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The Twilight Zone (Episode #112): “No Time Like The Past” (airdate 3/7/63)
The Plot: A man goes to the past to right some wrongs…but can he?
The Goods: Stupid, crappy old time travel. It’s such a spectacular innovation, but we can never do anything good with it (except that one time I stole Hitler’s wallet). As it turns out, things are pretty much set in stone.
But Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews) doesn’t believe that. So, he sets out into the ether of things already seen to try to change history’s course.
This story is so by-the-numbers that you can almost see Rod Serling connecting the dots in the background of some of the shots. Driscoll begins his quest with the highest of intentions – to go back and save as many people as possible from the horrors of war (and other people). Unfortunately, circumstances keep him from warning a police officer in Hiroshima about the incoming atomic bomb (I guess Nagasaki was on its own?), from taking out Hitler, and from changing the course of the Lusitania before it gets targeted by a German U-boat.
The lesson is that no matter how hard you try, and even if you have a time machine, you cannot alter the past. At least, you can’t alter the big stuff.
Forlorn from this realization, Driscoll heads back to a sleepy little hamlet in 1881 to live out the rest of his troubled days in simple splendor. After letting President Garfield’s assassination happen (like he had a choice), he gives tampering one last shot and attempts to stop a schoolhouse from burning down. Guess what? Not only does he fail to stop it, his actions result directly in it happening – ensuring a much stronger lesson.
Other than being average, it’s a perfectly passable episode. It’s interesting and well-acted, but it suffers from the same problem that a lot of time travel missives find themselves ailing under: a logical gap.
It’s simply moronic that this man, armed with a device that can take him anywhere in time and space, fails to achieve basic goals. That failure comes not in the circumstances that bar him from killing a despot or changing a ship’s course – but from when he chooses to go back. Killing Hitler at the onset of his speaking popularity? Difficult. Killing Baby Adolph while his parents sleep? Notably easier. Yet for some reason, Driscoll (like many other characters used as props for this parable) uses his ultimate power to give himself only a few hours to complete a task.
Still, as make-work as it all is, it’s still effective at providing a larger message: that the past should left to tend to itself. At best, messing with it is ineffectual and at worst, it can do real damage. As a reality, it’s a bit far-fetched, but as a metaphor for our emotional, mental health, it’s pretty powerful.
Maybe Driscoll should have called on The Doctor.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Dana Andrews was a massive star in the 1940s, but his career was relegated to B-level status in the 50s. As for oddities, he plays a time traveler here trying to change major events; the same plot concept was used for the Twilight Zone episode Back There when a character tried to stop Lincoln from being assassinated; Abraham Lincoln was married to Mary Todd Lincoln; and Dana Andrews married a woman named Mary Todd. Plus, all of them knew Kevin Bacon personally.
On the Next Episode: An astronaut returns to the Earth to find things a little bit out of order, but things are about to get a lot more complex when a second him lands.
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.