Did we like it?
Regressing back to our dinosaur-obsessed childhood, the mixture of large, scaly beasts and Nigel Marven’s awe-struck commentary made this a very enjoyable twist on natural history documentaries.
What was good about it?
• David Jason’s narration was very stately and pristine as though he were describing a royal funeral, but without the obsequious fawning.
• The relentless pace in the pre-historic world that Nigel travels back to largely precludes you from ever questioning the silly science behind it, such as why he sets himself a needless parameter of snaring a T-rex before the cataclysmic meteor hits the Earth; why couldn’t he go back a couple of months before that?
• The computer animation was fantastic, with dust clouds from charging beasts, rippling reflections in the waterhole and carnivores and herbivores confronted each other all the while moving with a realistic litheness.
• Nigel’s breathless enthusiasm for his subject matter. As he grappled with an ostrich-like dinosaur, he explained that by placing a sock over its eyes it would pacify the jittery animal (although if his socks were anything like ours, such a technique would have a lethally toxic effect similar to tossing a canister of mustard gas into a World War One trench).
• The enjoyable daftness of Nigel tempting the two orphaned tyrannosaurs into the time portal with his ham sandwich.
What was bad about it?
• David Jason’s portentous introduction in which he intoned: “There is something missing from our world… the amazing animals that time has left behind.” But omitted that we should be thankful to Old Father Time because if he hadn’t got fed up with the evolutionary cul-de-sac of dinosaurs, instead of programmes detailing how these creatures were wiped from the face of the planet there would be a bunch of brainless, lumbering animals staggering around with the cranial capacity to achieve little more than feed and f**k. Or are we getting them mixed up with the parasites on Love Island?
• The heralding of tyrannosaurus rex as the “meanest and scariest of them all” seems to be pandering to parents who grew up in the 70s. As any annoyingly precocious child will tell you (or in our case Wikipedia), T-rex is dwarfed by at least two other bipedal carnivores – spinosaurus and giganatosaurus.
• Was Suzanne, the park’s vet, really a vet? If she was, what would be the point as animals are all imaginary?
• The scenario of making it a drama-documentary was frequently flawed by falling between the two stools. This was also the major defect in Walking With Dinosaurs. In true natural history documentaries, much of the joy comes from the animals acting with spontaneity and no human interference whatsoever, which can lead to revelatory moments of scientific discovery, but also adhere to the harsh nature of the wild (such as adorable cheetah cub Toto’s demise on Big Cat Diary a few weeks’ back).
• Both Prehistoric Park and Walking With Dinosaurs are tainted by a human hand in as much the way the ‘drama’ is far too scripted to be an authentic trip into nature. This was observed when the tyrannosaurs ambushed the herd of triceratops and alerted the well-armoured herbivores to their presence by screeching at them. They even managed to plagiarise that most common Hollywood device of the not-quite-dead monster when Nigel tentatively approached the seemingly lifeless T-rex before it let out one last scream before succumbing to its wounds. And the credibility was further damaged when Nigel coaxed the baby tyrannosaurs into the time portal in the nick of time as the destruction from the meteor swept across the landscape.