Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat didn’t stay away from time travel for long. Having served as the showrunner of Doctor Who from 2010 to 2017, he knew the ins and outs of traveling through time and space intimately. So when The Time Traveler’s Wife was first announced as a series on HBO with Moffat attached, I can’t say I was shocked. Okay, well maybe just a little.
The original novel by Audrey Niffenegger may be more romance than sci-fi, but with Moffat on board, I was fully prepared for a greater focus on time-traveling than ever before. Did the show live up to my expectations, or did I wish I could disappear from it in a blink like Henry? Let’s jump in!
[Warning: Spoilers from The Time Traveler’s Wife premiere episode are below!]
Falling in love is easy, but sustaining love isn’t. It takes hard work, open communication, and trust in your partner. And if you’re Claire (Rose Leslie) and Henry (Theo James), it is even more difficult when you have to factor time-traveling into the equation.
From Claire’s perspective, she’s loved Henry since childhood. Beginning as a random man appearing in the field behind her house, Henry visits Claire hundreds of times over a decade of her life. Every time he appears, starting when Claire is six years old, his age varies. Sometimes he is 40, other times as young as thirty. But over time her feelings grow until the visits stop.
For Henry, his journey in love with Claire begins when he is 28 and working at a library. One day a 20-year-old Claire walks in and recognizes her future husband instantly. She appears to know so much about his life and the workings of time traveling, much to the surprise of Henry who appears nervous around this excited woman he has never met.
Over the course of the first episode, the story flashes back and forth quite a bit, which is similar to how the book plays out as well. A good chunk of it is spent in the “present-day” with twenty-year-old Claire and twenty-eight-year-old Henry, as they go on their first date, leading to their first fight.
Some of the flashbacks explore Henry in different phases of his life, from childhood to present-day. These flashbacks help with establishing the rules of time travel, which isn’t consistent even if the rules Henry lives by are.
The flashbacks that feature Claire are mostly establishing her relationship and feelings with Henry, which plays out as a father-daughter role when she is younger and more romantic as time marches on.
Changes from The Time Traveler’s Wife book
As expected, some changes were made to the show from the book. The opening moment of the show set the scene for one of those changes. It opens with Henry and Claire filmed by a handheld camera and asked about their relationship. This allows for both to easily narrate the show, adding context or thoughts that aren’t explicitly seen on screen.
As well, the story’s time frame is moved from the 1960s through the 2000s to a story more present day. This shift may not have a huge impact on the story, but it is a shift in narrative.
Perhaps the biggest change to the novel comes in the form of a tooth. During the scene where 28-year-old Henry brings 20-year-old Claire back to his apartment, she finds a tooth in a cup and appears rather weirded out.
Henry explains that parts of him, when removed from the body, continue traveling through time. This is foreshadowed in more sinister ways throughout the episode; first with a gigantic pool of blood, and in the final moments two disembodied feet.
There were also changes to Claire’s response to finding Henry’s present-day girlfriend’s items at his apartment. In the book, she remains calm but indicates that she is there now. However, show Claire has a more realistic response, getting quite mad at Henry for having sex with her while still in a relationship.
This adds more depth to their relationship, proving that loving someone is difficult, especially when you are in love with the idea of who that person will become. I’m excited to see this play out.
Characters in The Time Traveler’s Wife
This first episode exclusively focused on Henry and Claire’s story. There were some secondary characters introduced in the first episode, such as Henry’s mother, however, these characters felt extremely one-dimensional.
Henry felt all over the place in terms of characterization, however, that is due to the story itself. Young Henry, played by Jason David, was excited at time-traveling and full of wonder. Present-day Henry (James) comes off jaded, cold, and kind of an ass. He’s nothing like the calm, happy 30+-year-old Henry who appears a few times during the first hour.
The vast changes didn’t throw me off while watching, but it is more exaggerated than it was in the book. Probably to add to the drama for the show. James does a great job bringing Henry to screen and I cannot wait to see what he will do with the role over the course of this first season.
Claire seemed more consistent throughout her storyline, which makes sense as she is the one experiencing the story linearly. Leslie does an exceptional job playing an individual who is both infuriated and totally in love with a man whose life is utterly confusing.
The vast layers that she brings in this opening episode legitimately make me even more excited for this show than I already was. Casting Rose Leslie was one of the best choices this show made.
The Time Traveler’s Wife has some incredible potential. Knowing where the show is eventually headed, I don’t see it continuing long past a season or two, but the story that they are setting up is one that will be fantastic.
James and Leslie are quite the dynamic duo on screen together, with their chemistry already off the charts. If you were a fan of the novel, I say check it out. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, also check it out. Hell, if you’ve never even heard of this title before, I suggest you check it out. It’s worth your time.
The Time Traveler’s Wife airs new episodes on Sunday.