'Virtual Murder' was a brand new BBC fantasy murder mystery in the style of The Avengers with surreal, occult, jokey and steamyish storylines first broadcast (and never seen since) in 1992 but lasting only six episodes. A crime-busting tousle-haired profesor (bearing a striking similarity to Benedict Cumberbatch's modern Sherlock) and his equally tousle-haired and glamorous assistant (less a dead ringer to Martin Freeman's Watson) investigate weird and wonderful crime sprees and sinister-toned puzzles such as melting works of art, that if broadcast a year later would have been locked up and date-stamped as an X-File.
The team working on the show had promise: each episode had a new writer, including Tim Aspinall (producer and scriptwriter on Jemima Shore Investigates) and Harry Robertson, who had co-written the cult movie Hawk the Slayer and composed the scores for many Hammer horrors, including Countess Dracula and Twins of Evil as well as the Frankie Howerd spookfest The House on Nightmare Park (1973).
Harry Robertson wrote the music for Virtual Murder and also co-produced and created the show alongside Brian Degas who also had real cult pedigree stamped across his name having been one of the writers on the sci-thigh thrillathon 'Barbarella' as well as the bleakly appealing TV series 'Colditz'.
The stars of the show were Nicholas Clay as Dr. John Cornelius and Kim Thomson as Samantha Valentine, easily oozing sexual chemisty but the real stars of the show were the guests of the week and these included Bernard Bresslaw in the episode 'Meltdown to Murder' (almost his final role before his death at the age of 59 the following year), Jon Pertwee in 'A Torch for Silverado' and comedian Julian Clary in a rare dramatic, but distinctly odd and unnerving performance as the Undertaker in 'A Dream of Dracula'. Both Clary and Pertwee would star this same year in Carry On Columbus. Tellingly, Bernard Bresslaw did not appear in Carry On Columbus, and while the final Carry On is hated by many, there's a sense that the only thing really being hated is the fact that so many of the original cast couldn't live forever - or for as long as we'd hoped.
Virtual Murder is lumped with a series title that will never be loved and dates on impact. It was a last minute change as the show was originally to have been called the far more cult-worthy 'Nimrod'. The producers liked the title of the first episode 'Virtual Murder' and changed the show's name to reflect this, but the Virtual Murder episode title was subsequently dropped and replaced with the much groovier 'Dreams Imagic' and the episode moved from first to last in transmission order. The show however was stuck with what it had been given.
A couple of years before Virtual Murder's launch, the BBC's most beloved sci-fi show, Doctor Who, had been shunted away into a hexagonic hiatus, and TV sci-fi was no longer cool. The X-Files made it hip again the following year, but it was too late for Virtual Murder. It hasn't been seen since. Many years later the BBC revisited similar ground with Jonathan Creek. The time is clearly ripe to revisit the first Jonathan and Maddy or even, perhaps, the prototype Mulder and Scully.
words: mark gordon palmer