I caught the first two episodes of Time After Time today, and it’s better than I thought it would be after half-hearing it in the background at work on Sunday, but I’m not entirely on board with it.
It’s based on a novel of the same name (that, surprise, I’ve never read), in which HG Wells follows John “Jack the Ripper” Stephenson to the 21st century in an attempt to apprehend him for his crimes. Along the way, HG meets a girl and is so taken with her that I swear 90 percent of his dialogue becomes “We have to find Jane! We have to rescue Jane! I must rescue Jane alone!” Based on a little bit of research, I guess that’s novel accurate, though Jane’s reaction to all this isn’t.
But none of that is very interesting. And really, neither is the chase. Because Wells is presented as such a pacifist idealist that the idea of him even embarking on this journey alone, let alone refusing the help he gets once he arrives in 2017 and being even remotely successful are less than believable. The successes of everyone — be it Wells or Jack — seem to be dependent wholly on contrivances, and I just don’t find the obvious future romance plot compelling at all.
But the two hours weren’t a total waste.
Freddie Stroma does a wonderful job portraying the utter despair Wells feels upon reaching 2017 and realizing its nothing like the peaceful utopia he’d envisioned. And of course I like the fish-out-of-water aspect of two Victorian-era Englishmen thrust into 21st century America. It gets played up more with Wells, and at first I thought it was a bit of a cop-out how well and quickly John (Josh Bowman) took to the times. But he’s set up as being very personable, clever and devious and coming from a time where his sensibilities didn’t fit to a world where violence — if not actually greater — is certainly more accessible and everyday. You might say, he’s found his playground.
I also liked John’s rage at finding out he himself is not remembered by history while also actively wondering if it’s possible for people to change. I really doubt that dichotomy is going to be handled with grace and elegance, but it was something I noticed.
I’m intrigued by the array of characters Wells meets, particularly Vanessa, the great-great-granddaughter of who’s been waiting for him to arrive since she first met him (in her past, and his future) years ago, her staff of burly security guys, and senatorial hopeful husband(?) who to my TV eye seems up to no good. And there’s also the shifty looking guy we know nothing about who’s surveilling John and Wells. I really want to know who he is and what he wants.
And despite not knowing precisely how all of this will turn out, I feel like the show is kind of laying the groundwork for the plots of future seasons being the things that influence other books in the HG Wells bibliography. We’ve already heard of Vanessa’s parents, the billionaire biotech giants who died when she was young. Maybe something about that will lead into inspiration for The Invisible Man (Griffin and Kemp being two names mentioned here, though Kemp was just an alias Wells tossed out). And maybe it only feels like War of the Worlds was name-checked a bunch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this show makes it to a second or third season without aliens popping up.
I’m not sure Time After Time will ever reach the level of any of my other favorite time-travel media, but there’s just enough going on to keep me tuned in for now. And I’ll probably add some books to my reading list, because I’ve somehow made it to adulthood without actually reading any HG Wells stuff.
Leisure Time is on Twitter! Follow @theLTtweet for post updates and smaller thoughts.