Novelist and director Ib Melchior was a Danish immigrant who, following his service in the US counter intelligence in World War II, formed a career producing pulp fiction and b-movies in the United States. He died last year in West Hollywood, probably most famous for having conceived the original idea for Space Family Robinson in 1960, which Irwin Allen plagiarised for the conceit of Lost in Space five years later. The Time Travelers is, alongside 1959’s The Angry Red Planet, one of only two features Melchior directed, and is finally receiving a Region 2 UK DVD release having previously been available as an Italian import.
The Time Travelers is one of those vividly coloured low-budget movies that would turn up in the middle of the afternoon TV schedules of bygone decades. Taking its cue from George Pal’s 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine, it’s filled with stern-faced men and groovy technology, its greatest accomplishment an ostensible time paradox that leads to a concluding sequence very similar to the one at the end of the recent Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent – but that viewers who remember this from childhood television screenings will be disappointed to discover is as spurious as much of the science in Melchior’s film.
A small group of scientists who are experimenting with a device that allows them to look through time, are surprised when technician Danny – brought along for “comedy” value, but actually about the only character who feels remotely human – discovers the screen has become a gateway into the future. Arriving in 2071, the scientists find themselves in a post-apocalyptic environment, befriending a small group of fellow scientists hiding in some nearby caves, desperately trying to finish the rocket ship that will take them from the deadly, radiation damaged surface of Earth to a new home in the Alpha Centauri system.
Meanwhile outside the underground city, mutated humans are running out of food supplies and are intensifying their attempts to break in and destroy the scientists’ work. It’s a scenario that Russell T Davies borrowed almost beat-for-beat for his 2007 story Utopia, and Doctor Who fans will recognise any number of other plot elements, including the premise of 1965’s The Space Museum – included here almost as a throwaway incident ten minutes from the end.
Incorporating interminable sequences involving the construction of some camp and rather bogus-looking androids, unlikely romances, dull-witted comedy and preposterously serviceable dialogue, The Time Travelers is entertaining enough as long as you’re prepared to forgive it its longueurs and scientific simplicity. Fans of a certain kind of unfussy mid-1960s screen sci-fi will doubtless love its lack of ambiguity, while those who prefer something a little more sophisticated will be reaching for their painkillers.
THE TIME TRAVELERS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: IB MELCHIOR / SCREENPLAY: IB MELCHIOR / STARRING: PRESTON FOSTER, PHILIP CAREY, MERRY ANDERS, STEVE FRANKEN, JOHN HOYT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW