Monday, June 24, 2019

"No Time Like the Past"

Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews) prepares to journey into the shadowy realm of the past.

“No Time Like the Past”
Season Four, Episode 112
Original Air Date: March 7, 1963

Paul Driscoll: Dana Andrews
Abigail Sloan: Patricia Breslin
Professor Eliot: Malcolm Atterbury
Hanford: Robert Cornthwaite
Horn Player: John Zaremba
Bartender: Lindsay Workman
Mrs. Chamberlain: Marjorie Bennett
Captain of Lusitania: Tudor Owen
Japanese Police Captain: James Yagi
Harvey: Robert F. Simon

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Justus Addiss
Director of Photography: Robert Pittack
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Associate Producer: Murray Golden
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Art Direction: George W. Davis & William Ferrari
Film Editor: Eda Warren
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Edward M. Parker
Assistant Director: Ray de Camp
Sound: Franklin Milton & Joe Edmondson
Music: stock
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling: 

“For our next show Mr. Dana Andrews makes his first visit to The Twilight Zone in a show called ‘No Time Like the Past.’ You’ll see him as a discontented inhabitant of the 20th century who goes back in time, back to what we assume to be the inviolate past, and violates it. A walloping performance, a strange and oddball theme, and an ending most unexpected in the tradition of The Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Exit one Paul Driscoll, a creature of the 20th century. He puts to a test a complicated theorem of space-time continuum. But he goes a step further, or tries to. Shortly, he will seek out three moments of the past in a desperate attempt to alter the present – one of the odd and fanciful functions in a shadowland known as The Twilight Zone.”


            Paul Driscoll, a physicist, has grown weary of the war and aggression which characterize life in the 20th century. His solution to these modern problems is to use a time machine to avert the catastrophes which he feels have shaped the current social and political landscapes. His first journey backwards into time is to Hiroshima, August, 1945, in a futile attempt to convince Japanese authorities to evacuate the city before the destruction of the atomic bomb. His second stop is in Berlin, August, 1939, in a failed attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler during a Nazi rally. His third stop in time is to 1915 in another failed attempt to avert disaster, this time the torpedoing of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat.
            Defeated, Paul returns to his own time and tells his colleague Harvey that the past has proven inviolate and Paul no longer believes he can change the past to alter the present or the future. He has instead decided to escape into the past to live out his life in Homeville, Indiana in the year 1881.
            Paul acclimates quickly in Homeville, an idyllic small town in which change arrives slowly. Unfortunately, Paul soon learns that the hate, prejudice, and aggression he suffered in his own time are also present here. The bright spot for Paul is Abigail Sloan, a pretty schoolteacher with whom he begins a romance. Abby can sense a difference in Paul, however, in the way he knows what is going to happen before it happens, and in the way he seems distracted and out of place.
            Paul does his best to live peacefully in Homeville without using his foreknowledge to avert unpleasant events. He cannot resist the impulse, however, when it comes to saving Abby’s school children from injuries sustained in a fire. Consulting his notes, Paul learns that the schoolhouse fire was caused by a lantern thrown from a runaway carriage. On the day of the fire Paul identifies the culprit: a traveling salesman. Paul attempts to unhitch the horses from the salesman’s carriage in the belief that it will prevent the tragedy. Ironically, it is Paul’s action which triggers the runaway carriage and creates the disaster.
            Paul is devastated. He tells Abby that he now realizes he cannot stay in Homeville. The past is not inviolate and his presence presents a danger to everyone in town. He knows about too many tomorrows and that knowledge prevents him from finding the peace he desires. Paul returns to his own time and resolves to change the sorrows of society through other means.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Incident on a July afternoon, 1881. A man named Driscoll who came and went and in the process learned a simple lesson, perhaps best said by a poet named Lathbury, who wrote: ‘Children of yesterday, heirs of tomorrow, what are you weaving, labor and sorrow? Look to your looms again, faster and faster fly the great shuttles prepared by the master. Life’s in the loom, room for it, room!’ Tonight’s tale of clocks and calendars in The Twilight Zone.” 


            Time travel is one of the most frequently recurring themes on The Twilight Zone and “No Time Like the Past” functions like a collection of greatest hits from the time travel episodes on the series. It is composed almost entirely of recycled elements, including members of the cast recreating similar roles from previous appearances and a setting, Homeville, which recalls Homewood, from an earlier time travel episode, “Walking Distance.” Yet, as a testament to the high quality of the writing, acting, and production, “No Time Like the Past” remains an intriguing and enjoyable episode.
            Rod Serling essentially created two episodes and combined them into an hour-long presentation, not altogether unsuccessfully. The episode is bolstered by Serling’s obvious talent at creating compelling dialogue and an engaging atmosphere.
The first portion of the episode finds Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews), a physicist frustrated with the horrors of the late 20th century, travelling backwards in time in a repeated attempt to avert earlier disasters. Paul attempts to prevent the loss of lives in the bombing of Hiroshima, cut down the rise of Nazism by assassinating Hitler, and alter the course of the RMS Lusitania to prevent its torpedoing by a German U-boat. In each of these attempts he is unsuccessful. Due to his repeated failures, Paul comes to believe that the past is inviolate. He resolves to escape into the past and live as citizen of a small Midwestern town some eighty years before. With this we are shepherded into the second portion of the episode.
            The episode which springs immediately to mind when one views the initial portion of “No Time Like the Past” is “The Time Element,” Rod Serling’s early fantasy television script which aired on The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1958. Considered by many to be the unofficial pilot episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Time Element” finds involuntary time traveler Peter Jenson (William Bendix) sent backwards to the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Paul Driscoll, Jenson unsuccessfully attempts to convince authorities of the imminent danger and pays for the failure with his life. Rod Serling approached the theme again in the second season Twilight Zone episode “Back There,” in which Pete Corrigan (Russell Johnson), an intellectual who does not believe the past can be altered, is transported to the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Again, Corrigan is unable to avert the tragedy but, like Paul Driscoll, comes to believe in the mutable nature of the past when he returns to his own time and finds it delicately altered. This theme of being unable to avert disaster through means of time travel (or time slippage) appears again in Richard Matheson’s fifth season episode “Spur of the Moment.”
            “No Time Like the Past” is also marginally related to such episodes as “Nightmare as a Child,” “King Nine Will Not Return,” and “The Arrival,” which also concern a tragedy from the past but invert the theme to show the past intruding upon the present as a warning or a means of closure. Serling was still exploring this theme during his time on Night Gallery, notably in the episode “Lone Survivor,” in which a time-hopping portent of doom, played by John Colicos, brings misfortune upon the RMS Lusitania. On The Twilight Zone a character often involuntarily slips through the cracks of time and is occasionally successful in effecting change for the better, such as in Richard Matheson’s “The Last Flight” or Serling’s “In Praise of Pip,” episodes in which events are altered though an act of self-sacrifice.
            Although a semblance of a time machine does appear in some episodes, including “No Time Like the Past,” the series was generally content to simply send a character backwards into time through such simple means as falling asleep or walking out of a building. Even when a time machine is utilized it is more often an artistic than theoretical choice. In “No Time Like the Past” the production team decided upon an expressionistic construction of a raised platform bordered by rising rows of stringed globes placed in a cavernous interior. The platform is then enveloped in stage fog and filmed in a way which suggests strangeness and dislocation. Rod Serling obviously cared little about the means of the mechanism but was rather interested in using time travel to explore other themes.
The viewer is given no indication of how Driscoll controls his travels through time. How long can he stay in one place and by what means of control? How does he leave when he is ready to depart? Does he simply disappear or must he be in a specific location or position? Does Driscoll control his travel through time or is it somehow controlled in Driscoll’s own time by Harvey? These questions are left unanswered but are relatively unimportant to what Serling is attempting with the episode. Still, there are aspects of time travel in the episode which will likely irk some viewers. Why, for instance, does Driscoll cut it so close on his visits to Hiroshima and aboard the Lusitania? Why not try and stop the Lusitania from ever leaving port? Why not destroy Hitler the child or Hitler the young man rather than attempt an assassination when Hitler is at the height of his power? Although irksome, these problems do little to detract from the second portion of the episode, which is where Serling is obviously eager to arrive.

The tale of the character who attempts to escape to the nostalgic haven of the past was a familiar one on the series by the time “No Time Like the Past” aired during the fourth season. The series displayed both sides of the equation. Paul Driscoll discovers that his presence in the past is the disruptive force which erodes the fabric of events as they are intended to unfold, much like Martin Sloan in “Walking Distance” and Booth Templeton in E. Jack Neuman’s “The Trouble with Templeton.” Conversely, episodes such as “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” “A Stop at Willoughby,” “Static,” and “Kick the Can” show the past as a refuge for those disenchanted with their own time and age, although there is often a price to pay for such an escape. In the case of both treatments of the theme the show’s writers clearly paint the past as a flawed place, where one’s memory is filled with gaps into which have fallen the unattractive and less desirable aspects of the time. In “No Time Like the Past,” Paul Driscoll is presented with an entirely new, yet frustratingly familiar, set of challenges when he arrives in Homeville, Indiana in 1881. There may be no atomic bombs but there is still unbridled hatred, prejudice, oppression, ignorance, and the misguided attempts to equate violence with courage and war with patriotism.
Paul Driscoll’s repeated references to bombs also groups “No Time Like the Past” with other episodes of the series which play out under the shadow of the threat of atomic annihilation. The thought of instant and total obliteration was certainly on the minds of Americans during the tense years of the Cold War in which The Twilight Zone first aired. The show repeatedly returned to the theme of manmade devastation in episodes such as “Time Enough at Last,” “Third from the Sun,” “The Shelter,” “Two,” “One More Pallbearer,” and “The Old Man in the Cave.”
Dana Andrews
A particular trend amongst fourth season episodes is the anchoring effort of a single dynamic performance. Think of George Grizzard in “In His Image,” Dennis Hopper in “He’s Alive,” Anne Francis in “Jess-Belle,” Robert Duvall in “Miniature,” or Martin Balsam in “The New Exhibit.” “No Time Like the Past” is graced with such a performance from Dana Andrews as Paul Driscoll. Although Andrews is capably assisted by supporting performers, particularly the presence of Patricia Breslin, he largely carries an episode which could have come off completely flat with a less talented performer in the lead role.
Andrews (1909-1992) was a prolific film and television performer who found his greatest success in the 1940s and 1950s as a leading man in the classic American mold. Born near Collins, Mississippi, Andrews left a bookkeeping job in the oil business and hitchhiked to Los Angeles in 1931 with dreams of being an actor. After years of toiling in regular jobs and performing in smaller roles under studio contract, Andrews appeared in two films which solidified his bankable, leading role status. The first was the 1944 suspense melodrama Laura, based on Vera Caspary’s 1942 novel, in which Andrews appeared alongside Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, and Clifton Webb. Andrews also featured in the all-star drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a film which took home seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. The 1940s and 1950s were largely filled out with roles in melodramas, film noirs, and psychological suspense films, working with such directors as Elia Kazan, Otto Preminger, and Fritz Lang. A notable genre effort during this time was a leading role in the 1957 film Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon), a moody chiller directed by Jacques Tourneur (Twilight Zone’s “Night Call”) and adapted from M.R. James’ 1911 story “Casting the Runes.”
Andrews’ sturdy presence transitioned onto television screens in the late 1950s where he found work among the many dramatic anthology programs of the time, including turns on Playhouse 90, Alcoa Premier, and Kraft Mystery Theater. Andrews returned to regular film work in the 1960s and appeared in a number of doomsday genre films of varying quality such as The Satan Bug (1965), Crack in the World (1965), and The Frozen Dead (1966). A recurring role on the dramatic television series Bright Promise (1969-1970) led to more television work in the 1970s, including appearances on Ellery Queen and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, where he appeared in Serling’s “The Different Ones.”
By the early 1980s Andrews quietly retired from acting when he began suffering the early effects of Alzheimer’s. Andrews suffered a well-documented problem with alcohol during his prime years which some speculate contributed to the diminishing returns of his career. He later became a sober and outspoken advocate for the acknowledgment and treatment of alcoholism in America. He passed away on December 17, 1992 at age 83.

Patricia Breslin
The standout supporting performance in the episode is Patricia Breslin as Abigail Sloan. Breslin (1931-2011), much like her role in Richard Matheson’s second season episode “Nick of Time,” provides a sympathetic female influence to an obsessive male protagonist. On a series which too often portrayed wives and love interests as either villainous or indifferent, Breslin is a breath of fresh air in “No Time Like the Past.” Breslin portrays Abby Sloan as sensitive, intelligent, and independent while performing in a realistic style which makes Rod Serling’s rich dialogue sound naturalistic. A prolific television performer, Breslin appeared in such genre programs as Suspense, The Web, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and five appearances on Alfred Hitchcock’s programs, three for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and two more on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Breslin also appeared in two of producer/director William Castle’s suspense films: Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1964). Breslin retired from acting when she married the American entrepreneur Art Modell in 1969, after which she became a well-known philanthropist. She passed away on October 12, 2011 at age 80.
Malcolm Atterbury

The cast is rounded out with several repeat Twilight Zone performers, notable among which is Malcolm Atterbury as the traveling salesman Professor Eliot. If Atterbury’s character strikes you as familiar it is due to the fact that Atterbury portrayed a very similar character named Henry J. Fate in Rod Serling’s first season episode “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”

“No Time Like the Past” is unlikely to be anywhere near the top of anyone's favorite episode list nor perhaps one which will remain in the viewer’s mind long after watching. This is perhaps due to its familiar, recycled elements and the general disdain among viewers for the hour-long offerings of the fourth season. To my mind it remains the epitome of the average episode, neither excellent nor poor, but one which features a wistfully melancholy atmosphere along with solid performances from Dana Andrews and Patricia Breslin.                            

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement to:
The Internet Movie Database (
The Chautauqua Life blog ( for information on Mary Artemisia Lathbury.


--Justus Addiss also directed “The Odyssey of Flight 33” and “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.”
--Dana Andrews also appeared in the Night Gallery episode “The Different Ones.”
--Patricia Breslin also appeared in “Nick of Time.”
--Malcolm Atterbury also appeared in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”
--Robert Cornthwaite also appeared in “Showdown with Rance McGrew.”
--Lindsay Workman also appeared in the Night Gallery episode “The Little Black Bag.”
--Marjorie Bennett also appeared in “The Chaser” and “Kick the Can,” as well as the Night Gallery episode “Deliveries in the Rear.”
--Dana Andrews' younger brother, Steve Forrest (born William Forrest Andrews), appears in the lead role of the following broadcast episode, "The Parallel." 
--“No Time Like the Past” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Jason Alexander.
--The poet whom Rod Serling quotes in his closing narration is the American hymnist Mary Artemisia Lathbury (1841-1913). Serling quotes the first stanza of Lathbury’s hymn “A Song of Hope.”
--There is no credit for producer on the episode as the series was undergoing a soft transition from producer Herbert Hirschman to producer Bert Granet, who would see the series through the remainder of the fourth episode and into the fifth, eventually giving way to the final producer on the series, William Froug.  



  1. This may be an average episode, but your excellent writing makes me want to watch it again! I also like the three leads--Dana Andrews is a favorite from his noir films, I've always liked Patricia Breslin from every TV show I've seen her in, and Malcolm Atterbury is a favorite from "Mr. Denton" and the crop duster scene in North By Northwest. Did you know Steve Forrest was the brother of Dana Andrews? Crazy, right? I'm going to be writing about one of the Hitchcock hour episodes with Breslin in a couple of weeks.

  2. Thanks, Jack. You know, I went into this one expecting it to be a bit of a chore to write about but it pleasantly surprised me. It has a good dose of that indescribable Twilight Zone atmosphere which is almost nostalgic for me at this point. I think this one is worth a re-watch, especially that second portion of the episode.

    I really like Andrews here and of course I'm a big fan of Night of the Demon: Andrews, Tourneur, M.R. James, how can you go wrong? I only found out about the Steve Forrest connection when reading up on Andrews for this post. Pretty cool. Patricia Breslin is so good in both of her appearances on the Zone. Looking forward to your Hitchcock episode writeup.