Time travel is certainly nothing new for science fiction, and in terms of execution Timeless is competently handled, but with nothing in its style to distinguish it from its contemporaries in the genre. What does separate this 2016 series out from the herd is the conceptual way it approaches this trope. Instead of looking at a deterministic and fixed timeline (The Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap), or a secret history playing out in parallel with our own (Classic Doctor Who), or an attempt to prevent a future disaster (12 Monkeys, Future Man, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Travellers), Timeless takes a relatively novel approach.
After an experimental vehicle capable of time travel is stolen, a small team is assembled to attempt to recover the “Mothership”, and stop any catastrophic alterations of history. Consisting of a history professor (Abigail Spencer), a soldier (Matt Lanter), and the pilot (Malcolm Barrett), the small team is able to follow the temporal incursions of the “Mothership” using a small “Lifeboat” vessel and attempt to stop Flynn (Goran Višnjić). All of which sounds like a pretty typical set up, but it’s what comes next that makes Timeless different.
After the initial mission to the Hindenburg disaster goes catastrophically wrong, the crew of the Lifeboat find themselves in a different timeline to the one they left. With each mission, and each failure, or careless interaction with a historical figure, the history they once knew is altered. In the grand scheme of things, this has been relatively minor (a middle school named after a pseudonym, a historical figure on a different career path, a person that no longer exists), but there is the constant sense that history is a Jenga tower, and one more alteration could lead to an unrecognisable present day. This adds stakes to the characters’ endeavours, and Timeless is a series that has shown it is not afraid to see its main protagonists fail.
Then there’s the central conspiracy at the heart of the Flynn’s plot to alter time. Although, again, it’s a fairly standard iteration of a cabal using power, money, and influence, to shape the destiny of the United States (and through that the world), but it still provides an interesting commentary on how democracy has been shaped by those moneyed interests.
Finally there’s the presentation of history itself, especially in terms of race and gender relations. Too often this can be white washed, presenting either a mono-cultured view of history, or one that’s oddly harmonious. Timeless doesn’t state that the present is perfect, but certainly acknowledges the changes that have happened, or shy away from presenting the realities. For example, when Rufus, a black man, notices the simmering racism of a crowded 1937 street, he’s forced to question how safe he is – on a scale from “Million Man March to Mississippi Burning”. With the diversity of the three characters, it gives us a lens to examine those problematic issues, and although it’s handled with kid gloves, it’s certainly a part of the shows DNA.
All of which helps to lift Timeless. With season one there’s no single ingredient that makes it compulsory viewing, but a plethora of little touches that make it stand out in terms of quality. Well worth catching if you are a genre nerd, and looking for something a little less well known.
Timeless Season One has been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Via Vision Entertainment.