A TRAVELLER IN TIME

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Based on the acclaimed novel by Alison Uttley, BBC’s A Traveller in Time, a 1978 five-part serial for children, is a textbook example of the Corporation’s famous Reithian mission statement: “inform, educate, entertain.” The serial, the dry, starchy story of a spectacularly-untypical late 1970s teenager apparently swept back to the 16th century where she becomes involved in a plot to rescue the long-imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots scores highly as an educational piece but the jury’s out as to whether a modern audience will find much real entertainment in its glacially-paced story and mannered performances.

Sickly teen Penelope Tavener-Cameron (you can see the audience this was pitched at) – dumpy, frumpy, pudding-basin hair – is recovering from a bout of pneumonia and is dispatched to the countryside to recouperate at Thackers, her aunt and uncle’s Derbyshire country home. During the visit she becomes intrigued by the area’s connection with the Babbington family who resided at Thackers when it was a grander establishment and who had been instrumental in a failed plan to free Queen Mary, imprisoned in the nearby Wingfield Manor. Suddenly – and with no explanation –Penelope finds herself back in the 16th century and involved in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen staff and ultimately with the frills-and-ruffs Babbingtons themselves. Penelope is quickly accepted by the kitchen crew but them upstairs are a bit more suspicious of her motives in appearing from nowhere and ingratiating herself with a family of strangers...

This is a time travel story in more ways than one as it is in itself a product of an era in television production now long gone. Certainly few modern teenagers would have the patience to tolerate its slow-paced narrative and slightly lecturing tone. It can’t help but come across like a history lesson brought to life – not necessarily a bad thing in today’s five-second attention span  culture where anything that happened in even the recent past is “before my time” and therefore not worth consideration. But for those who may have enjoyed the serial in 1978 or who hanker for slightly less manic entertainment there’s genuinely much to enjoy here from atmospheric location filming to gorgeous costumes and sets and enthusiastic, if wordy, performances from a cast led by Sophie (sister of Emma) Thompson, who would go on to bigger and better things. Action fans won’t find much here though; Penelope is never in any danger and the closest we come to any excitement is a ninety-second sequence where she’s briefly looked up on suspicion of being a spy.

A period piece in every sense, A Traveller in Time is guaranteed not to pound your pulse but it’s sweet and inoffensive and in its own way rather enjoyable, if only as a reminder of less frantic TV times. You might even learn something too...

A TRAVELLER IN TIME / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: DOROTHEA BROOKING / SCREENPLAY: DIANE DEVERE COLE / STARRING: SOPHIE THOMSPON, ELIZABETH BRADLEY, GERALD JAMES, SIMON GIPPS-KENT, MARY MAUDE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 9TH

 


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