Jeremiah Bourne In Time – Starring Sebastian Armesto, Sophie Thompson, Tim McInnerny, Celia Imrie, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan, Tim Bentinck, Annette Badland, Siobhán Redmond, Ony Uhiara, Alix Wilton, Regan, Lauren McCrostie, Helen Goldwyn & George Naylor – Written by Nigel Planer & Directed by Barnaby Edwards – Download (Big Finish)
The Big Finish Originals range is a celebration of the company’s twenty years in the original audio drama game. As a part of that celebration (and, let’s face it, probably flotation) of new ideas for series, Jeremiah Bourne In Time should be an absolute home run, given the mostly geek-centric Big Finish audience. It’s a Young Adult take on time travel without a capsule, and tells us the story of young Jeremiah Bourne (an oddly Dickensian name, right from the get-go), modern teen with seeming gaps in an otherwise pin-sharp memory, and his sudden discovery of an ability to time travel to anywhere he can remember and sufficiently describe.
In this first four-hour story with Jeremiah, we’re given as much of his origin story as he can be sure of when we meet him – his mother apparently went away when he was young, his step-dad’s a house restoration nut, his sister’s a bit brilliant but mostly infuriating, in the way of sisters everywhere…and then he falls through time. Not space – he isn’t your average wanderer in time and space, but throwing a nod at HG Wells’ Time Machine, he stays precisely where he is when he time travels (and, as with Wells’ intrepid time traveller, he comes to realise the potential perils of that truth).
There’s a thread of Jeremiah looking for his missing mother, who’s a London cabbie, and as such is possessed of both ‘The Knowledge’ of London and the enlarged hippocampus in her brain that cabbies often acquire through the learning and navigating process. It’s argued here for the sake of drama that Jeremiah (known as Jem to most people) has ‘inherited’ that large hippocampus, and with it the cognitive, memory and navigation advantages of the cabbie, without doing any of the work to get it, and it’s a skill he uses on several occasions when chasing bad men through the streets of South London. Because once he slips back in time, there are bad men aplenty, and arguably some bad women too – Jem finds himself in London in 1910, which is as near to Victorian times as makes no odds, and runs across all kinds of oddities, grotesques and ebullient life-forces – the wealthy dabblers in every new idea, Mrs Phillis Stokes and Rodger Allcott Standish (she’s a bit of a spiritualist, he’s a lot of a parrot-owning nudist, she’s played by Sophie Thompson, he’s played by Tim McInerny – any questions you have should now be subsiding in your brain), the strict founder of a home for ‘Fallen Girls’ (or unmarried teen mothers as we think of them), Clementina Quentinbloom, played by eminent script-helper Celia Imrie, the humanitarian and eugenicist, Henry Davenant Hythe, trying to rid the streets of filth and poverty, just posssssibly through the removal of dirty and poor people, and so on. Davenant Hythe is played by Nigel Planer, Neil from The Young Ones, one authoritative voice of the Discworld, and playwright of distinction (If you ever get a chance to check out his play On the Ceiling, do – it’s fabulous). Planer’s also the brain behind the series, having been involved in previous HG Wells productions at Big Finish and deciding to throw his hat in the time travel ring.
Jeremiah Bourne In Time, Series 1 then, follows Jem as he gets mixed up in the affairs of these early 20th century people, especially one particular young Fallen Girl, Daisy Wallace, with whom there are agreeable complications, and as he searches for his mother, or his ancestor, or both.
It’s a sprawling back-and-forth affair that takes four hours without necessarily feeling like it has enough material to fill that time. That in itself is odd, because there’s clearly plenty of story here – there are gorgeous hints of stories beneath the story, and Jem’s a character with enough oomph in his background and his mysteries to make you want to spend more time with him and uncover them. What’s more, all the characters here are colourful and rich, and the cast list is to absolutely die for – as well as Planer, McInerny, Thompson and Imrie, you’ve got Tim Bentick, Annette Badland, Christopher Ryan, Siobhan Redmond, George Naylor and Helen Goldwyn populating Jem’s worlds, so it’s not as if the recording booths aren’t absolutely jam-packed with talent. If anything lets Series 1 down, it’s the feeling that faffing about with Fallen Girls and the people trying in various high-handed ways to improve their lot in life isn’t enough of a problem for any time traveller worth their salt to need four hours of running time to solve – which leads to the secondary thought that perhaps Jeremiah Bourne isn’t a time traveller worth his salt, or your prolonged attention.
It would be a huge mistake to succumb to that notion. This may not be Jeremiah Bourne’s finest four hours, but as with any superhero origin movie, it spends most of its active run-time establishing characters and the rules of the game in this iteration of a tried and tested format. This series shows us how Jem travels in time, gives us a crumb of possible explanation as to why he’s able to do so, and gives us lots of characters to anchor him in his place – step-son, dorky brother, enthusiast, and yet possessed of a power unlike all but a handful of human beings. In a way, it’s important to adjust your paradigm vision to get the most out of Jeremiah Bourne – he’s not, for instance, Son of Doctor Who. He’s more like the Spider-Man of time travel: young, unsure, intrinsically positive about life, and getting better at mastering his gifts by the end of this series, with mysteries to uncover as he goes forward. As with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jeremiah Bourne In Time, Series 1 gives you all the rules, the set-up, and a battle to do the right thing once our hero has figured out what it actually is. It crackles with the potential not only of itself, but of the stories that can be built on the basis of its beginnings.
Listen to Jeremiah Bourne In Time, Series 1, for an endlessly agreeable performance from Sebastian Armesto in the title role, a truckload of high-quality acting talent in well-developed supporting roles, and an absolute belter of an origin, with plenty of curiosity-hooks to pull you forward, almost demented to find out how the series opens up into the wider universe of time travel misadventure it so clearly intends to inhabit. It’s a confident beginning with huge potential. Stick with Jem through his stumbles in this series as he grows in confidence and self-determination – he’s clearly going places. Or at least, times. Tony Fyler