Simplicity Within Complexity: Crime Traveller (TV Showcase #10)

I’ve talked before about balancing two genres, which this show did. But it also did something much more important, which is what I want to focus on. I can’t say much here in the intro without going off on what I’m going to talk about with this show, so I’ll just go ahead and introduce it here: this is “Crime Traveller”.

“Crime Traveller” (CT for short) only ran for eight one-hour episodes in 1997. As could be guessed from the double L in “traveller”, CT was a British show, created and exclusively written by Anthony Horowitz (who’s the author of juvenile book series’ such as Alex Ryder and Diamond Brothers Mysteries, as well as several episodes of “Poirot”). The show focused on Jeff Slade, a police detective who never followed the rules, and Holly Turner, the owner and operator of a time machine. Slade and Holly used the machine in secret so that Slade could catch his crooks and solve his mysteries. The machine was never perfected, only allowing the two to go back in time anywhere from a few minutes up to a week. The pair would then have to relive that entire period of time and be back at the machine at the moment they traveled back to begin with in order to be restored to their proper time tracks, so to speak. Confused? Good, because that’s what I want to discuss.

Whether you understood that description or not, it may have seemed a bit cheesy. And why shouldn’t it? Going back in time to solve a mystery? That sounds like a recipe for a disastrously laughable TV show if you ask me. But Horowitz is a fantastic writer, and his skills carried the show through its eight wonderful episodes. In fact, according to Horowitz, the show was wildly popular, and it was only cancelled because it ended right as the BBC was getting a new head of drama. The show was oversighted and never recommissioned. But what about this show made it truly great? Yes, there was comedy, personality, mystery, and scifi. But where’s the unique element?

I think the reason that “Crime Traveller” was so successful (albeit for only eight weeks) was that it was highly complex oftentimes and yet always so simple. Usually, the identity of the culprit who Slade was trying to find was obvious right from the start, or leastways, the audience was highly suspicious of them. But it was the little details that made the audience second-guess their initial instinct. More often than not, these strange details were caused by Slade or Holly’s future selves. For instance, Slade once found some drops of blood that didn’t belong to the murder victim; as it turned out, when he went back in time to find out who committed the murder, he was hit over the head, and bled onto the floor. Another time, he saw a mysterious figure fire a shotgun, and after going back in time, he picked up a shotgun behind a curtain as another one went off, meaning that he himself was the mysterious figure all along, and the killer had used him as a decoy. If this still doesn’t make sense, don’t worry about it. It’s all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… wait, I haven’t gotten to that show yet.

While the culprit was usually right out in the open the entire time, it was these little details, often caused by time travel, that made the audience think twice about who was really guilty. So, “Crime Traveller” was a mystery, a time travel adventure, and an incredibly engaging show. What do you think?

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