As it marks its twentieth year of audio productions, Big Finish’s determination to extend the reach and range of its catalogue is evident in an expanding roster of diverse new titles. Jeremiah Bourne In Time, the latest entry in the Big Finish Originals imprint, is a case in point. Penned by Nigel Planer, this four-part story is a time-travelling adventure that dispenses with many familiar sci-fi tropes in favour of characterisation and bringing to life a convincing sense of place.
Everything in these four instalments pivots around the character of Jeremiah Bourne, a teenager living with his father and his often-annoying younger sister in a sprawling Victorian do-er-upper in modern day London. To his utter surprise, he finds himself transported back through time, in a weird out of body experience. He rematerializes in the exact same place, the cellar of his house, back in 1910, coinciding with a séance and initially being mistaken for one of the departed reaching out from “the other side”.
This is the trigger for a series of encounters with a range of bizarre, eccentric and larger-than-life characters (for which Jeremiah becomes the more normal foil). There are some fantastic vocal performances on show here, with Tim McInnerny (as the spirited naturist enthusiast and scientist Rodger Allcott Standish) and Planer himself (as the duplicitous Henry Davenant Hythe) the standouts amidst an extremely strong cast. These are rich, but broadly drawn characters that encourage actors to go “all out”. But director Barnaby Edwards ensures that the risks of caricature or cliché are carefully avoided. As leading man Bourne, the demands on Sebastian Armesto are different. Appearing in almost every scene, Armesto very effectively delivers a grounded and believable performance with which the other more boldly drawn characters can effectively interact.
Planer has been working on the Jeremiah Bourne story and universe, on and off, for a number of years, with one of the incarnations being an incomplete draft novel. This unfinished tome provided Planer, and script editor Jonathan Morris, with the source material for these first four episodes. Planer acknowledges, in a “making of” interview, that his original story had grown to become somewhat unwieldy. A modest Morris tactfully suggests that he was able to bring some more rigour to the piece, and to introduce some narrative drivers that gave Bourne’s travels through the London of 1910 some sharper purpose. It’s typical of the unusual sci-fi style that the mechanics of time transportation remain almost incidental to the main story. Bourne’s ability is not the result of alien tech or breakthrough science but comes from something far more subtle and personal.
There’s a strong moral centre to the story, along with a great deal of humour and absurdity. When characters from 1910 are transported to 2018 much hilarity (along with some wry and gentle social observations) ensues. There’s also a wider story arc, concerning Bourne’s determination to uncover his true identity (which may be the source of his time shifting powers), and his longing to discover what became of the absent mother he misses so much.
There are no action set-pieces, huge explosions, or terrifying alien monsters in Jeremiah Bourne In Time. Instead this is a well realised, character-driven fantasy tale, which mixes whimsy, pastiche, parody and melodrama with hints of the grotesque and the ridiculous. This richness is strengthened by a first-rate musical score, a muscular sound design and some well-judged directorial flourishes.
In the behind-the-scenes interviews, producer David Richardson talks about wanting to “spend time” in the rewarding company of Bourne, and that’s very much the nature of the appeal here. It won’t be to everyone’s genre taste, and it will be important for listeners to go in with their ears open as to what to expect. But given that there’s no shortage of noise and bombast in genre fiction, Jeremiah Bourne In Time intrigues precisely because it’s something different.