02nd Jan2015

Crime Traveller: A Look Back at a Forgotten British Sci-Fi Gem

by Kat Wheat


It cannot be denied that America does straight-laced science-fiction, on the small screen, better than perhaps anyone. However, when it comes to offbeat and innovative interpretations of the genre, British television cannot be beaten. British science-fiction has a long and varied history within the genre that is respected by fans across the globe. Crime Traveller (1997) is a worthy addition to this canon which, sadly, outside its small but passionate fan-base has been largely forgotten.

Crime Traveller presented watertight time travelling laws that were impressively fleshed-out and interconnected. An excellent example of this being when a friend of mine smugly pointed out that if he had access to a time-machine, he would have gone back and bet a substantial sum on the runaway success of the career of a jockey, such as Ruby Walsh. The Irishman is the stuff of legends in horse racing circles. Walsh has ridden more than 2,000 winners in his career and so any flutter on his in its early stages would have been lucrative to say the least. Anyway, to get back to the point, later that very episode, central protagonist Jeff Slade attempted to perform a similar trick in betting on a race. Literally every avenue of this dubious decision was covered, and subsequently neutralised, in a variety of ways that remained true to the show’s mythology and without sacrificing logic. It was truly a gratifying moment where, having thought Slade had failed, he triumphantly revealed his horse betting slip only to find it was completely blank.

Deftly mixing elements from a classic detective series with fully-rounded sci-fi conventions, Crime Traveller created an intricate and compelling narrative throughout its short run that was impressively high on continuity and logic. The series also benefited from the strong chemistry between central protagonists Jeff Slade and Holly Turner, played with the perfect blend of camp awareness and unflinching seriousness by Micheal French and Red Dwarf‘s Chloe Annet. Indeed, there was more than a little bit of Mulder and Scully about these two contrasting law-enforcers; one clean-cut and overtly professional and the other roughish and ridiculously reckless.

The erratic nature of the time machine itself, the dubious legacy of Holly’s scientist father, proved a fantastic dramatic device which constantly placed the two leads against the clock. Moreover, the slow reveal of the seemingly implausible events of the original crime as being somewhat caused by Holly and Jeff’s own time-travelling investigations never failed to impress and enthral. The series was also insanely inventive with its premise and regularly changed-up the formula. In one episode Holly accidentally positions herself as the prime-suspect of the murder of her aunt. In another Holly’s attempts to prevent Jeff being shot actually leads to the event itself. The complex and multi-layered scripts of Crime Traveller do, however, become less surprising when you consider they were written by Sherlock Holmes scribe Antony Horowitz.

The series is undeniably low-budget, with Holly’s time-machine being a fantastic mishmash of cobbled together 1990’s technology and retro sound-effects. However, the kitsch charm and playful nature of the series mean this compliments rather than distracts from the goings-on. Moreover, for a series that was cut-short, the run has a nice and fully-rounded arc that neatly ties-up the series. The final episode, in particular, features not only the appearance of a second time-machine but a fabulously deranged villain complete with a disturbingly bleak demise that only becomes darker on repeated viewings.

Overall, Crime Traveller was a wonderfully unique series that wasn’t afraid to utilise clichés as often as it broke them. Propelled by strong central performances, complex narratives and a nicely underplayed sense of humour, the series embodied all that is great about British Sci-Fi. Despite a small but strong fan-base, and dedicated website, it is unlikely that this series will ever return for a second run. However, thanks to a nicely contained series arc, Crime Traveller can be viewed in its entirety without viewers being left with too many unresolved questions.


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