In the 1990s, the BBC was forever trying to find a family-friendly drama for Saturday Nights. Bugs was one of them, which we’ve seen before, but they also decided that what would be perfect would be a sci-fi show featuring time travel. But the obvious candidate, Doctor Who, was tied up with an eventually abortive US version, and some nebulous film version which never got close to being made, so the BBC came up with Crime Traveller.
Michael French, an ex Eastender, is Jeff Slade, who teams up with Chloe Annet (the faux Kochanski in later Red Dwarf) and her father’s time machine to solve crimes.
The first episode here is Death Minister, not the first episode in the series. Sue Johnstone, Slade’s boss, is suspicious at Slade’s success, and sets one of her detectives to watch him while, coincidentally, Annett tells him he should avoid using the time machine for a while.
One of the characters in this episode refurbishes old telephone boxes and sells them as ornaments, which allows the show to mercilessly troll the viewer with this shot, while the incidental music craftily quotes part of the Doctor Who theme. And they wonder why we hated it so.
It really is the most perfunctory story. There’s no particular mystery, and since the murderer is someone we haven’t seen until he’s revealed, it’s not very engaging. And the one gimmick the show has – that it repeats a day, so the characters are in two places at once, isn’t even used to any great effect.
But the music is jolly enough, by Anne Dudley.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 5 April 1997 20.10
The next episode is The Lottery Experiment in which Jeff tries to get someone to buy a lottery ticket with the winning numbers. He spends the whole episode trying to contact anyone who might buy a ticket for him, since he can’t buy one himself because it would fade out of existence when he travelled forwards again. This is a story which relies on limited communication options. One of the policemen is showing off his brand new, state of the art mobile phone – which he happens not to have charged. So Jeff is left to try to find a phone somewhere, and keeps being interrupted by the stake-out they’re on, trying to prevent some gold bullion being stolen.
In many ways, this is a more playful episode, and examines a genuine theory about time travel – the if it were actually possible, it would still be impossible to create paradoxes because the universe would somehow prevent it. So each time Jeff tries to leave a message for Holly (Annett) to play the lottery he’s somehow foiled.
Not quite sure which lottery they’re playing, though – here’s the ticket.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 12 April 1997 20.10
The next episode is The Broken Crystal. After going to the cinema to see Les Enfants du Paradis Jeff and Holly qre on the way back to her flat when a man tries to talk to Holly, but is run over by a spooky looking car in the most unconvincing car stunt ever. (I suspect they couldn’t actually afford a stunt, so tried to do it all in editing. These days you’d just do it in AfterEffects.)
The man was a scientist working for a biotech firm. Another scientist working there had also been found dead, and one of the remaining scientists happens to be Holly’s old boyfriend. Naturally, Jeff is suspicious and thinks he’s a suspect, and Holly doesn’t.
Then there’s the driver of the spooky hit and run vehicle. He leads Jeff to an old abandoned factory where he tries to kill him.
The way this episode is going, I’d suspect an evil time traveller, since the suspect has strangely strong alibis. Sure enough, Holly’s old boyfriend has his own time machine, and when Holly shows him hers, he tries to kill her by tying her up in a cryo-freezing lab and freezing her. He doesn’t want to shoot her because he cares about her too much.
And we never find out why he was driving such a weird old car.
This was the last episode of the series, and despite ending on a suggestion of more adventures, the BBC inexplicably declined to commission any more.
It’s hard to quantify quite why this programme doesn’t work, since its failings seem to be many. The plotting is perfunctory at best, there’s no decent characterisation, and all the principals, including the usually reliable Sue Johnstone, seem to be desperately underplaying everything. As a result, there’s little chemistry between any of the principals. It’s as if they’ve all been taking acting lessons from Paul Nicholas.
This was another production by Carnival films, who appeared to have a stranglehold on Saturday evening drama, also producing the marginally more fun Bugs.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 19 April 1997 20.10
After this, there’s a trailer for Hamish Macbeth, then recording stops, and underneath is a mini-series, A Season in Purgatory (BBC One London, 12 April 1997 21.00). The tape ends just as this programme ends.