at the end of one adventure--they merely vanish...presumably entering the vortex without the physical tunnel walkway. Perhaps the tunnel is just a hypo into the time vortex and somewhat controls where objects and people that work through that hypo go to when they breach out of the vortex. It is all rather nice looking but at times, it relies on the imagination to fill in the gaps between tunnel, vortex, times and vanishings and reappearances. This is not necessarily a bad thing: any TV show that makes you think and imagine is good and THE TIME TUNNEL did both.
After landing in bales of hay, Tony and Doug find themselves in a dark town...a wild west type town with gangs and shootings. They run into an office, finding it to be the sheriff's office with a deputy shaving...named Hayes. A prisoner is in the cell and his gang--looking a wee bit too old to be Billy the Kid's gang--break in and get the deputy over to the cell where the prisoner takes his keys and frees himself.This teenager mocks the deputy, then shoots him in cold blood, despite Tony's attempt to stop the murderer. The boy doesn't take too kindly to this and thinks Tony is a friend of the deputy but Tony tells him he never saw him before this. The killer doesn't seem too worried about Tony and says his name is, "William H. Bonny (Jr. actually)." Tony whispers out the legendary name, "Billy the kid." Billy slyly smiles, "The same." THIS ENDED THE CLIFFHANGER THAT ENDED IDOL OF DEATH. Billy and his gang make fun of Tony and Doug. Doug says, "Wait a minute. You don't understand." Billy replies, "Oh, we understand, you're friends. Your clothes are real pretty," or did he say, "We understand your friends clothes make him look real pretty." I wondered if this just referred to Tony having to put on Billy's hat and jacket or if it referred to something else---some immaturity Billy and his gang were placing on Tony and Doug, making fun of their relationship or what. In any event, they force Tony out of the office wearing Billy's hat and jacket. Doug manages to break clear, get a gun, and shoot Billy! Billy falls, presumed by Doug, the tunnel staff, and his own gang to be dead and it looks like that to the viewers. Doug runs out, meets up with Tony who is on a horse by now, gets on his own horse and shoots so the horses will race off...just as the rest of the gang exit the office and fire their guns after Tony and Doug! This ends the teaser.
The titles introducing act one seem awfully giant again. As the staff watch the cowboys on the tunnel screen, always a visual treat, Ray mentions, "We've never before changed recorded history." It was supposed to be Pat Garrett who killed the kid Ann informs them, adding the month and year Tony and Doug are in is too early--April 1881 and somewhere in SW Arizona or New Mexico. Billy was killed one month later. If Billy is dead, wouldn't recorded history have changed? Or was it wrong in the first place? Or did it change outside the tunnel complex, the tunnel knowledge protecting the memory of Ann, Ray, and Kirk? Or wouldn't they not notice the change...that if Doug did kill him, then all the books would change and so would their recollection of, at least, the month Billy was killed and by who? Anyhow, these complex paradoxes are not to be addressed...Billy isn't dead. Aw, did I spoil it for you? He is alive...the bullet hit his belt buckle! That is a real stretch of believability but it's funny to see his body lying in the cell with the sheet only covering his face, not his whole supposedly dead body. They figure Doug is a hotshot from up north which is funny in and of itself.
At the tunnel, Ray tells Kirk they are experiencing the same pattern: they lose contact for a few hours, only to pick them up again later. Kirk sends Ann to research the time and place of Billy's death while Ray works to correlate the exact spatial coordinates. What is really funny is that later Ann has lots of old library books or some books from research, books that look very old and covered in dust, all lined up on one of the tables in the complex. While this might do for a person like me in 1997, it certainly shouldn't have done for Ann and the Tic Toc complex with computers everywhere...as in other episodes it should have been read outs or reports on paper or on computer. It is silly to see all the old books out but kind of anachronistic too. Glad they did it that way. It makes a great surreal image.
Billy the kid, aka William H. Bonny Jr., was actually born Henry McCarty (and Ann says under this name he killed 12 men) in New York City just as Ann tells Kirk (and on November 23, 1859 which would make him almost 22 and she adds the lower east side). Garrett did have deputies named John Poe and Tip McKinney. Billy did terrorize the land in Lincoln County, New Mexico, getting highly involved in the murder going on there over land and businesses, shooting people in the back and during truces and such. However, when Garrett first caught him it was December 21, 1880 and not in Lincoln County. Billy was first captured by Pat in Stinking Spring, New Mexico. He escaped on April 28, 1881 (somewhat similar to his first escape in this episode), shooting the guard. When Garret caught up with him again it was July 1881 and it was at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Ann claims he was supposed to die three months from the April time they are seeing on the screen--on July 23rd 1881 (the day the episode gives--which is wrong). One source claimed Billy died on July 14th, another on the 15th. Billy's 21st murder victim was Warden Robert W. Ollinger at the Mesilla, New Mexico jail whom he killed April 28th, 1881.
The circumstances surrounding his death and burial were odd, to say the least. Some believe Pat let his old friend Billy live, others say Billy was lead into a trap when a girl he loved was held hostage by lawmen (Pat Garret probably) and they told him to come in gunless (he did and was shot), others say Billy was shot by Pat in the back. As Ann and later Tony claim, there were a lot of legends around Billy the Kid, who supposedly shot 21 men. The fact that two are unknown strangers may or may not be true. There are 19 notches on Billy's gun when Tony and Doug met him. Ann wonders if the next two will be Tony and Doug.
These events and others have been put on film several times (and probably one of those films is where the stock footage in this episode comes from) including a version with Paul Newman. Two more recent films were YOUNG GUNS and YOUNG GUNS II. THE YOUNG RIDERS featured a character known as the Kid but Ty Miller's more soft version of this Kid doesn't seem like Billy the kid as the only name we know him by is the Kid and he is an orphan. This show ran for 3 seasons at least with one special to finish the show off a season after (I think) and is quite good.
Robert Walker Jr. makes a very good Billy the Kid in all respects---he looks just like most of the pictures I've seen of Billy, outfit and all. His use of the word, "Dude," while charismatic, tends to annoy after awhile.
What is interesting about what may seem to be, to some, just a capture and escape type episode, turns out to be a bit more than that. First, 12 hours go by from when Tony and Doug escape the office to when they reach the shack, Doug noting they can't go on blindly in the dark and that they need rest (one of the first times this is noted and one of the times they are together for the almost the entire episode--almost; REIGN OF TERROR has them together for the entire hour!). Apart from that, the question of survival becomes key: not only do they need rest, they need food and water, and light. Tony worried someone might have been in the shack; also worries that someone might see the light Doug sets up so they cover the window. Although they have killed before and after this, this is one of the only times one of them shows extreme remorse--this one being Doug. Tony shakes it off, telling Doug to do the same: he had to or Billy would have killed him. Another rare occurrence (which would repeat itself in the next episode PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND with Tony's water remark) is that one of the pair uses humor when talking to the other. Tony makes a Southern or "cowboy" voice just before he goes out to look for water and food, tipping his cowboy hat--which Doug tilts up. Tony says something about getting vittles and Doug comments he will still be just a tenderfoot. This rare interplay (they hardly have "time" to interact in this light hearted manner) is appreciated, in fact this part of this episode is unique against almost every other episode (with possibly the exception of PIRATES where survival--food and water again becomes key and where, some humor (less prevalent in PIRATES) is allowed.
Tony goes out but Billy the kid (amid very effective VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA first season music) arrives and presents himself pointing his gun at Doug. Apparently the real Billy was bucktoothed and not very good looking.
In act two, Doug tells Billy the truth about time travel and as in other episodes, the person hearing it (Billy) doesn't believe it. Tony comes in and tries to shoot at Billy but the kid shoots Tony's gun from his hand. Ann suggests they do something to distract him; Kirk suggests a voice transmission. Ray warns that will set back their transfer as it will mean using what reserve power they have already managed to store up. Ann argues quickly that it won't do any good to have power to transfer them if one or both of them are dead. She runs to go set up the voice contact to the console. As Billy wisely says, "You won't feel this bullet for a half century or so," Kirk calls to him, telling him he is surrounded and to come out, "...with your hands up." This allows Tony and Doug to distract him with Doug throwing something and both of them using the table to block him, the show using that newest action music which sounds so good but is so brief (first used, I believe in DEATH TRAP). Billy tells Doug something that is hard to hear and adds to go ahead and plug him. Unimportantly, the tunnel complex scenes seem to have a computer clicking sound at this point which is odd but welcome. When Tony goes to town to tell Pat Garrett that they have Billy the kid trapped, the deputies John Poe and McKinney, think he is Billy--since Tony, rather stupidly wore Billy's hat and jacket--the hate at Doug's request! They put Tony in a cell and tell him that he will be hung, each deputy claiming they will swear that he is the kid, even though neither has met Billy!
The town sequence, now mostly in the daytime, is well played. John Crawford is fine as Poe and Pitt Herbert adequate as McKinney. Billy the kid is portrayed as being kindly at times, or at least seemingly educated, yet at other times, downright savage, such as when he unties his hands and uses a pitchfork on Doug, taunting Doug to shoot him, almost as if he wanted Doug to. When Doug escapes Billy and Billy's now-showing-up gang (Doug's escape courtesy of a well made water tower which he went out to for some water for the kid--all the sets here are brilliant), Billy jokes that Doug won't be born for another 50 years.
Pat Garret's timely arrival is also well staged--he rides down the main town area with his face largely unseen, surrounded by townspeople. One of these men is Patrick Culliton, always good in his many roles in Allen productions. Here, Culliton plays one of the leaders of the crowd that wants to hang Tony who they think is Billy. When Garret tells them they should break it up, Culliton's townsperson raises a rope, "We're gonna have us a party, a necktie party," with a smiling face. When the crowd gets very out of hand, shooting at the office, Garret makes Poe fake an abandonment of his deputy services (well acted by Crawford). Poe gets the Murphy boys, who are rounding up cattle, to help him stampede cattle through the town (watched via the tunnel screen by the time tunnel people). While the stock footage of the stampede is fine and the long shots of the cattle running through the town (the sequence and town reminding me of a two part BATMAN episode with Shame, the western villain) are reasonable, the one or two cattle we see in medium shots do not look much like a stampede; however it is not so bad that we cannot enjoy the episode. The stampede is accompanied by more of the same LAST WAGON music (the sequence in THE LAST WAGON that this music is lifted from is when the youngest boy almost is taken by and almost drowns in rapid falls, heralding a fight between the two older boys, one of whom blames the other--played by Nick Adams--for knowing about the dangerous falls).
Despite problems from Garret, Tony leads him to the shack they had Billy tied up in and Tony refuses to believe Doug is dead, "I gotta find Doug," he says and leaves the shack. Pat Garret, to himself, says, "You're gonna need a caretaker, I guess I'm elected." He follows Tony. The tunnel scenes made the action in this episode more tense instead of slowing it down.
Back in the town (in the press kit it was another town--the town of Thatcher), Doug has the classic "draw" twenty paces walking-shoot outs with Billy. While he does, Tony takes care of one of Pat's gang members who was hiding and waiting to shoot Doug. Pat also helps save Doug from Billy's gunning. Doug had thought he'd been hit when Tony and he reunite just after the gunning. Pat arrests Billy and Wilson and takes toward the jail. Billy is the only one who sees Tony (with his jacket on and a rifle still in his hand) and Doug vanish into thin air. He tries to tell Pat, seemingly believing of Doug's story about time travel, "Those dudes, they disappeared." Pat scoffs at this, telling him he wouldn't expect him to believe on old trick like that (something Billy said to Doug). Wilson, the dim witted aide of Billy is played by Harry Lauter who would play Johnson, Lt. on the American ship in the episode PIRATES OF DEADMAN'S ISLAND--the very next episode.
CLIFFHANGER: Tony and Doug fly through the swirling maze and land on a pirate ship. This sequence looks as if it was done with the actors holding onto ropes and swinging down to the deck of the pirate ship set (which is very impressive). Looking up, Doug alerts Tony to the skull and crossbones flag flying on the ship they have just landed on. The pirate ship crew is in battle with a Spanish ship, capturing it and some of its people, killing many of the men in the battle itself. During this battle the same THE LAST WAGON music is used (it is really good action music and I, for one, never tire of hearing it so its use is justified). Capt. Beal and his first mate Mr. Hampton, every bit the treacherous, evil pirates in look, attack and kill men, then see Tony and Doug, rush them. Doug gets a sword from a fallen man and fights with Beal while Tony fights Hampton. They make a good show of it but end up on the deck of the ship...with the two pirates standing over them with their swords...end of cliffhanger.
VOYAGERS! had a fun filled Billy the Kid episode, made all the more fun since it had a child as a character and also was aimed at younger audiences...and Billy was younger than he was in this. DOCTOR WHO had the Gunfight at the OK Corral in THE GUNFIGHTERS which didn't feature Billy the Kid at all but did feature Pat Garret. Then there is the infamous STAR TREK episode SPECTER OF THE GUN.