Before we get down to the serious business of making Doctor Who fans cry, we get The National Lottery Live. Here’s the end credits. Revel in this glorious collision of utterly unrelated people and things.
There’s a trailer for Goodnight Sweetheart, and a trailer for Hot Shots.
Then, we get the very first episode of Crime Traveller. Jeff Slade and the Loop of Infinity. Even the title sounds like it’s a spoof.
Things don’t start well, as our crack team of detectives arrive at the Station.
That sign saying ‘Station’ is the least convincing piece of set dressing I’ve ever seen. OK, so they clearly couldn’t get filming permission for a station exterior, so they decided to dress a bland looking parade of shops, but didn’t anyone in the art department even once think about using a more convincing typeface. If there’s one thing our transport system has done well it’s typography.
However, after their stake-out fails, and the villain runs, we’re treated to a really good car and bike chase – albeit cliched, insisting on the motorbike running down pavements and laying waste to alfresco diners. And it ends with a genuinely impressive car stunt, jumping a car from a multi-storey car park into the canal.
Admittedly, in the freeze frame you can see the gas from the air-ram that shot the car from the building, but you don’t notice that when it runs. I wonder if they spent the entire budget for the series on this one chase and stunt, and had none left over for script editing.
After the failed stakeout, Slade looks like he might get suspended. Science officer (yes, there’s her title) Holly Turner thinks this is awful, but since we’ve never met her (or Slade) previously, we’ve got no idea what their relationship is, so this comes out of thin air with no context.
So she rushes home, and we discover that she has a contraption in her flat. It’s a time machine. Now, it has a slight Gilliamesque air about it, of being cobbled together from bits and pieces, which works perfectly well in the logic of the story. Some of the parts used are recognisable – there’s a nagra reel to reel tape recorder on the left hand side.
She goes back to the stakeout, and turns out to be the reason the criminal was spooked in the first place, but at least she sees enough to tell Jeff how to crack the case, getting him off the hook.
Then they get into the main mystery, which is a ‘locked room’ mystery where a man is literally shot inside a locked room. The episode plays out by setting out the mystery, then Holly and Jeff use her machine to go back, they go to the crime scene, and Jeff tries to persuade the victim that he’s about to be murdered, to no avail. As Holly explains the rules of time travel, they can go back, but they can’t change what’s already happened.
I love time travel, which might be why this programme is such a big disappointment. They have the chance to do a lot of fun things, but the plots are so perfunctory, and the few examples of seeing the same scene from two different viewpoints are almost thrown away. There’s never any thrill of seeing another side of a scene, any recognition of ‘Oh yes, I’ve seen that before’ – usually the characters have to actually explain, in dialogue, how something has happened ‘before’.
Plus there’s the problem of a bland central character. I’ve no idea what Michael French was like in Eastenders, but here he’s a dull leading man totally lacking in charisma. Chloe Annett is pleasant enough, but there’s little chemistry between them.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 1 March 1997 20.10
Before the next episode there’s another bit of National Lottery nonsense. Then a trailer for Eastenders. And a trailer for the Billy Connolly vehicle Deacon Brodie.
Then we’re back to the future with more Crime Traveller. This episode is A Death in the Family. Holly’s aunt (played by Mary Tamm) dies of poisoning in a fancy restaurant. Almost immediately, Holly gets a call from the aunt’s solicitor, who tells her that she’s named in the will as a joint beneficiary. This stretches credulity further than any of the Time Travel nonsense – the idea that a will would be discussed mere hours after someone dies is ludicrous. And you get the idea the writer knows this, and tries to cover it by having the solicitor say ‘I know I’m jumping the gun a bit.” But because the writer has painted himself into a corner with the limitations of the time machine – it can only go back a few hours, rarely more than 24, so they couldn’t have waited until the will was officially read.
Naturally, they hop back, try in vain to prevent the poisoning, but because that means both Jeff and Holly were present, and Holly has motive because of the will, she’s suddenly a suspect, and arrested. Trouble is, this is before they’ve returned to their own time, and another of the programme’s rules is that they have to return to the time machine at precisely the same time they activated it, otherwise they’ll be hurled into the aforementioned ‘Loop of Infinity’.
So Jeff has to solve the crime by the normal method – talking briefly to each of the four easily identified possible culprits before leaping to a conclusion based on a particular turn of phrase that just happens to be correct.
Here’s another thing about this show. No forensics. Well, there’s the occasional fingerprint, but the programme’s time limit doesn’t really lend itself to waiting for an autopsy or blood tests or DNA tests. It seems like a very old fashioned time.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 8 March 1997 20.10
Before the next episode, another glimpse into the dark heart of the National Lottery.
Following the Lottery, there’s a trailer for Sportsnight. Then, a brilliant trailer for Tomorrow’s World.
Then there’s more crime travelling with the episode Fashion Shoot. A fashion designer is getting death threats, so the police have to protect her. Jeff is drafted in as her personal bodyguard, making Holly jealous.
In this episode, we get to see Jeff’s flat, and it’s as empty and devoid of character as he is.
The plot of this episode was more of a variation on the usual murder, as it turned out to be an insurance scam. And murder.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 15 March 1997 20.10
More lottery before the next show, but thankfully free of sex offenders, as Seal launches the balls, and Monkhouse presents. But we’re not safe yet, because a trailer for Animal Hospital follows.
This is followed by a trailer featuring a man who only rapes childhoods. It’s Omnibus profiling George Lucas.
Then, back to Crime Traveller. This episode has the title The Revenge of the Chronology Protection Hypothesis. While at conference at the Institute of Time, Holly sees the news that Jeff has been shot, and despite just having given a whole lecture about how changing the past is utterly impossible and forbidden by the laws of time, she travels back in time intent on saving Jeff’s life.
This episode features one of the most ridiculously cartoony villains the show has yet produced. Surely no human would hold a gun this way.
Naturally, Jeff manages to cheat death, but in a way that doesn’t break the rules of the show. This one was slightly better than some of the others, but still curiously flat.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 22 March 1997 20.10
Following this episode, there’s a trailer for Have Your Cake and Eat It, a dull looking drama about infidelity. Then a trail for The Big C, a programme about Cancer presented with a sad irony by Wendy Richard.
Then we get the news, leading with trouble in the occupied territories.
BBC Genome: BBC One London, 22 March 1997 21.00
Then there’s a trailer for Panorama, and another for The Untouchables.
Then, we get the start of Have Your Cake and Eat It for about ten minutes before the tape runs out.