NBC’s Timeless presents users a science fiction trope of time travel but I can’t see any evidence that anyone associated with the show has ever read any science fiction! But that may be because they are trying to do a character show with some “action” (aka “things blowing up”) and so the science fiction aspect is pretty much ignored. It is never billed as a science fiction show, although the time travel aspect is central to the entire story arc.
The thing is, they do time travel so very, very badly I’m not entirely sure the show runners have ever read or watched any science fiction using time travel as a concept. Lots of stories — both written and filmed — have played with the concept over the years that they could have still created a “family” show, an “action” show without making the watching of it painful for actual science fiction fans.
Let’s take the “ticking clock” aspect that they feel the need to build into every show. The discover that the bad guy has made a jump to a past timeframe. What happens next? Do they begin In-depth research into the era? Do they train the three heroes on the nuances of the target era? On the way to wear the clothes, the kind of foods to expect, the social strictures and religious mores?
They hurry. They rush. They throw things together, grab a costume off the rack and jump into the time machine so that the bad guy doesn’t have time to do any damage.
Wait, what? The bad guy is in the past! And when they do jump to the target time, do they set it to go earlier? Nope. They get there after he has already arrived even though they have a time machine.
The blurb on the show talks about the need to preserve the past, and yet every single episode, history is radically changed. People are moved onto other paths, they interact with people they otherwise would not have, people are dead that would not have gotten dead except for them. Has any of that changed the future? Once, in the first episode. Our heroine’s sister disappeared from the timeline. But that is the only major change to any character, yet alone to the nation or the world.
The show would have been so much better if someone would have spent a few hours watching old Star Trek episodes, or Quantum Leap, or even old Time Tunnel. Better yet if they had read any number of books. But they didn’t and don’t actually seem to care.
It would have worked so much better if the story had taken place on an alternate Earth. Then the changes that inevitably happen on every mission would serve to get them closer to our timeline. This would allow the writers to create whatever mayhem they want, as long as it all ends up being accurate to our history. This would allow the viewers to enjoy the added tension that every show gets them closer to being us. The rest would still rankle, but the show would be so much better.
They do history as badly as they do time travel (two demographics that will stop watching sooner rather than later), which is a sad waste of both. In this era of ‘alternate facts’ we could use some story telling that bothered to be accurate and not an insult to viewers’ intelligence.