Time After Time, a Romp with H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of time travel TV shows. And this year’s new TV season boasts three new shows about time travel, including ABC’s Time After Time, an adaptation of the 1979 movie of the same name. (For those unfortunate people who have never seen the movie, I recommend watching it now. It’s available on Amazon.) The series and the movie have the same premise: H. G. Wells builds a time machine, shows it off to his friend John Stevenson. Stevenson turns out to be the infamous Jack the Ripper, who then escapes to the future in the time machine, after which, H. G. Wells follows him to try and stop him from hurting anyone else. Hijinks ensue. At San Diego Comic Con we got to talk to Kevin Williamson, the showrunner and unabashed fan of the movie; Genesis Rodriguez, who plays the modern woman, Jane Walker, who has to deal with both of the time travelers; Freddie Stroma, who plays H. G. Wells; and Marcos Siega, director of the pilot.

The Roundtable Interviews

One of the most intriguing things to come out of the roundtable interviews is that the show will not only refer heavily to Wells’ book, The Time Machine, but also incorporate themes and references from some of his other science fiction works, such as The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and even The War of the Worlds. I can’t wait to see what they’re planning for human/animal DNA splicing and aliens. Williamson was also clear that the show was not a time travel show, but a show that has a time travel element. Apparently, there’s not that much time travel happening. That doesn’t stop Williamson or Rodriguez from speculating on what they would do if they could travel in time, like pick lottery tickets or invest in Apple before it starts taking over the world.

What Williamson wants to stress in the series, instead of time travel, is how technology affects us, how it can lead us down a bad path or a good one. The show is also interested how the two time travelers will adjust to modern times. Will Jack the Ripper give up on his evil ways and try to become someone new, someone better? It sounds like Jack the Ripper does not like what he reads when Googling himself, so maybe? Will H. G. Wells ever get used to how loud it is here or learn how to drive? Answer is also, maybe? The two leads are both played by Englishmen, Freddie Stroma and Josh Bowman, as H. G. Wells and John Stevenson, a.k.a Jack the Ripper, respectively. Williamson was so impressed with Josh Bowman, who plays Stevenson, that he kept his audition on his phone! He and Genesis agree that both actors are perfectly cast as their characters. Serial killer and murders notwithstanding, Williamson assures us that the show is more of a playful, fun romp of a show.

Genesis Rodriguez  talks about her character Jane Walker, who, as a fan of H. G. Wells, helps him and is taken aback by his Victorian courtliness. Working with him makes Jane realize her destiny in life as well. Williamson also chimes in that Jane has to be there to guide Wells through modern life, like driving him in a car. She also encompasses what Wells, as the eternal optimist, believes to be “the good in humanity, the best in people. You can save the world one minute at a time,…one second at a time, one person at a time. And, I think, she’s going to be that central character whose strength just sort of embodies the entire show.”

Freddie Stroma (H. G. Wells) watched the 1979 film and Marcos Siega (Director) read the novel the series is based on. Siega then found out that everyone kept talking about the film, specifically how good Malcolm McDowell was. (And he was great! Seriously, watch the film.) Stroma tried not to get too intimidated by following in McDowell’s footsteps. Siega jokingly said that McDowell must have been acting very big, because he kept telling Freddie to make it bigger for every single take. His director’s notes apparently ranged from “Bigger” to “Less Charlie Chaplin.” But Siega was impressed with Stroma’s ability to add just a small gesture to change the tone of the entire scene. One of the good things that can come out of this series is that people, who may not have been interested in Wells’ work previously, might have their curiosity piqued and start reading his books. Stroma hadn’t read him before the series and now he’s reading just as a fan, as well as combing through the works for insight into Wells’ character.

The creators and Stroma aren’t just reading the novels, they’re reading his essays and other non-fiction work to carve out a philosophy for their fictitious Wells. Their Wells, based on his works and what they could extrapolate from that, is an idealist. He thinks science and technology will bring about an utopia. Stevenson is the opposite. He believes people are animals and that it’s a dog-eat-dog world. (That may even tie in with The Island of Dr. Moreau!)  Their personal philosophies battling it out is central to the series. In typical Williamson fashion, however, the two main antagonists have to work together as often as they battle each other. They are each other’s nemeses, but not quite Holmes and Moriarty. Siega also mentions how wonderfully the two main actors have been cast so similarly with their character’s personality, with Stroma as Wells and Bowman as Stevenson. In a surprising coincidence, Stroma mentions that they both went to the same prep school in England, although Stroma didn’t remember him. (Bowman was a year below.) And they both grew up in the same small part of England. Kudos to their casting director.