This year marks the 20th anniversary of Power Rangers: Time Force, the final season of the Power Rangers franchise to be produced by Saban before it was bought by Disney; a series that has become a firm fan favourite over the decades since it first aired, due in large part to the darker, more adult themes of the show.
Power Rangers: Time Force begins in the year 3001, on an Earth where humanity has become part of a larger intergalactic community and aliens are part of everyday life. Earth is policed by the Time Force, a police organisation that also uses a special team of Power Rangers when needed. With all other major criminals captured the Time Force goes after the final villain, a mutant named Ransik (Vernon Wells). Whilst Ransik is captured and sentenced to cryo-prison, it seems like it was his plan all along and he engineers an escape that allows him to gain access to the prison complex.
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Using a time travel device, Ransik and his gang are able to travel back in time to the year 2001, but not before he battles and kills Alex (Jason Faunt), the Red Time Force Ranger. With Alex dead his fiance Jen (Erin Cahill) and the rest of her team steal the Time Force’s time ship and follow Ransik back. Unfortunately, their ship is destroyed and they’re stuck in 2001. Not only that, but they discover that to use their Morphers and become Power Rangers they need someone to use the Red Ranger’s Morpher, someone whose DNA matches Alex. Fortunately, the team discover Wes (Jason Faunt) an apparent ancestor of Alex, who agrees to join the team and stop Ransik.
It’s not a secret that the Power Rangers franchise can be something of a mixed bag, with some series changing theme and tone quite wildly year to year, but there’s a pretty firm consensus within the fan community that for a while there was a time where Power Rangers was at its best, where the show seemed to have finally learnt how to make a decent, engaging, and entertaining show. Beginning with the previous year’s Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue, Power Rangers: Time Force carried across a lot of the themes into its new show.
The series continued to use characters that were out of their teens for a start. Gone were the ‘teenagers with attitude’ of the early days, replaced instead with level headed young-adults who aren’t Power Rangers because they were selected by a space wizard, or because they pulled a magic sword from a stone. Here the majority of the team are people who have been employed to be Power Rangers. It’s literally their job. The only real exception to this is the character of Wes, who’s introduced as something of a reckless young man, someone who hasn’t really had to deal with responsibility before, but learns this over the course of the season from working with his new friends.
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Power Rangers: Time Force also uses a more adult tone in its relationships over previous seasons. The very first episode sees Alex and Jen getting engaged, a first for the show, and the untimely death of Alex is a shocking and brutal end to this relationship. This was only the second time that a Power Ranger had ever been killed on screen, so was still incredibly shocking at the time. It also allowed for the added drama of Jen having to befriend and work with a man who looks just like her lost lover, which would go on to create one of the most complex and engaging romantic relationships in the entire history of Power Rangers.
The series also asked some engaging questions about what does or doesn’t make someone a villain, as the series made all of its ‘monsters’ mutants, people whose DNA was different. This raised questions about whether this obsession with DNA mutation mean that the future of 3001 saw all mutants as evil just because of who they were or if there was something more to it; something the series addressed in the episode ‘Trip Takes A Stand’ where the monster of the week was a mutant prisoner, but was not a villain, and was imprisoned for a minor crime. The episode made a point of showing that just because someone looks like a monster doesn’t mean they’re evil. This theme was later explored with the lead villain Ransik, who was played wonderfully by Vernon Wells, who some might recognise as the villain from the film Commando.
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Over the course of the season we learn more about Ransik’s past and see that he was very much a victim, that due to his mutation he was seen as evil by society and pretty much left to die, making his turn to crime not just understandable, but necessary for his survival. Ransik is one of the few villains in the franchise’s history to be given this kind of depth, and he even willingly turns himself in at the end of the season, before eventually becoming something of a hero in the Power Rangers: Time Force/Power Rangers: Wild Force crossover the following year.
Whilst Power Rangers has always been a silly show for kids, with spandex-clad heroes fighting people in monster suits, it can have more nuance than people who’ve only every seen the original series gives it credit for. It can be a show that has important themes, that has complex relationships, and that tells stories that are layered and engaging for people of all ages. Power Rangers: Time Force is a prime example of this, of the franchise at its best.