Doesn’t Looper look like an interesting film? As a sci-fi buff, I try to keep my cynicism far away from any upcoming film releases and just enjoy the hype for a bit. Fingers crossed for more interesting, mainstream sci-fi in the future, though Bruce Willis’ last attempt didn’t exactly inspire people.
Still, to celebrate my growing enthusiasm for this flick, I’ve compiled a lot of my 5 best, and worst, time travellers.
The Time Traveller
It’s only fair to kick things of with the Time Traveller from H.G Wells’ classic work The Time Machine. Unnamed in the book, the Time Traveller is an eccentric English inventor who calls together a group of colleagues at his home to demonstrate his latest invention. His device, as you might have guessed from the title, is a time machine. He uses the device in the hope of discovering an idyllic society, however things don’t work out quite as he imagined. The further forward the Time Traveller ventures, the more complications seem to crop up in mankind’s search for peace.
The Time Machine is a seminal work of literature, and is not only one of the first books to really explore time travel as a narrative device, but also one of the first to really examine the consequences. However, the Time Traveller earns his place on this list on his own merits. Not only is the character a scientific genius, but his is driven not by personal gain, but an insatiable dream of seeing mankind achieve true peace.
You could be forgiven for forgetting about Kyle Reese. After all, that’s what the Terminator franchise did until the lousy Terminator Salvation. However, for those who still enjoy the first entry in the series, Kyle is a pivotal character that carries the film exceptionally well. Sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese always strikes me as something of a tragic figure. Raised in a war torn world, it becomes his sole responsibility to save mankind’s greatest leader. He must do this while navigating a world he doesn’t understand, for a future that nobody else can see. This character driven element is the start of the narrative that would bind the various elements of the first two Terminator films together so strongly and make them as successful as they were.
What can you say about the Doctor that hasn’t already been said? Star of the longest running science fiction series in the world, The Doctor is one of the few characters on TV that is grounded is strong ethical principles. The motivating force of the character is the desire to do good, not for personal gain or for the future success of mankind, but because it is the right thing to do. Part of the show’s character has been, until recently, a decision to not minimise or gloss over death. Perhaps the finest thing about the Doctor’s character has been the BBC’s unwillingness to show killing as part of the job. Couple that with a fine brain, two hearts and the ability to change actor frequently and you have one of the most compelling characters in TV history.
Part of me wanted to put The Doctor right at the top of the list but I had to stop myself. While the Doctor is definitely the finest adventurer and hero on the list, I’m not so sure about Time Traveller. While Time Travel is his prime mode of transport, it very rarely features in his stories as a plot point and so it’s little more than a storytelling device. For this reason the Doctor got bumped down a bit.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is probably my favourite book. That’s a hard category to narrow down, but Audrey Nieffenegger’s novel is an exceptional work. The story of a married couple whose lives are panning out in slightly the wrong order, Henry DeTamble is the cause of all this drama.
Born with a rare genetic condition that makes he leap forwards or backwards to significant places in his life, Henry is a survivor. He knows how to pick a lock, steal clothes (he can’t bring them with him) and talk his way out of a bad situation, until he bounces back to the present. The novel presents a growing conflict between Henry’s erratic leaps through time and his knowledge that one day he won’t be fast enough or strong enough to keep it up. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a gripping read, from the first page to the last, and Henry is a big part of that.
Predictable, I know. But Back to the Future is one of those films that is so popular for a reason. It is one of the most well constructed, entertaining films ever made. A perfect balance of comedy, family drama and science fiction with one of the most exciting climaxes ever filmed.
Marty himself starts of as something of a blank slate. A typical 80s teen, he rides a skateboard and plays the guitar, until he is sent back in time to the year 1955 and accidentally stops his parents from meeting. On paper, the role seems flat and lifeless, but Michael J. Fox brings it to life with a warmth that is hard to resist. Perhaps his biggest strength as an actor is in taking the relationship between Marty and Doc, and making it completely believable despite the age gap. This relationship would serve as the foundation for three films and never once did it seem unrealistic thanks to two actors with such great chemistry.
The Back to the Future trilogy is so great because it’s about how Time Travel can tell use more about people and Marty McFly is the perfect vehicle to explore these themes with.
So, those are the Time Travellers that make sci-fi worthwhile. Now what about the duds.
George and Gracie
I feel terrible including George and Gracie on this list because, well, they’re Whales and it’s not really their fault. Sadly their inclusion in Star Trek IV, the most overrated of the Trek flicks, necessitates their inclusion.
There’s a lot to like about Star Trek IV, I know. After two very serious films, the chance to put familiar characters in the present day and explore a little comic relief can be very fun. The problem is that the film takes about a half hour’s worth of plot and builds an entire film around the Enterprise crew wandering around 1980s San Francisco. The cherry on top, however, is the purpose for their visit. An alien probe (in a plotline very similar to Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is approaching Earth with a message for the humpback whales, and will destroy the planet if it doesn’t get an answer. The only solution is, apparently, to travel back in time and find some. Enter George and Gracie.
Every time I see this film, I wonder how much technology has decline in the 23rd century. I mean, we could probably knock up a fake humpback whale soundboard right now if we needed to. Perhaps that sort of deception is just not allowed at Federation HQ.
Yes, I know someone named Henry DeTamble appeared on the other list, but this is about a completely different Henry DeTamble who appeared in a recent film that was also called The Time Traveler’s Wife. This Henry DeTamble was not a particularly interesting Time Traveller and his only character trait seemed to immitate Eric Bana contemplating firing his agent.
Professor John Robinson
Of all the things wrong with the Lost in Space movie, one of the worst is its sudden transformation into a completely different film in the last half hour. A sudden leap into the future finds a young Will Robinson is being looked after by a mutate Dr. Smith that has eaten all his family. In this desolate future, he has constructed a massive time machine that is destroying the universe. His father, Professor John Robinson, finds him via some kind of rift in the space-time continuum and attempts to convince him that Monster-Dr Smith probably doesn’t have his best interest at heart. He then uses Will Robinson’s doomsday time machine to go back and stop the whole last half hour from happening. If only we could do the same.
The film plays out pretty well for the most part. At the end of the 70s, Superman had matured somewhat from his goofy 50s persona and it wouldn’t be long before John Byrne would write the Man of Steel miniseries sealed the deal and established the modern Superman continuity. Superman: The Movie has some of the weaknesses of the old era, a goofy Clark Kent, a “criminal mastermind” Lex Luthor instead of the industrialist, it’s quite a modern take on the character. Luthor isn’t quite a mad scientist, but has an elaborate property scam, and the atmosphere at the Daily Planet is more of an authentic newsroom than a comic book office. The culmination of the film shows Lex Luthor’s plan succeed, Lois Lane buried during a deliberately triggered Earthquake and Superman facing real loss and pain for the first time.
Then Superman flies round the world backwards until it starts spinning the other way and time turns backwards with it.
Suddenly we’re back with the Superman that keeps cities in bottles and opens his Fortress of Solitude with a giant key.
Now I know that technically this isn’t Time Travel, Superman stays where he is and everything else goes back in time, but I’m counting it because the effect is the same and if the movie can use such a stupid cheat then so can I. You know what bugs me the most about this? It’s so far from how science works, it’s impossible to actually suspend your disbelief. Every time the globe starts to slow, I wonder where all of human civilisation doesn’t get flung off into space.
I could continue but if I don’t stop now I’ll burst a blood vessel.
Another Superman related one, but a bit different. Fans of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman will probably know this character, but most people probably had enough sense to stop watching by this point. It is my fondest hope that Lois and Clark will go down in history as the show with the fastest decline in quality from the first series to the second. Never has a great show divebombed like this one, and with the nightmare that was Series 2-4 came Tempus.
To be fair, Tempus’ first episode isn’t bad. Well, relatively speaking when you consider the dross that the show was usually doling out by this point. H.G Wells turns up and tells Clark Kent that he knows his secret identity and he needs his help. Apparently Wells is the Time Traveller that he wrote of in the Time Machine, he did go forward in time and find a Utopia, established by Superman. Unfortunately, he brought a master criminal named Tempus from the future back with him for reasons that probably seemed better at the time and then lost him.
Unfortunately, once Superman retrieves Tempus and H.G Wells takes him back to the future, he returns. More than once. Each time the Tempus episodes became more and more embarrassing and loyal viewers could only dream of a show that once brought us the finest screen incarnation of Superman in years.
So, that’s it, my five best and worst time travellers. Feel free to argue it out in the comments.