Did we like it?
Nick Cutter and his team return in the gripping sci-fi series, battling with prehistoric leviathans and grappling with the lack of a decent, sentient foe.
What was good about it?
• For much of this episode, we were gnashing our teeth in annoyance at the ‘new’ character of Jenny Lewis (who is a doppelganger of Claudia Brown – Nick’s new love – after she was wiped from existence at the end of the last series, and only Nick has any memory of her). She is one of those grotesques who makes every situation worse with irrational, stupid decisions, and is cut from the same cloth as every pen-pushing, regulations-constricted lump of corporate plastic in the history of TV drama who obstructs the thrusting valiant hero.
• However, on reflection you realise why she is an essential character. Primeval’s main flaw is that with just a bunch of brainless beasts to combat each week, the cerebral cut-and-thrust needed to be considerably beefed-up. This was impossible with the more placid Claudia, and so what the introduction of the spikier Jenny enables (as well as being a nice plot twist) is for an adversarial battle of wits and wonder, and flirtation and formality between her and Nick that will ultimately evolve into love.
• All of which, we imagine, will lead to the (essentially) character-driven conclusion to the series, where in another twist Nick will be given the choice of either restoring lost love Claudia to existence and erasing Jenny or keeping Jenny and leaving Claudia entombed in oblivion. And, we hope, because of Jenny’s more fleshed-out nature and greater ambiguity – she patronises and threatens the survivors and tells the cuckolded Nick to leave Stephen to his doom – it’s her that he saves.
• Parallel to the moulding of Jenny, the team’s sinister boss James Lester (Ben Miller) has been painted with extra lashings of menace this series, again to provide a formidable foe for Nick. Worst of all he uses the term “tipping point”, which is a phrase only used by crazed megalomaniacs or lazy London journalists who yearn for a transfer to New York so they lick the stale sweat from the armpits of George W Bush and shudder with ecstasy when delivering exclusive reports from the site of global catastrophes.
• The enigma of Nick’s ex-wife Helen who still journeys back in time to explore the lands through the ‘anomalies’. On this occasion she was wounded by a pterosaur and, instead of seeking medical help in a hospital, she went to Stephen’s home where his aid was repaid by sexual favours in the best traditions of frenetic but conservative action films where masculine heroism is reimbursed by the rescued heroine metamorphosing into a common whore.
• Thankfully there’s still enough variety in the monsters the team have to tackle, and as yet they don’t resemble the unwelcome repetition of “this week’s special guest” Barbara Dixon on The Two Ronnies. Well-realised CGI worms laid siege to an office block, wreathed in a ground-hugging fog that they brought with them through the anomaly. The fog’s impact was twofold, firstly it enabled menace to visually roll across the screen with the same sense of foreboding as the fog in The Fog; and secondly it also offered a solution to Nick and the team in that if they could dispel the fog they would vanquish the worms, offering a Doctor Who-esque alternative to unimaginative brute force.
• Humorously adapting the sci-fi cliché of apparent safety when Connor breathed a sigh of relief, “I think we’re all right now.” Just before a worm appeared from the top of the screen and tried to suck his head off. While Stephen killed a worm by ramming it under the photocopier lid.
What was bad about it?
• As Nick and Jenny were assailed by the writhing worms, there just happened to be a display stand for three samurai swords. Now, we know the company in the office did business with Japanese firms, but to have a deadly weapon casually on show like a potted plant or promotional brochures was just absurd.
• While steps have been taken to address the problem of that lack of an intelligent adversary, Primeval’s main flaw remains that each episode is pretty much the same from one week to the next with a bunch of hapless humans being picked off one by one by some initially coy monstrosity until Nick and the team identify it, find a weakness and dispatch it back to its own era/ kill it. And it’s not helped further by the fact that every lethal non-human species that’s ever lived on planet Earth has the cerebral wit of a collapsed post office, therefore reducing to zero the chance of more complex plotting.
• And the behavioural realism of the creatures that do appear is always irritatingly undermined by the habitual anthropomorphosising of them, which has blighted such programmes as Walking With Dinosaurs and The Animals of Farthing Wood and indeed here when a worm managed to slide open a door with the same dexterity as a frustrated secretary.
Primeval, ITV1, Saturday 10 February 2007
Did we like it?
Despite fearing that an adventure series about creatures as extinct as ITV1’s sense of courage would be a cataclysmic disaster, Primeval was actually a hugely enjoyable sci-fi romp bolstered by a likeable (if suspiciously handsome) cast.
What was good about it?
• A great cast, who were each quickly and efficiently drawn before being plunged headfirst into the opening episode about a ravenous, reptilian carnivore terrorising shoppers in the Forest of Dean.
• Despite a silly macho name (it must be the season for them) Douglas Henshall’s Professor Nick Cutter is an agreeable, fizzing concoction of charisma, mystery, vulnerability and bravery. Whether it’s charming the new member of the team Claudia Brown or heading off through a portal into the unknown other dimension from where the monsters are emerging in search of his missing wife he gets the viewers in a headlock and drags them along with him.
• And the rest of Nick’s team have clearly defined roles that are unsullied with anything suggesting complexity and three dimensions – but this is bubblegum sci-fi and such qualities aren’t necessary until the ideas start to run out around series three (usually occurring in the introduction of a long lost child such as Worf’s son in Star Trek: TNG and Scully’s secret alien daughter in X-Files).
• Abby (Hannah Spearritt) even looking like a cross between an albino angel and parasite celebrity number one Donny Tourette, slotted comfortably into her role as the slightly disgruntled impetuous one who cares about things. Stephen (James Murray) is Nick’s right hand man and judging by his twin-barrelled assassination of the marauding monster – by driving into it before shooting it dead – he’s also the action man of the team. Meanwhile, Connor Temple (Andrew Lee-Potts) wins the stupidest name competition and is also lumbered with the inevitable techno-geek role.
• The CGI effects were also surprisingly good. Perhaps it’s our enduring disgust at ITV1’s cowardice, but we’d pre-supposed the effects would be bolted onto cardboard action with all the grace and aptitude of a five-year-old assembling his first model toy plane. But when the big dinosaur was rampaging through the school we were squinting at the TV in disbelief at the attention to detail such as wood shavings splintering as the beast clambered over the school lockers Stephen had tossed in its path.
• Just as dinosaurs are able to recognise their own young through a warm instinctive feeling in the gut, so we were similarly intuitively able to identify that most staple location of British sci-fi – the disused quarry, when Nick went through the portal to hunt down his wife.
What was bad about it?
• If the only ‘villains’ are to be pea-brained beasts from all eras of Earth’s existence, Primeval may become a little dull. Sure it’s great to have a populace panicked by a renegade leviathan for a little while, but if each week it’s just going to be a load of monsters that need killing then we’re going to tire of it pretty rapidly.
• Perhaps Ben Miller’s role as the slimy government minister James Lester will evolve to become Nick’s nemesis in the same way that the Cigarette Smoking Man became Fox Mulder’s, but something will need to be done as simply having anthropomorphic dinosaurs causing havoc each week has a limited shelf life.
• I Predict A Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs. Oh no, not again!