"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and let's the future in." - Graham Greene
A reader’s letter to National Geographic regarding the April 2012 issue on the centennial of the Titanic sinking and his disagreement with Robert Ballard’s insistence on treating the shipwreck as a gravesite.
When it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy, the First World War never gets the same amount of attention as it’s sequel. Maybe it’s because the sequel lasted longer and was much bloodier. Maybe it’s the absence of a “good side” or a “bad side” - i.e. no Nazis. Maybe it’s because science played a bigger role in WW2. Or maybe it’s because America came into battle just as the Great War was ending. Whatever the reasons, when it comes to speculative fiction, writers prefer to overlook The War to End All Wars as a setting for fantastical stories.
But the fantastic stories exist, and my goal is to make posts listing speculative fiction that uses the Great War as a setting, however rare. This post looks at World War 1 in television.
The Twilight Zone - “The Last Flight” Season 1, Episode 18
British Flight Lieutenant Terry Decker has just abandoned, mid battle, his comrade in arms, American Alexander Mackaye to enemy planes. Mid-flight he passes through a cloud - and finds himself on an American airbase in 1959 France.
After he’s taken into custody, Decker learns, to his horror, that he’s time jumped 42 years. He tells the officers that he believes that Mackaye was killed in action, even though the other officers try to convince him otherwise: Mackaye survived, became an Air Vice Marshall, fought in the Second World War, saved lives from enemy bombing, and is coming later to inspect the base. Still believing Makcaye dead due to abandoning his military duties, Decker comes to the realization that the “cloud” he flew into was fate giving him a second chance. He escapes his captors and flies back into the skies, to correct his mistake. I’ll stop right here and not give away the ending but you can watch the episode on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond - “The Vision” Season 1, Episode 10
A supernatural anthology series that based its stories on true events, “The Vision” tells the story of three French soldiers in 1915 who experienced a flash of light and, in a trance, retreated from their posts. The men are tried and sentenced to be executed for desertion and cowardice.
However, a German POW who deserted his post recounted that he too experienced the same light on the same day and soon reports of more soldiers, both enemies and allies, come pouring in with sightings of the mysterious light in the sky. The three soldiers are exonerated.
You can watch this episode in its entirety on YouTube.
The Time Tunnel - “The Ghost of Nero” Season 1, Episode 19
Produced and created by Irwin Allen, The Time Tunnel told the story of two American scientists, Tony Newman and Doug Phillips, who get trapped in their top-secret time travel project which takes them to various moments in time, both past and future. One episode has the menend up in 1915 Italy where an Italian count offers refuge from the Germans. Somehow, the ghost of Nero (yep, that guy) possesses one of the officers and tries to kill the count because he’s descended from Galba, another Roman emperor. Chaos ensues, the ghost flies through the tunnel into Project HQ, Project HQ sends it back, the ghost ends up possessing a young corporeal named Benito Mussolini. This is probably the only episode in the entire sci-fi series that employs a supernatural element. Unfortunately, it’s also very inaccurate: Italy didn’t declare war on Germany until 1916. Weird.
This episode can be seen on Hulu.
Voyagers! - “Pilot” and “Worlds Apart” Season 1, Episode 1 and 5
Starring the late Jon-Erik Hexum in his most well-known role as time-traveler Phineas Bogg, Voyagers! teamed him up with wunderkind Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce) where, with the help of a device called the Omni, they would travel through various time periods, meet various historical figures, then find ways to keep history from being altered. In the pilot, they stumble into a World War 1 without airplanes, then after a meeting with the Wright Brothers, stumble back into a World War 1 with airplanes and battle The Red Baron (shot down by an 11-year-old kid!). The second episode to take place during the Great War was “Worlds Apart”, in which Bogg and Jeffrey lend aid to Lawrence of Arabia (in 1917, with 80s hair!) in his fight against the Ottoman Empire.
Both episodes can be seen on YouTube.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold: “Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!” Season 2, Episode 30
At the beginning of every episode of BTBATB, there’s a “teaser” where Batman teams up with a lesser known (OK, obscure) character from DC Comics’ roster. In this teaser, the Caped Crusader is flying his, uh, batplane? Bi-batplane? Bat-biplane? Whatever. He’s flying over the trenches because some squid-like aliens are supplying the German army with advanced weaponry, giving them an advantage over the Allies. Bats isn’t the only DC character present. Enemy Ace joins the fray, until Batman convinces him about his code of honor in combat. Together as a team, both men defeat the aliens.
You can view this episode on Netflix and Amazon Prime.