Smash hit Canadian sci-fi show Continuum kicks off in the UK exclusively on Syfy this week (Thursday, 10 pm). You can read more about the twisty-turny premise of the show here , and read an interview with star Rachel Nichols here , but for a more in-depth introduction to the show, we spoke to producer Tom Rowe.
SFX : You must be thrilled by the reception Continuum has been getting.
Tom Rowe: “Yeah, really, really pleased. In Canada it’s shattered all previous ratings on what’s called speciality services. Specialities include Showcase, and History Channel and all those kind of things. Lots of feedback. Surprising fans from all over the world where it’s not been broadcast yet. I don’t know how that works…”
I bet you do!
“Hah, hah, hah. I understand that for seven weeks in a row it was the most illegally downloaded show on the planet.”
That’s a bit of a backhanded compliment.
“Erm, well, yeah… ”
Why do you think it’s been such a massive success?
“Great characters and real interesting ideas. And the ideas, I think, are what make people come back. Time travel is obviously something that’s been done before a zillion times, but the time travel sorta becomes irrelevant; it’s all the ideas and stories that we build around… I think that’s what people respond to. All the ideas in this one are pretty complex and pretty interesting, but all in fairly digestible bite-sized pieces, so you never really stop and think, ‘This is a bunch of hooey,’ you know.
“And obviously, we have a beautiful cast, from top to bottom. And the writers are terrific, and hey, we make good shows.” [laughs]
Is the show that we see on screen the idea that creator Simon Barry came to you with?
“It changed before it got to screen. When he first brought it to us, it was an eight-page pitch document. It went through quite a few changes. Originally, it was gonna be a guy in the lead role. And in discussions we felt – and we talked to the network about it – that a female lead would be a lot more empathetic. She has to leave her family behind, and you would really relate to that a lot more. And also, people always like strong female characters, especially ones that kick-ass like Emma Peel.”
How do you describe the show?
“In a nutshell, I guess it’s about a cop from the future chasing bad guys from the future in our present, but there’s a lot of twists and turns, and it really is hard to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. That’s one of the things that people respond to a lot. It’s always asking that question: are the good guys bad guys, and are the bad guys good guys? It’s deliberately twisted like that.”
A lot of people over the years have pondered that with a slight change of emphasis, the “plucky” rebels in Star Wars could be portrayed as terrorists. It’s that idea that Continuum runs with, isn’t it?
“Exactly. That’s it absolutely. When we started writing the ‘gang’ of– let’s call them – ‘bad guys’ they’re motives were not fully formed. And as we sat in the writers room, they came into focus. They all had similar ideals, but different ways of obtaining those ideals. So within the gang there is Travis, who is a super soldier who will kill anybody. There’s Kellog who has whole other motives. We wanted a character who was happy to be here in the preset and happy to be away from where he had come from. And he’s having a blast here. His storyline becomes bigger and then in season two… no, I won’t tell you anything about season two.”
“But by the time you get to the end of the season – there are ten episodes this season and there will be 13 next season – the end of episode ten is a real mind-bender. There’s a twist at the end of episode one that makes you re-assess things, but the one in episode ten is 100 times more intense.”
It’s also nice to see Vancouver starring… as Vancouver, after being a stunt double for various US cities over the years.
“We were able to shoot in Vancouver as Vancouver, and that was fun! And I think that the way we shot Vancouver means it doesn’t look like it does in all those other shows when it’s standing in for some other city. We’ve lived here all our lives and see it differently to other people who are visiting.”
While a lot of US sci-fi and fantasy shows recently have had some seriously iffy effects work, the future scenes in Continuum are very impressive.
“We’re good, I guess – hah hah! Every episode is book-ended with 2077 scenes, and that will continue. And we have great designers. And all our cinematographers are really talented.”
The show also has some great gadgets, primarily Kiera’s suit and its various abilities
“They all came out of the original writers’ room, when we talked a lot about her suit and what it could do and what it couldn’t do. And one of the things we found when we were coming up with ideas for the 2077 stuff was that almost everything that we came up with that we thought, ‘This is way, way out there…’ somebody would look it up on a computer and two minutes later they’d be saying, ‘That’s already been done…’ Her CMR – and the way she sees, through those implants in her head – as we’re writing that and trying to think of the wackiest things we could possibly do with that, we look it up on the internet, and discover somebody’s already developing that… Although we tried to be as wacky as we could, it turns out everything is in laboratory development right now!”
What were your personal highlights of season one?
“Getting it on the air.”
Was it a bit of a struggle, then?
“The network baulked at the first pitch a little bit. We kept at them and finally they commissioned a pilot script, and once the pilot script was written, it was away to the races. It really did go quite smoothly and quite quickly after that. Once those ideas get into your head you go to sleep thinking about them. I think that’s what happened with the network too…
“The other main delight was we were so luck in casting Rachel Nichols as Kiera. Obviously, you go through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of names and everyone has an opinion. Networks and distributors have more than opinions; they have strong opinions. And we wanted to have the lead cast before was cast everyone around her. But I honestly don’t think there’s misstep in the casting anywhere.”
Any lessons learned from season one that you can implement in season two?
“There were some guest stars that came in – especially in the later parts of the season – and we saw them working and doing their thing and they’re going to come back with a vengeance in season two.”
Continuum – Brand New & Exclusive to Syfy, Thursdays at 10pm from 27 September