Do the crime, do the time… Miles Hamer remembers a fourth-dimensional slice of ’90s Brit TV
In 1997, there was one problem-solving time traveller fans wanted to watch on Saturday evenings. What they actually got wasn’t exactly Gallifreyan.
As everyone’s favourite TARDIS-dwelling hero was left twiddling his sonic in America, weighed down by legal issues, Saturday night was getting on without the good Doctor quite happily. Not to mention noisily.
Hi-octane, quasi-futuristic espionage series Bugs had been waving the explosive flag for action family drama. It was a solid hit for BBC One and the channel soon sought out another show to fit the same post-National Lottery, pre-watershed timeslot.
Bugs’ production company, Carnival Films, pitched an idea from writer Anthony Horowitz. “The BBC wanted another Saturday evening show so we were able to persuade them to give this one a go,” producer Brian Eastman tells SFX.
The two had worked together on prestige ITV drama Poirot, where the prolific author had the idea of a reverse engineering crime drama: where the detective could nip back in time to prevent, solve, or on occasion, be the unwitting cause of the case. Already a seasoned crime drama pro by this stage, Horowitz undertook writing all eight episodes of the series.
Remarking on the task of grappling with all the mind melding implications of time travel, he admitted that he “read a couple of books, didn’t understand them, and then wrote the series.”
The premise, on paper, looked fairly simple. Teaming a rule-stretching copper, Jeff Slade, with time-bending scientist Holly Turner, Horowitz envisioned a fast-paced howdunnit of non-chronological investigations and circular logic. Plus, just a little on-off romance between the two leads (hey, this was back when The X-Files still carried mainstream cultural heft).
For the all-important casting of maverick detective Slade, only one actor was up for consideration: Michael French.
As Eastman explains, “The BBC wanted him. He had been quite a success as an actor in EastEnders and they wanted to keep him as an actor. So when we came in with the idea they said we would have to go along with that.”
Tabloid favourite French had built a hot and hugely popular public profile, thanks to his character David Wicks’s Albert Square bed-hopping.
During this age of ex-soap star golden handcuff deals for the likes of Robson Green and Nick Berry, the corporation was keen to keep the actor loyal to their brand. Luckily, Horowitz approved of the casting.
“I thought he looked exactly right for the part. He also had the ability, I think, to jump from the comedy side of it to the more serious.”
For the role of science officer Holly Turner, Chloë Annett brought sci-ficred to the proceedings, having recently debuted on Red Dwarf’s seventh series as navigation officer Kristine Kochanski.
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