El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) is a Spanish television series produced by TVE that began its run last week. The show is surprisingly well done for a locally produced Spanish series, and fills an interesting niche of a time travel show with a more localized historical focus. The titular ministry in the show is a branch of the Spanish government founded by Queen Isabel I and King Ferdinand, which for the past five centuries has protected the secret of time travel and kept history on its proper course. Time travel is established by going through fixed doorways between eras, and the employees of the ministry all come from different time periods
The show follows one of the teams working for the ministry. Alonso de Entrerrios, a Spanish soldier from 1569, is recruited to the Ministry just before his execution in Flanders. Amelia Folch, a young woman from 1880 and one of the first women to attend university in Spain, is recruited after one of her classes. Lastly, Julian Martinez, an EMT in 2015 Madrid, encounters the Ministry after running into a burning building to save two people trapped inside only to discover a corpse in a Napoleonic era uniform and two others, who flee as he is knocked out. They are inducted into the ministry and tasked with finding the two French soldiers from 1808 who have somehow traveled to modern day Madrid.
While only the first episode has aired so far, El Ministerio del Tiempo already has me intrigued at the premise and wanting to see more. The production values are surprisingly good for a locally produced Spanish show, and the cast of characters work well together. The mix of people from different time periods is an interesting choice as it encourages the different historical points of view to play off each other. For instance, Alonso, being from the 16th century, is surprised that Amelia knows how to ride a horse but Julian does not. It is not always portrayed as more recent times being objectively better either. Alonso comes from a culture where one’s honor is valued very highly, and he will defend anyone if he feels they are being disrespected. This gets them into trouble in 1808 when Alonso is eager to fight a pair of French soldiers after one of them harasses one of the women working at an inn.
I also really enjoyed the distinctly Spanish elements of the show, as many of its references are somewhat localized to Spain and its history. The plot of the first episode surrounds a plot to assassinate El Empecinado, a Spanish officer in the Peninsular War who first encouraged the use of guerrilla tactics that helped Spain push Napoleonic forces out of the country and was key in the overall defeat of Napoleon. Some of the more minor details also play on Spanish history as well. To show Julian that time travel is real, his boss opens one of the doorways to Roman times to reveal the Segovia Aqueduct under construction. There is also an excellent scene where they go through a door to see 17th century painter Diego Velazquez painting Las Meninas. In the shot of the room, the door is shown to be the same one that is in the background of the painting, and later Diego Velazquez shows up as an employee of the ministry as their official sketch artist.
Some of the aspects of time travel in El Ministerio del Tiempo are also quite novel in how they are portrayed. The use of fixed doorways located in the ministry building (and some scattered rogue doors like the ones the Napoleonic era soldiers travel through) allow the show to retain a sense of suspense and urgency in the timing of the missions, as time passes as the same rate on both sides of the doorways. It’s also established that when the characters from past eras get off work from the ministry, they simply step through the doors to their own time periods. This explains how Velazquez can work at the ministry without disappearing from history and causing a paradox. The doorways in the ministry also change every week, though some are fixed and can be used when employees have time off. The clerk at the entrance to the cavernous room that houses the hundreds of doors states that he frequently goes back to 1996 to watch the same Atlético Madrid football match over and over.
As El Ministerio del Tiempo is a current production and only available on TVE’s website, there are unfortunately not English subtitles available. However, for those who know Spanish, you can find the first episode here. I highly recommend it. The end of the episode hints at a potential longer arc with a rogue agent who had been assumed dead. Future episodes look promising with plots involving the playwright Lope de Vega and preventing Spain from joining World War II. The focus on Spain may make some of the references obscure for foreign viewers not familiar with the country’s history. But for someone who is interested in Spanish history or just tired of the usual historical time travel cliches, it is a refreshing change in setting and an all around engaging series.