Look Back: Crime Traveller

In the mid-1990’s, Saturday evening television did not have the behemoth which is Dr Who, nor had reality TV shown its hand as not even Pop Idol had begun. The BBC still produced a variety of entertaining family fun for the prime time slots though. After all, it was part of its remit. Bugs was one such show; Jonathan Creek another. Sandwiched between them both was the Daddy of them all, cruelly extinguished after just one series thanks to the vagaries of entertainment executives’ whims and a black hole of responsibility which we will talk about later. This fantastic show - a classic of the time - is Crime Traveller, something everybody should see. You owe it to yourself.

Crime Traveller stars Michael French, currently a major part of Casualty but at the time looking to leap to mega-stardom after ending his turn on Eastenders and taking on the role of Jeff Slade, a Detective in the CID department of the local Police organisation. Chloe Annett is the aforementioned force’s science officer. Together, they travel through time righting what once was wrong, driven by an unknown...wait, no. They do travel through time but can only do so up to a period of up to one week. It is not controllable, but by doing so you are able to exist in the same temporal world as has happened before you chose to travel through time. Indeed, anything your current self does affects what happened in reality. There are no alternate timeline shenanigans going on here - it’s pure unadulterated butterfly effect in action. Causality be damned - crimes must be understood; criminals must be found out. The bad guys must lose.

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There are certain rules of time travel as set out by Holly Turner, as learnt from her Father, Professor Frederick Turner, the gentleman who invented the time machine which effectively is built into (is?) the living room in the flat where Turner resides. These rules are as follows:

1) The time machine sends the traveller back in time by a random interval which can be anything from a few minutes up to a week. However long you go back for, you must live through that time again. You cannot choose your destination, as it were.

2) You must not meet yourself in the past. A staple of time travel but never explained in terms of consequence during the series’ run.

3) You cannot change the past. Which makes it fun when you realise something which happened is actually because of the time travellers. It really bakes your noodle, which for a Saturday evening BBC show is quite something.

4) You cannot exist more than twice in the same time frame.

5) At the point in time at which the repeated time passes into the current, you must be at the time machine otherwise you will be forever in the loop of infinity - this is where Prof. Turner is, alas.

6) The time machine never travels into the future. Holly tells Jeff in the first episode "You can't travel into something that doesn't exist."


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Anyway, in the opening episode Slade is very interested in the information Turner is able to provide him relating to a case. Aside from the help it gives him in prosecuting the baddies he cannot fathom how she managed to get the information she did in the time she did given where he'd last seen her. She eventually explains to him about the time machine. Being the very cool mustard jacketed, shirt and jeans wearing fellow he is (watching the show today it is really so very dated - it was only the ‘90’s for crying out loud - but that just adds to the overall charm) he doesn’t believe her. Soon, whilst investigating his latest case he realises that she is telling the truth and that he needs to see time travel in action - and use it to solve crime. So begins the tale of Slade & Turner - Crime Travellers.

The show only lasted eight glorious episodes. This was not due to lack of quality, or the requisite Saturday evening cheese. How can anything involving cast members from two of Britain’s greatest shows (Eastenders and Red Dwarf) whereby they travel through time to solve crimes even Poirot would otherwise find difficult be anything less than amazing? Comically the reason behind its lack of recommissioning was down to a rejig of the BBC’s organisation. A new head of drama, nobody assigned with the responsibility to ok a second run and the arrival of Jonathan Creek a week after this ended. A Perfect Storm of screw-you Crime Traveller, basically.

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Crime Traveller as a whole is available on DVD. Do yourself a favour and go seek this out. It’ll entertain you thanks to the fun and silly premise, the cheesiness of 1997, the cool time travel plot device and the attempts later on in the series to create a mythology ready for the never arriving season two. If there were a time machine in The Digital Fix’s house it would be used to go back to the BBC circa 1997 and ensure this wonderful show got a second, third fourth and fifth series. It’s the least it deserves.

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