THE TIME TUNNEL
THE GHOST OF NERO
The opening narration goes on as Anthony and Douglas fly through time and land in front of a stone wall with trees, vines, and a few rocks nearby. They are near some type of villa with snow on the ground. They figure the Alps--Northern Italy or Austria. They spot troops walking in the mountains and think they look like World War One uniforms (they also see trucks that look like they have Red Cross emblems on them). As whistling rockets or shells head their way, Doug grabs Tony's arm and leads him into a basement window of the villa. They go inside and the quietness is unnerving: they explore the area and it is creepy. They see a hole which seems to be blasted into the concrete or brick. A large blast hits close to the basement and the boys are knocked down, unconscious. One beam hits across their bodies. The camera, a rare moving one, zooms in on Nero's name on the tomb as it appears to be. The slab opens and inside is a skeleton. A sword flies out and another rare shot of the point of view of the ghost is seen as the sword moves at Tony and Doug's prone bodies. The sword points at Tony. This is where the teaser ends but the cliffhanger went on for a bit more, into what is now act one.
The sword then turns Doug over. It moves Doug's head once and then back again. (THIS IS WHERE THE CLIFFHANGER ENDED). The freeze frame here elicits the titles. We hear THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL music quite a bit during this and also during this episode, mixed in with stirring bits from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (usually when someone is being possessed or the ghost is stirring up wind). The sword floats back into the coffin. Doug and Tony get up. Tony hears something and he and Doug find Nero's tomb. They hear the ceiling crack a bit and soldiers may come in. Someone calls to a Corporal and tells him to search the cellar and take no prisoners. Tunnel staff get an image on the screen. Kirk looks at them, "Another instant." Ray tells him some other life force is interfering with the readings. It is 1915. A German comes into the cellar, Tony and Doug hide behind a large barrel. When the man gets too close to the tomb of the Roman emperor, the sword rises out and stabs him dead. Tony and Doug check him; the sword is gone. More Germans come. Doug and Tony run through a door and up. A soldier finds the dead Corporal and calls for the Major. Tony and Doug stop in some kind of old hall. Major Neistadt comes down and says to kill whoever it was that did this. Gunnar Helstrom as Neistadt is very odd, very good and very annoying and irritating as a villain, not very colorful but adequate. We do believe he will kill any of the three main heroes without a care. He also sounds funny, as if he is not really German and this adds to the oddness of this horror episode.
In the dilapidated corridor, Tony and Doug lean on a wall to hide and it opens into a dark secret passageway. Tony lights a match in the new area. On a shelf is a row of skulls. Also here is a rack and matches. Someone has been here. There is also a series of catacombs. Doug guesses smugglers or bandits used this place and there must be a way out. Tony comments, "Those Germans are shooting first and asking questions later." Germans unblock a door which had beams fall across it after the boys went through it. The boys find their own blocked door. Armor moves as they try the steps. Doug looks at the armor--it's from the time of the Caesar's---ties in to Nero's casket. Bombings continue and shake the villa. Doug says one direct hit is all that may be needed to bury them alive. They try the stairs up. A book case opens and they go into a lavish study. It closes and is locked. They hear Germans say they will search the villa. They look out a window--to a 40 foot drop. An old man comes in with a stick, calling them thieves and looters. The boys tell him their car broke down. America is neutral in this war. Tony grabs the old man's pistol from him. He tells them he doesn't know of a secret passage. They can't find an opening but the old man tells them his name (Count Enrico Galba) and that he will save them if they trust him and tell him their names. They do. Galba opens the door and gives the Major the gun. The Major calls Galba Herr Galba and they spar words, Galba telling the Major he is a Count and that the German Kaiser Wilhelm II has told the army to treat nobility with respect. The Major adds, "With exceptions..." There are no other exits from the room. When the Major broaches the problem of the dead soldier, Galba says, "Soldiers are dying everywhere." Galba tells him Tony and Doug are the only guests left here...when his own servants fled, they stayed on to help him. The Major locks them in, warning if they try to escape they will be shot, with the Kaiser's blessings. Galba noticed his insignia--corps artillery. From the villa the Germans can see every point in the mountain pass--they will use the villa as a spotter post and with the two sides bombing each other, the villa is right in the middle. Tony moves books off the shelf and finds the release for the secret door. He thinks he may be able to find a truck outside if the Germans have one. The Major looks out the other more main window with binoculars. He sees donkeys driving carts (?). The Germans (who seem like Nazis at this point) plan to completely destroy the Italian army. Galba and the Americans will be killed. Tunnel staff keep getting strange interference which keeps them from stabilizing the fix. Villa Galba, the old man's ancestral home, on Oct 23, 1915 will be destroyed. They narrow the range of the fix, reset the controls. Kirk recalls there was no action until June or July which makes them narrow their fix even more between July and October 23. Ray almost seems not to be surprised that Tony and Doug are on the day the villa is to be destroyed as supplied by the History Computer. Ann says, "The villa may be destroyed at any minute. Doug and Tony will be killed."
Galba tells Doug if he were ten years younger he would take up a command of regiments against the "Huns"--the Germans. Doug tells him an army shelling opened up the tomb below--Nero's tomb. It is opening again. Galba tells him it is an old wives' tale. Nero's crypt cannot be here. As a child, he heard of a curse of Nero, who swore as he was dying. The Sergeant--Mueller--hears a noises. A door knob turning. Tony has not come back yet. In the hallway, light and wind hit the Sergeant, also dark spots. He laughs creepily and takes the key out. He goes in to the room where Doug and Galba are, calling Galba, Emperor Galba--and that his ancestor declared Nero a public enemy and forced him to flee from Rome. Galba scoffs, "You're drunk!" Sergeant punches Doug down and tries to strangle Galba, "Now you will feel the revenge of Nero!"
Doug runs at them and pulls Mueller off and is flipped and kicked. Mueller chokes Doug down and will kill all who help Galba. Tony returns and kicks Doug away from the Sergeant who resists even strong attacks from both Doug and Tony. Mueller throws a vase at Tony, Doug hits him away from his friend. After quite a struggle, both Tony and Doug punch him in tandem and he falls. The Major and men come in and the Major waits to show them that their story of Nero and the Sergeant doesn't fly: a little wind and they are afraid. Next time, his soldiers will shoot them if they attack. Doug insists the Sergeant is drunk. JOURNEY music as the ghost leaves the Sergeant's body. He asks what happened. Doug tells the other two not to try to explain what happened. Galba says, "Icy cold hands..like a dead man's." Tony thinks maybe the Sergeant was acting on the Major's orders. Galba says, "Better to face a living threat than..." Bombing stops. Tony feels they should wait until dark. When Tony and Doug were fighting the German, the interference rose to incredible peaks, Ray tells Kirk, as if some unexplainable force is preventing a clear time fix. Ann reads the account of Nero's death, his last words were "I shall return to kill all descendants of Galba."
Kirk scolds them, "The two of you..scientists and yet you're seriously discussing the possibility of the existence of a ghost."
Ann says, "If that was a ghost that took possession of the German, than it presents a murderous threat to Doug and Tony." Ray admits they need help. Ann suggests a Dr. Steinholtz of Carton University. Tony, at one of his more gentle moments, talks to Galba, telling him he fears the Germans and the bombardment but not a ghost. Galba tells him he makes him ashamed. No Galba was ever a coward, "If it is my fate to die at the hands of an invisible monsters, than I'll die." The three begin to go into the secret passage; Doug walking very stiff (as if he is in an episode of DARK SHADOWS) as he carries the candelabra.
In 1968, the other three watch the others go into the secret door. Steinholtz tells them in the past, when he has encountered psychic phenomena, he also recorded enormous electrical energy surges on instruments. Kirk and Ray tell the Doc what has happened. The curse of a dying man often comes up in the doctor's work. Ann tells them Nero fled to a Northern Province where he was killed. They also heard a door being pounded and tell the doctor this. He tells them a poltergeist is powerless against locked doors. Kirk tells him they just want to get rid of it.
Tony opens a door and we hear more DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL tunes. The door closes. The wind attacks Galba and Doug. Steinholtz wants to study the ghost. Doug lights a candle and he and Galba hear sounds. Galba uses a cane on something he feels attacking him. Doug puts a hand on his shoulder, accidentally scaring him (something Will often does to Dr. Smith in LOST IN SPACE--such as in the teaser to WRECK OF THE ROBOT and in other sequences in other episodes--notably GHOST IN SPACE). Armor flies at Doug, who ducks. He uses a stand to fight against the invisible menace. Galba tells Doug to save himself. Bombs begin anew. The villa shakes. The pair go up steps and dust falls. They leave. Tony comes in. Wind hits him and knocks him down. JOURNEY and DAY music play, making this a creepy scene. He stands up coldly. Steinholtz sees Tony, "The ghost force has taken possession of him."
Tony walks after Doug and the old man; Doug thinks they lost the ghost force. Galba says, "We're the ones who are lost." Tony moves through cobwebs in an eerie scene as he follows the unsuspecting Doug and Galba. The old man gets a pain in his chest and falls, knocking over a shelf. Tony, creepily, picks up a bell and rings it as he stalks the other two. Quite violently he throws it at Doug's back as his friend is helping Galba up the steps. The ghost and Tony's readings are almost exactly the same. Steinholtz suggests shock therapy--a one million volt for one milli-second could get it out of Tony. Kirk authorizes this power surge, which Steinholtz has told them has worked with others. Ray commands them to lock coordinates and align power circuits (we hear the LOST IN SPACE Jupiter II hum build as Ann counts up to one million volts). A female technician is in the background and she has long hair, wearing it down instead of the usual up as Ann and the other technicians usually do. We hear the pilot music as Tony is zapped and falls. The interference is gone and the ghost also. Kirk wonders if they can try a retrieve and get Tony back to them. Doug locks the door behind him and Galba, who recovers. Doug: Locked doors seem to keep it out. The Time Tunnel retrieves...readings are constant. Image is lost. Ann and Ray go to a console and tremendous wind hits them both. The complex shakes, the tunnel shakes, wind and papers fly around. Steinholtz says, "The ghost is somewhere in this room." We hear JOURNEY music mixed in with music from LOST IN SPACE-INVADERS FROM THE 5TH DIMENSION--the sequences with the aliens and the music is every much as fitting here with the ghost as with the aliens, in fact, more so. It works well. There are lights, tables fall with papers and books. The plan: send the ghost back to time and place of Nero's death. Ann goes to a blond technician at a computer type-machine to get the exact time. This scene is very odd--as Ann does not talk to her at all and there is no dialogue. The blond seems to be an extra. We also hear more of that alien music and Ann looks suspiciously at the blond lady. Ann gets the info and gives it to them. They lock the setting and activate the image. They see a very brief, blocked Ancient Rome setting in a city with hundreds of people. The ghost attacks the imager and the complex shakes, everyone thrown to computers. Steinholtz tells them (finally--why did he wait so long?) ghosts retreat before fire. Kirk goes to a phone and picking it up merely says, "Flame thrower guns!" We see one of the towers and the bubble lights on the roof. Both shake, computer reels shake and some very unusual camera work in this episode continues the chills. the guards arrive with flame throwers. Kirk orders, "NOW!" They fire.
Guards use flame throwers to get the ghost back into the tunnel mouth. The image keeps changing to 1915 from 68 AD--the day Nero died. Ann keeps changing it back but it keeps going to 1915. Suddenly everything in the attack stops. The ghost has gone---back to the villa Ann tells them. Kirk adds, "And the villa is due to be bombarded at any moment." Doug and Galba are in the study as bells ring and fly, books fly off the shelves at them, and we hear more JOURNEY music. Galba stands in front of Doug, trying to call upon Nero to destroy the Germans--the Huns--"Your revenge is a petty thing. Achieve the greatness you failed to when you lived." In answer, he is choked. Vases are thrown at them and smash into the fireplace. Galba uses his cane but falls near the fireplace. Doug punches something invisible and an indentation on the couch reveals something fell from this. The two run to the secret passageway door. They find Tony and they try to revive him. The Major watches the Italian army marching up the hills in the Alps. This time instead of a donkey and cart, we see jeeps and trucks as they walk into a trap. The Sergeant tells the soldiers to find the prisoners who are not there. Tony tells the other two he doesn't remember getting down the steps. The trio go to the cellar and hear more bombs. They fight the Germans who are coming into the cellar. Tony and Doug grab the guns away and the guns fall. One soldier jumps Doug, another pushes Tony, who falls into the barrel, then grabs dust and tosses it into the face of the attacker. They fight. Galba rushes to stop a soldier from hitting Doug with a beam in the head by rushing out at the man, pushing him down, taking the beam and beaning him with it in his head. Doug and Tony, in the fight, end up on the floor with the other German getting his rifle and aiming it at them. The German is shot through the window. Two Italians come into the window. Doug asks the Italians to get Count Galba to safety at the village hospital. Galba bids his pals goodbye. He puts his hand on Tony's shoulder and pats hit; then hugs Doug with both hands and pats him too.
A word on Eduardo Ciannelli as Galba. He brings color and life to Count Galba, making him more interesting than both Tony and Doug. John Hoyt, fresh from VISITORS, is also good as the doctor. But Ciannelli steals the show, his Galba being both funny and believable. His villa is a very well decorated set and his character is well dressed and groomed. This hour would have been quite dull without him in it. His goodbye to Doug and Tony and is as dramatic as this episode can get and it is very good. Also, his scenes with Tony are gentle and touching without being overly sentimental. THE TIME TUNNEL is not a show that discriminates against the elderly, making several major characters.
Tony and Doug tell the Italians about the Germans using this villa as a spotting post and the Italians already know and ask how many. The boys lead them up to the Germans. The tunnel staff get an image again, wondering what happened to Nero's ghost. Kirk says, "We may never know." The Major is telling his men to abandon the villa, tell the artillery men to give them five minutes to do so, and then they may destroy the villa--the prisoners will die in the bombing. The Italians rush in. Mueller is shot dead; so is the other German soldier--weren't there more of them? The Major shoots one of the Italians (the nice one who talked to Tony and Doug in the cellar!) and pushes the other one and escapes out the door.
The Major freaks out! He runs to the study, opening the door. The ghost attacks him, he fires wildly, shouting there are no such things as ghosts. He turns and an Italian is there (he pushed open the blocked door) and shoots him dead. We hear JOURNEY music again as the ghost possesses him and then DAY music. The Italian turns to look out the window in a strange end sequence. Tony and Doug rush in--no guns aren't they putting themselves in unnecessary danger? The soldier says he will drive the huns out and in the end Caesar will return. Tony asks, "What is your name, Corporal?"
"Benito Mussolini." Mussolini walks out of the room. Tony and Doug look at each other and then vanish.
CLIFFHANGER: Anthony Newman and Douglas Phillips tumble in the time crystals and land in a dark place which is being pervaded by thunder and lightning and wind. Behind them is a tent. Ahead is a desert with palm like trees. There are torches. They look ahead but guards in strange dress hear them and see them from inside the tent. The guards come out, one grabs Doug back from behind. Tony sees this and fights the other guard. The battle goes into the tent. Tony uses a shield against the warrior. Doug vs. a swordsman warrior; Tony punches his attacker. After an exciting fight, both fall and end up on their backs, about to be run through. A bearded man walks in, wearing robes. He stops them from being killed and tells them he is Joshua, commander of the Israelites. Tony tells him, "We come from the future, Joshua." Joshua command the warriors to leave and says, "The Lord appeared onto Moses and me in a cloud of dust. After that all miracles are one miracle." What that last statement means is anyone's guess.
Ann and Kirk spar over the Bible story; Ann doesn't think it means they should take the story literally. When Kirk cites not only the Bible but the living proof on the tunnel, Ann claims it merely proves the existence of a man called Joshua. Kirk seems mystified (odd since he didn't believe in ghosts in GHOST OF NERO) while Ann doesn't really believe (odd since she did think about a ghost being real in GHOST OF NERO). Ann calls the story legend and poetry.
Ray comments to himself but out loud, "I always wanted to believe what I secretly doubted--at last, I'll know." (Odd since Ray doesn't believe, later, in MERLIN's powers.) Ann comments as well, "As a scientist I don't permit myself to believe." Kirk looks upset with her saying this and moves up, away from her. She talks a bit to herself too, "We'll see whether or not the walls came tumbling down." This, the strangest cliffhanger yet, freeze frames here, on this---not an action scene but a talking one...true, it does give us some inkling and curiosity about what is to come and it also does not give us more fights--which could, at times, become quite boring (REVENGE OF ROBIN HOOD falls into that category).
HISTORY LESSON AND NOTES: Both GHOST OF NERO and THE WALLS OF JERICHO are special to me in a way. They are some of the first TIME TUNNELs I was able to see more than once. They were being rerun in New Jersey in the mid to late 1970s and I caught NERO on audio tape. For the longest time, I wasn't able to see JERICHO since it was on while I had catechism class...talk about ironic. The vague references to this villa and the Alps lead one to wonder. Galba may have been fabricated by the authors. In the Italian Alps, the only important through routes were offered by the valleys of Adige, Tagliamento, and the Sava Rivers and in the East the Darva River. The southern longitudinal valley runs along the Lake Como, Italy along the upper Adda River to the valleys of the Adige and Isarco Rivers and from there along the Drau River in Austria. There is a Klagenfurt Basin, settled and cultivated, a depression in between the Central Alps and the Southern limestone Alps, south of which are the Carnic Alps. Italy declared war on Austria Hungary on May 23, 1915. The chief military front on the Austro Italian front in 1915 were four indecisive battles between Austro Hungarian and Italian armies on the Isonzo River (June 29-July 7; July 18 to Aug. 10; Oct 18-November 3; Nov. 10-Dec. 10). Other sources state Italy entered the war on the Allied side on Aug. 27th, 1916 after being undecided for two years as to which side to support. One source estimates 112,000 died in the war. Other sources are more specific: Italy had been formally allied with Germany and Austria Hungary since 1882, the Italian Government declared neutrality in Aug. 1914. In spring of 1915, after they signed a secret treaty of London with Germany and Austria, Italy declared war on Austria and Turkey. War was not declared on Germany until a year later! Thus, in 1915, Germany and Italy was not at war, although Germany could have been defending Austria and Turkey against Italy. The Italian role in WWI commenced with the occupation of the seaport town of Vlone in SW Albania. A large force was dispatched into the Trentino region in Southern Tirol. Of Mussolini, we know he was expelled from Switzerland in 1904 and later from Austria. He was a member of the bersaglieri or Italian army infantry corps until wounded in Feb. 1917. He was executed on April 28, 1945. How about a sequel called THE GHOST OF MUSSOLINI VIA NERO? No? No.
In all a good episode. Some so called fans insist this did not belong on a science fiction show like THE TIME TUNNEL. Well, TIME TUNNEL is more fantasy than science fiction and if writers cannot stretch the limits of such an unlimited concept and do some different type of stories such as THE GHOST OF NERO, WALLS OF JERICHO, and others, then the concept would be wasted. As it is, THE GHOST OF NERO is a solid scare fest with mild violence and a few good chills, not akin to THE TWILIGHT ZONE or ONE STEP BEYOND but like the latter, an atmospheric entertaining hour of hokum. This episode has a bad reputation but it is not a bad episode. Gunnar Helstrom has played villains in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
DOCTOR WHO had Nero as a character in THE ROMANS. VOYAGERS! went to Nero times and also WWI.