Congratulations! By the end of Easter weekend, you’ll have survived almost 4 months without any new Doctor Who on your screens. While there’s been plenty of excellent Big Finish stories to keep you going, some days you want to watch as well as listen. Once you’ve seen the latest animated lost classic, re-watched some favourite DVDs, and started spending a little too much time on YouTube fan channels, you realise you want some new time travel drama to keep your sanity intact. If you’ve got Netflix, you’re in luck, but if you’re not sure just which of the many hundreds of shows to watch, you’re even luckier as we at the DWC have got your covered.
Welcome to the Easter 2019 edition of the DWC guide to time travel shows on Netflix!
Star Trek: Discovery
First up, it’s safe ground and it’s a big one. Yes, it’s Star Trek Discovery Season 2. It’s probably a safe assumption everyone reading this knows what Star Trek is, but have you been following Discovery? Did you watch some or all of Season 1 and think it wasn’t bad in places but didn’t quite work? Have no fear: Season 2 has stepped up a level in almost all areas.
Quick summary: Star Trek Discovery is set before the original Star Trek series with Kirk. Season 1 focussed on Michael Burnham, Spock’s adopted sister we never knew about. The season arc was a war against the Klingons, mixed with a parallel universe story and a strange new starship drive. And the end scene was an encounter with the Enterprise commanded by Captain Pike.
Season 2 puts Pike in charge of Discovery, gives a quest for Spock (played by Gregory Peck’s grandson), and a big season arc. If you’ve missed season arcs, this is the big one. There’s time travel (a lot of it, in fact), a red angel, mysterious Federation spies, strange tech, and more, much more. Captain Pike is one of the best captains to ever sit in the chair and the stories are quite often brilliant. Spock is another casting triumph and Jonathan Frakes (Riker from The Next Generation) even directs a couple!
BOTTOM LINE: Good Star Trek with time travel and a story arc – what’s not to like?
Next up is a rather different show: Timeless. If you liked Rosa, there’s a good chance you’ll like Timeless. What’s more, if you don’t have Netflix, it’s even on Channel 4 from time to time (as is the excellent Netflix series, Homeland, but that’s not in scope as there’s no time travel, aliens, or any other sci fi!). It’s already been cancelled after two seasons, but fans love it. In fact, it was cancelled after one season and brought back as a result of fan demand, and producers have even made a one-off special to close the cliff-hanger from Season 2.
The premise is this: Paterson Joseph is a brilliant and rich scientist who invents a time machine. Said machine (the mothership) is stolen and the heroes follow it through time in a prototype machine, the lifeboat. Its approach to time travel is rather different to Doctor Who; there’s a machine but beyond that, history gets rewritten all the time, and often with side effects. Each episode dips into history (most often American, but not always) and points out the roles played by people who aren’t male and white. It deals with what we would today call racism and does so with some objectivity. It seeks to educate and inform but also tell decent stories. There’s a conspiracy, intrigue, and side-stories, and the show isn’t afraid to reset itself when a storyline runs out of steam.
BOTTOM LINE: An endearing show that entertains as well as informs.
The idea of rewriting history is at the core of the next two choices, both with a strong Canadian influence and sharing several cast members. Both have now either finished or been cancelled and it’s intriguing to wonder what the next series might be…
Continuum ran from 2012 to 2015 and is the story of law enforcement office Kiera Cameron, a mother from 2077 trapped back in the early 21st Century in pursuit of time travelling terrorists. Her only advantages are various pieces of high tech (a suit that makes the wearer invisible and bullet proof, a special gun, and some cybernetics) and she quickly meets teenage genius Alec Sadler who would go on to invent most of the world of 2077, including Kiera’s suit. As the series moves forward, the terrorists try to change history but – and the “but” is a good one – just who sent them back in time, just what is the plan Alex in the future had, and just why is Kiera here?
It’s set in Vancouver and has large scale concepts where everything in the world has a location in the local neighbourhood. It’s a bit like having every alien in Doctor Who invade London rather than anywhere else!
As history changes, we get alternate versions of Kiera, Alex’s own life takes a very different tack, and even though later series jump the shark a little (super soldiers from the future, a strange sect of time protectors), overall it’s a show focussed on doing the right thing and the difference between short and long term goals. The producers also let Keira be a real person and a mother first rather than turn her into a pin-up, super hero in a tight-fitting costume aimed at the more adolescent viewer.
BOTTOM LINE: If flawed in places, and relying too heavily on convenient connections, it has merits and a good sense of character.
Last in our selection but by no means least is Travelers (US spelling), which ran for three seasons, 2016-19. The idea is a collection of people travel back from the future and alter history for the better. This is as we are polluting the planet and need help to avoid future eco-catastrophe. The travelers go about various missions and mould history, but each time, it seems events turn out for the worst.
There are several areas where this show brims with originality. As a writer I like how there’s a chance of perspective over the seasons. Imagine being a spy with a mission, you only need a secret identity good enough to last a short time. If you are staying longer your cover needs depth, and at some point, develop meaningful relationships and settle into a new life. It’s very subtly done and to be commended.
The big USP though is the way travelers come back in time which (no spoilers here) has consequences. Only information can travel in time so a person can only come back as a mind so needs a body to inhabit. There are all kinds of ethical consequences and the show doesn’t hesitate in exploring them.
BOTTOM LINE: There’s more to this than meets the eye, with a great cast and some intriguing characters. Go watch now – don’t read the rest of this article.
BONUS: The Good Place
If you’re still here, there’s a bonus. It’s not a time travel show but it is a fantasy, and it is about ethics again. It’s The Good Place a show about the afterlife. It’s clever, has short episodes, is funny, and even has Ted Danson as the person in charge of the place where you go when you die. It’s already had three seasons and is easy to watch in short bursts.
BOTTOM LINE: Try something different – try The Good Place.