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A Traveller In Time (1978) (TV series DVD review).

November 14, 2020 | By | Reply More

Don’t always expect time travel stories to be massive or dramatic. Alison Utterley’s ‘A Traveller In Time’ TV series was on TV back in 1978 and I’m wondering how I missed it back then. Compared to modern day series, it is slow but intense as clues are unravelled.

Youngster Penelope Taverner-Cameron (actress Sophie Thompson in her first role as a teen) is recovering from pneumonia and sent up to Derbyshire to stay with her Uncle Barnabus (actor Gerald James) and Aunt Tissie (actress Elizabeth Bradley) at the farm, Thackers. There, she learns the palace used to be much bigger, belonging to the Babingtons who were Catholics who were involved in the plot to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots, from her execution in the 16th century.

She experiences three brief time-shifts, seeing people from the past. Her aunt says it has happened before but this is the first time in modern times. However, the next time is a shift into the past where she is introduced in the kitchen as she finds the chef, Dame Cicely Taverner (also actress Elizabeth Bradley) and says about her kinship. Her unusual clothes raises questions but the kitchen staff get to know her as she pieces things together.

The hair style is a short page bob and looks less out of place there than in the 1970s present. It is only when she meets one of owners that she discovers she is in 1584 and mistakenly thinks Mary is already dead but told off saying she is still alive. Similar-aged Francis Babington (actor Simon Gipps-Kent) thinks her odd and although he doesn’t dismiss her explanation that she’s from the future, agrees she must be there for a purpose.

For what remains in the air as she returns to the present for a period, having been gone a few seconds. Attending a church service in the present, Penelope reaches under a pew and discovers a lost locket. That night she tries to wish herself into the past to return the locket which doesn’t happen. However, time itself twists and she returns but handing it to Francis is impossible as it didn’t return with her. Francis is still taken with her and with Mistress Babington (actress Mary Mead) help and supplying suitable clothes, Penelope is addressed appropriately to go riding and they see Mary, Queen of Scots (actress Heather Chasen) and her entourage pass. Arabella (actress Michele Copsey) doesn’t trust Penelope and sticks pins into an effigy of Penelope, not to mention melting it over a candle.

The effect on Penelope is odd. In the present, her Aunt Tissie finds her unconscious so we’re not really sure if she ever went physically or just her mind. In the past, the mute Jude (actor Louis Hammond) gives Penelope a carved mannikin. Later, at church, Penelope is childed for not praying enough and left at the church while Arabella plays the organ. She then persuades Penelope into the crypt and then traps her in the tunnel there. Fortunately, Jude senses her stress and rescues her.

The next day, Penelope joins Dame Cicely and the rest of the household to go to the local fair for Yuletide gifts. Along the way, they acquire a particular tinker and posing other under names, Penelope and Francis, with the tinker are allowed to see Mary.

Shortly after, Penelope returns to the present. She has the opportunity to visit Wingford Manor finding it in ruins and, although she doesn’t go back in time, she briefly sees Mary and hearing her lament about never hearing from her son, James, reassures her that her mail got through. However, she doesn’t go back again until after three weeks, it is nearly yuletide and she is to return to London before the snow comes. There is one more brief visit to the past and the discovery that the tunnel to rescue Mary has been discovered at Wingford Manor and won’t be long before it is discovered on the Babington land.

Obviously, Penelope doesn’t save Mary and change history and the full events probably take part as written. It’s original writer, Alison Uttley (1884-1976) wrote the original book in 1939 making it a very early time travel story. A children’s writer, I suspect she wrote this book as a tame education for her readers. As I haven’t read the original book and bearing in mind this is a BBC production, we would suppose it kept pretty close to the original. As such, its less about a time travel story but showing what it was like back then, although a dame as a chef seems a little out of place, with a dash of emotional content of the helplessness.

I’m not altogether sure it is a powerful story. Today’s viewers will find it extremely slow going with little satisfaction at the end. The fact that Francis readily accepts that Penelope is a time traveller and no one else really questions how she keeps disappearing and returning does make you wonder if she was imagining everything except for the two artefacts she discovered. I suspect if it had been made today, the story would have had a serious make-over. As such, its more a curio than anything.

Fidem es tout. Trust in time.

GF Willmetts

November 2020

(region 2 DVD: pub: SimplyMedia/BBC. 1 DVD 145 minutes 5 * 25 minute episodes. Price: I pulled my copy for £ 7.75 (UK). ASIN: 164438)

cast: Sophie Thompson, Elizabeth Bradley, Gerald James, Sarah Benfield, Simon Gipps-Kent, Mary Maud, Louis Hammond, Charles Rogers, Heather Chasen, Michele Copsey, Michael Greatorex, Gillian Maude and Graham Rigby

check out website: www.simplymedia.tv

Category: Scifi, TV

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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