A TRAVELLER IN TIME (1978)
Directed by Dorothea Brooking
Teenage girl Penelope Taberner from Chelsea goes to stay with her Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas on their farm, Thackers, in the Derbyshire countryside. During her stay, she learns how the farmhouse once was much bigger and belonged to the Babington family previously to the Taberners who themselves have had it for generations. Whilst spending time at the farm, Penelope begins to see visions of the past until she finds herself back in time to when the Babington family ruled the household. With Dame Cicery Taberner as chief maid, Penelope manages to convince her that she is her neice (well, she is a distant relative), and becomes part of the household. During her time in the past, she discovers that the Babington family, especially Anthony Babington, plan to free the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots via secret tunnels so she may take the throne from Elizabeth I. Finding herself slipping back and forth through time, Penelope wonders if she can change history and save Mary Queen of Scots and Anthony Babington from meeting a grisly end.
Children’s historical fantasy drama from the BBC, A TRAVELLER IN TIME is a five part series comprising of 30 minute episodes. Inspired by the real-life Babington plot, the drama reminds me of the sorts of videos we used to watch at primary school, the ones that were interesting but also educational.
Sophie Thompson takes the lead as Penelope Taberner who seems quiet but inquisitive and although she’s spooked at first by her visions, she soon becomes comfortable with the historical surroundings as she slips back in time, making friends with the dashing young Francis Babington (Simon Gipps-Kent). However, trouble arrives in the form of Francis’ cousin Arabella (Michele Copsey) who seems to be both jealous of Francis’ friendship with Penelope and also suspicious of Penelope’s true intentions, suspecting her to be a spy for Elizabeth I. it doesn’t help matters that Penelope knows full well how Mary Queen of Scots future pans out. Unable to control slipping between the present and the past, Penelope tries her best to do what she can to help her new found friends of the past.
You’d think that you’d notice if a family member was missing, time travelling into the past, but conveniently Penelope’s time-hopping sees her gone only for a split second in the present, even if she’s been gone hours in the past. She also seems to travel back in time whilst she sleeps, managing to juggle both her normal present life and past life though her present life requires little of her than to help collect eggs with Aunt Tissie (Elizabeth Bradley, who also stars as Dame Cicily Taberner) and help Uncle Barnabas (Gerald James) with the milk round as she recuperates on their farm.
The series as a whole feels quite dated but still works well to educate viewers, including myself, on some of our country’s history. Although there’s no real evidence that the tunnel to Wingfield Manor, where Mary was imprisoned, actually existed, it’s good to be educated that there’s a legend of such a plot. The Babington’s involvement in plotting to put Mary on the throne, however, is without a doubt.
A TRAVELLER IN TIME works better as a historical series to educate younger audiences rather than it does to entertain though it features some strong performances from Simon Gipps-Kent and Elizabeth Bradley.