[personal profile] wingedbeast
Time After Time, for those who have the bad luck to not have seen the movie and the good luck not to have seen the recent attempt at a television series, is the story of H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper transported from their time to the (at the time of filming) present. Conflict and out-of-time drama commences.

In the movie, Doctor Stevenson reveals to his good friend, H.G. Wells, that he is the feared and infamous Jack the Ripper. Shortly after that, and shortly after discovering that said friend has really designed a real time-travel device, he uses that time-travel device to escape capture by the police.

Again in the movie, the reason H.G. Wells creates his time machine, iconic to the very one in his story of the same movie, for the purpose of going to his predicted Utopian future. Instead, he has to go in pursuit of his... the word "frenemy" actually applies.

In that future they both come to, in the movie that being approximately 1979, both are surprised by what they find. They don't find the utopia, exactly. In fact, they find a world that has, in some ways, degraded. In both versions, the Jack the Ripper character expresses, to Wells, the line that "[Then], I was a freak. Today, I am an amateur."

What follows is a classic problem. Fred Clark (over at Slacktivist) calls it the Narrative of Decline, the idea that things are getting worse. Dr. Stevenson, the brutal murderer, adjusts to the age. H.G. Wells, who was progressive for his time but still beholden to a morality now past, needs the help of someone from this time to help him. (We'll get to her shortly.)

This is a common perception, one I would readily expect of both H.G. Wells and the dapper serial killer doctor. But, it's false. It's built, much like the gentility of the Antebellum South and the wholesome values of 1950s America, upon a focus on the wealthy and the high-class. In English terms marking those who are wealthy and "well-mannered" but not of royal blood, the focus is on the Middle Class. In each case, this class seems gentile, wholesomely valued, and of well-mannered good morality precisely because they are insulated from the violence that is a part of what protects their safety and position. In each case, this class insulates them from the very violence they enact.

Jack the Ripper isn't a freak in his time. He's an example. In a society that put great stock in wealth and class, that relied upon various means of force to maintain those divisions, Jack the Ripper is just that culture expressed.

Rather, the fictional Jack the Ripper is just that culture expressed. The real thing is... unknown. But, we're working with the fiction, here.

That said, let's look to the problems of the recent series, one of many that I would really want to like.

The first problem can be handled quickly. I'm not interested in any more time travel than is strictly required. In another story, that can be of value. Not in this story. This story isn't about the interweaving timelines that are miraculously planned out seasons ahead of time. The series desperately wanted you to know that would happen. That only annoyed me.

This may be from the book, of which I only became aware in doing Google research for this article. (I may have to give it a read just for myself.) But, of the elements of this story, I don't think unnecessary complications are of value.

The second problem was that they tried to make Jack the Ripper both more of a serial killer (by today's understanding) and more redeemable. His serial killings weren't out of any rage at the evils of prostitution, but simply out of a desire to kill and they being both accessible. Like one of the many "unsubs" in "Criminal Minds", he had no instinct of compassion or conscience.

At the same time, they set up the means by which he would develop that compassion and conscience. I'm all for sympathy for the devil. Heck, I e-published a book with that very premise in mind. I still sometimes add to my "Black Hat Brigade" series with that premise in mind. But, you can't create a being who is both incapable of redemption and redeemable. Maybe, if the show had gone on longer, it could have made it work. I don't think so.

The third problem was a big one. The leading lady, Amy Robinson in the movie and Jane Walker in the series. Mary Steenburgen portrayed the character wonderfully. And, Genesis Rodriguez ably presented what she was given. Therein lies my problem, what she was given.

Amy Robinson was intelligent, had agency, had an active role to play against Dr. Stevenson. She also had some commentary on the values that Wells thought would lead to that perfect Utopia. Wells talks a bit about the free love he advocated and she laughs about that failed experiment as something from her youth.

Jane Walker's biggest character moment is... a quick bit of talk about men today with the obvious subtext being that we modern men are of lesser character to the chivalry of Wells's time. From there on in, she's mainly passive and pretty, serving more to exposit to Dr. Stevenson than to actually have any plan of her own.

I fully admit my enjoyment of the movie may be exaggerating my disappointment with the series. She does play an active role in an attempted escape. But, for the most part, I only see her being pretty and, if this goes like the movie, eventually going back in time to marry Wells. If you saw the series, feel free to vocally disagree with me in the comments.

That said, with such a movie, the series can easily be done much better.

In the movie, the story went from the 1889 to 1979 and stayed there, with no hint of extra time-travel, for the time it took to stop Dr. Stevenson/Jack the Ripper. It was simply these two frenemies out of time and in conflict. Taking that to its logical extension is simple enough to adapt to any number of circumstances and allows for increasing complexity as the series goes on.

What this would require is what what the series started to attempt. It spent too much time foreshadowing more time-travel and an eventual redemption for Dr. Stevenson to do this right.

I propose two story-lines for the series. In the one story-line, you have H.G. Wells, as well as the Amy Robinson/Jane Walker character, both adapting to the current time and seeking out Dr. Stevenson to bring him to justice and, hopefully, stop him before... we'll get to that.

At the same time, their connection must be, before all else, a meeting of minds. It's not just or even primarily physical attraction (though neither is either blind or made of stone). As they go about their efforts, they get to know each other, their intellect, their manner, and their strength of character.

Then, we have Dr. Stevenson. Rather than killing people, willy-nilly, with little to no thought to the consequences of his actions, this Dr. Stevenson doesn't take to killing immediately. He's to smart for that. Instead, he, too, will learn and adapt to this new world, as well as take steps to update his medical knowledge. For all that he believes that he is home, an eager student to a world that has surpassed him in his passion, he does need to be smart about things.

So, for the first season, Dr. Stevenson, who was Jack the Ripper, needs to be building to the point where he can retake a Jack-like persona and start, to use the language he used for the police back then, "ripping". In the conflict between himself and Wells, threats to kill will be credible. He does have his love of killing. But, the serial killer will wait until he's ready, and then will be smart about things.

You can see each line interacting with the utmost politeness and good manners. It's seen to be true that Dr. Stevenson truly does respect his friend, even if he thinks that said friend isn't the one who belongs in this world, but himself. Wells, for his part, remembers the friend (however much that might be social engineering) and acknowledges that this friendship and politeness of manner is a way of managing the threat of Dr. Stevenson. So, even when the stakes are at their highest and time is of the essence, the struggle is on to act quickly, decisively, but always maintain that image of civility. Dr. Stevenson will reward it, if for no other reason, because it amuses him.

Therein we have the great ideological struggle of the movie. Does Jack the Ripper really come "home" when he comes to today? Or, is the world really moving in a better, more harmonious direction (if doing so with great difficulty)? As each one succeeds in establishing their identity in the modern day world, each one will give weight to their assessment of today. Which is true? The narrative of improvement or the narrative of decline?

I know which one I favor.

Date: 2017-07-20 02:28 am (UTC)
dragoness_e: (Echo Bazaar)
From: [personal profile] dragoness_e
I never even knew there was an attempt at a TV series. I liked the movie, however, and Dr Stevenson/Jack was a very memorable character--to this day, a red-haired version of that actor/character is my mental imagery for the human form of Set. (If I ever get around to writing stories with him...)

However, the dynamic you're describing sounds more like The Doctor and The Master than what I remember. If I ever find the movie again, I'll have to re-watch it.

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