Bullet Time: The Kennedy Assassination in sci-fi

There are those who might argue that since those bullet(s) – depending on who you believe – rang out across Dealey Plaza in Dallas 50 years ago that fiction has reigned in the assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Arguably it was modern America’s darkest hour until 9/11 and its reverberations have been felt ever since, affecting millions, in particular prolonging the Vietnam conflict. It is no wonder then that with these far-reaching butterfly effects that science-fiction and time travel in particular keeps returning to that fateful day and that very real Nightmare on Elm Street, the name of the street he was shot on.

The Twilight Zone – Profile in Silver (1986)
This episode from the first season of the resurrected Twilight Zone back in the mid-80s featured a host of familiar genre faces, including Lois and Clark’s Lane Smith as Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald, a university professor of history from the year 2172 who travels back in time to observe the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as a ‘field historian’, but it emerges that he is descended from JFK as well.

Fitzgerald cannot stand by and watch history take its course so shouts for the president and his entourage to take cover. Oswald fires anyway, but misses, and is later arrested by Dallas police, thus changing history.

A grateful President Kennedy (Andrew Robinson from Hellraiser and rather ironically played the sniper in Dirty Harry) invites Fitzgerald to stay at the White House. The president is notified that Soviet troops have captured West Berlin and that Khrushchev has been assassinated, which we learn will cause total war. Lane’s character must fix the damage by ensuring that the assassination takes place as we know it today. He swaps places with Kennedy, who is sent to the future, and Fitzgerald keeps his date with an assassin’s bullet.

Running Against Time (1990)
Starring Airplane’s Robert Hays, who really excels in this dramatic role, as a man who lost his brother in the Vietnam war and never recovered after the loss. But now he discovers he has the chance to change all that by travelling back in time and stopping the assassination of JFK, who we are told would have pulled troops out of Nam a lot sooner had he lived. Initially he stops Oswald by shooting him and entering the police stage left where Oswald pins the attempt on Hays, with him even being shot by Jack Ruby! For a TV movie this has twists a plenty.

Quantum Leap – Lee Harvey Oswald (1992)
This was the final series of the popular time travel series but by this time the programme had already jumped the shark. Basically Sam Beckett leaps into Lee Harvey Oswald and spends much of the two-parter wrestling with the character (no not literally) as they fight to control the body and mind of Oswald and stop the assassination of JFK. Basically this acts as the anti-JFK (as in the Oliver Stone movie) and traces Oswald back to 1957 and shows why he wanted Kennedy dead and why it had to be him and only him implicated in the murder.

Hogwash, I don’t mind the concept or that he leaped into Oswald but it was such an obvious piece of propaganda touting such an outdated premise that Oswald acted alone that it played more as a comedy rather than a drama. Interestingly series creator and writer of this episode, Donald P Bellisario, actually met Oswald when he was in the army. Now if he’d done that episode with ‘Airwolf’, a show he also created, then we might have been talking!

Dark Skies 1996-1997
Riding the coat tails of The X-Files this programme fused the two greatest conspiracies of all time together, Roswell and the assassination of JFK. The essence of the series, which had the tagline “History as we know it is a lie”, was that John Kennedy was assassinated because he was going to tell the truth about UFOs in his second term. It tied everything from JFK’s assassination, Watergate and Vietnam to the alien truth.
Alas the TV series only lasted a feature length pilot (directed by Tobe Hooper) and one season, obviously they were getting too close to the truth?

Red Dwarf – Tikka to Ride (1997)
Lister and pals inadvertently go back in time to Dallas November 22, 1963, and foil Lee Harvey Oswald’s attempt on John F. Kennedy. They soon find out that because of their actions, the US disintegrated and the USSR won the space race. In order to set things right they go back in time to find a now impeached JFK (whose womanising ways finally caught up with him), and persuade him to become the second gunman behind the Grassy Knoll, thus saving his country and his place in history. Now that beats Quantum Leap hands down – calculate that why don’t you Ziggy!

Time Quest (2000)
On the morning of November 22, 1963, a seventy-something man (Ralph Waite, er from The Waltons) materializes in the hotel suite occupied by Jackie Kennedy. The Time Traveller shows Jackie future television footage of the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy. Shortly thereafter, the Time Traveller speaks to the president and to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Vince Grant), giving them details of their respective assassinations and of the public revelations of JFK’s sex scandals. The movie both poses and answers the question what if JFK survived his assassination…