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Thursday, July 4, 2013

'Crime Traveller:' Awesome British Scifi/Detective Drama

Crime Traveller - The Complete Series DVD
July 4th is the perfect date to start Unreal TV's expansion into covering truly wicked (my people call them awesome) US format DVD releases of British programs. Although this holiday celebrates rebellious acts such as turning Boston Harbor into the world's largest and saltiest tea cup more than 200 years ago, many modern Americans obsess over every royal wedding and other widely celebrated milestone in British culture.

It is worth noting as well that any international relationship that involves returning the dreamy John Barrowman of "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" fame to the US and sending Madonna across the pond is pretty darn good.

Additionally, as I have written in other DVD review forums, British shows kick the arse of their American counterparts. The 1997 series "Crime Traveller," is a prime example of this difference.

"Traveller" achieves the challenging feat of combining good solid British "whodunits" and plausible well-executed time travel scifi. The very simple premise is that police science officer (my people call them CSIs) Holly Turner has a barely functional time machine that police detective Jeff Slade convinces her to use to go back in time for at most a day and at least a few hours to allow them to observe the events that lead to solving the crime that typically occurs at the beginning of each episode.

Giving most episodes names such as "A Death in the Family" and "Fashion Shoot" that are reminiscent of good British murder mysteries is one technique for staying true to that genre's elements. Additionally,  the scenes depicting the murder victim's interaction with the "usual suspects" of family members, business associates, and assorted enemies contribute a great deal to "Traveller's" entertainment value.

Series creator Anthony Horowitz, whose impressive track record regarding British drama includes the "Poirot" series, throws in several limitations that prevent "Traveller" from merely being a show in which Turner and Slade witness the murder and then return to the present timeline to identify the perpetrator.

Nice touches include having Slade almost always wear cartoonishly bright colors, including a yellow jacket, and Turner often dressing in bright red or dark blue. Conversely, their police colleagues are clad much more conservatively.

Much of the drama relates to the underlying rule that the time-traveling versions of Turner and Slade will be caught in a "Groundhog Day" infinite loop if they are not back in the room where the time machine is located at the exact moment that they left the present to return to the past. The series finale provides a hint of that fate.

Turner and Slade also face the risk, ala "Timecop," of essentially having the universe go bonkers if their time-traveling selves encounter the regular time versions of themselves who are conducting a parallel investigation. A related challenge involves avoiding having their police colleagues see them under circumstances that create any sense that Slade and Turner are in two places at once.

The aspect of the universe itself protecting against acts that include using time travel to place  successful bets on horse races addresses the obvious element of Slade wanting to profit from his extra-curricular investigations. A very amusing plot line regarding Slade frantically trying to circumvent that rule regarding a lottery drawing shows that the universe always wins.

The series pilot is particularly good because the laid-back Slade is especially sarcastic before being slightly toned down in later episodes. An early scene in which Slade remarks "he got away" after a suspect who is being pursued drives his car off a high level of a parking garage into a river is hilarious.

The pilot additionally revolves around a terrific British murder mystery staple in which a wealthy industrialist is killed in a locked room hours before a planned sale of his company to a foreign business that will likely gut the corporation. Learning if the business partner who wants to keep the business going, the son who wants to keep the firm in the family so that he can inherit it one day, or a third person commits the crime requires watching the episode.

Every episode is good and often involves having Slade or Turner either suspected of the crime or otherwise placed under suspicion for activity related to the time-traveling. It is sad that a particularly excellent episode occurs after it is likely that that series will only get its one-season eight-episode run.

The sixth episode, which is titled "Death Minister," opens with Turner and Slade listening in on plans for a bank robbery that is scheduled for the following day. The hilarious "gotcha" moments and other amusing bits related to foiling the robbery are truly great television.

The rest of the episode is just as good and has many humorous moments that includes a brief "guest spot" that is a not-so-subtle nod to "Doctor Who." The plot additionally includes elements related to Turner and Slade's heavy reliance on the time machine. Further, the pair arguably faces some of the most severe peril of the series, and the suspenseful moments come close to being nail biting.

The series finale has many predictable moments but still holds the audience's attention; it additionally introduced a potentially terrific nemesis for Turner and Slade.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Crime Traveller" or other British scifi is encouraged to email me.