Primeval: It’s exactly what you’d expect

(The is the first of a short series of old posts retrieved from NFI’s predecessor, Neverscapes. Look out for the remaining posts over the coming week.)

So, the first series of ITV’s new dinosaur & giant bug time-travel-thriller is over and, since I was fool enough to watch all six episodes, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on it. By which I mean take the piss out it.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of the central cast.

Wrinkly charm.This is Nick Cutter. He’s the main man. He has a lovely Scottish accent and tends towards the take-no-shit school of, uh, evolutionary zoology. His wife has been missing for eight years and according to the Primeval website, he likes Joy Division. Cheer up Nick!

Evolutionary rambler.This is Helen Cutter. She’s been missing for eight years. Her hobbies appear to include fucking about with rifts in time and space and skinny-dipping in the late cretaceous period, because that’s just what people did back then. She’s apparently pretty good at not being eaten by anything (update: circa episode 6, she’s still pretty good, but not great).

Panties and prey.This is Abby Maitland. In the first episode she’s full of useful information. Sadly after that her main role appears to be pining after Stephen, rebuffing Connor’s tragic efforts at wooing her, and parading about in her underwear, which I suppose is about all you should expect from someone who used to be in S Club 7.

Ben Sherman.This is Stephen Hart. He big game hunter! Knows how to handle a rifle but claims to be committed to wildlife conservationism. Something is amiss. I’m not sure why he hangs out with Nick, but he does (update: circa episode 6, all is explained! Albeit in a stupid and infantile way).

Surprise! Evil bureaucrat. He even jokes about shooting people to save time.This is James Lester. He’s a mysterious something-or-other from the Home Office who doesn’t like “loose cannons” and doubts even the most eminently sensible theory put to him. This is just what authority figures do. He closely resembles many of the reptiles of the series.

Few distinguishing characteristics.This is Claudia Brown. She works for the Home Office too, but is bit nicer about it. Since she’s a female character of a similar age to the lead, she has a crush on him. Also she totally wails on some agnurognathus with a golf club. (Update: There’s a really ironic development in episode 6 that fits her status as a bit of a nonentity rather well. I shan’t spoil it for you.)

OH GOD NO.This is Connor Temple. Oh, there’s so much to say about this chap. Like how it’s good to see a TV series with a sympathetic nerd character. Nah, just kidding – he’s a fucking spanner. He believes every conspiracy theory suggested to him and spends his evenings watching Blake’s 7 and the original Battlestar. He probably says “kewl” a lot (update: yes, he does). The others mostly seem to keep him around to fuck something up and move the plot forward. Oh, and he maintains some website about every species ever, which is pretty handy when you want to scream “aargh! Arthropleura!” instead of “aargh! Huge fucking centipede!”

So, as you can probably imagine, the character relationships don’t add up to much. The Nerd wants the Pretty Girl, who wants the Attractive but Moody Sidekick. The Female Politician is weak-willed and usually goes along with want the Protagonist wants, and soon develops feelings for him because she has no other character motivation. The Male Politician is generally an asshat and does everything he can to make things difficult for everyone else, but never actually kicks anyone off the team. And the mysterious Plot Device Helen Cutter does mysterious stuff to add some mystery to the series.

And it all unfolds from there with a numbing sense of inevitability.

The dialogue is amazing, though. Check out this astounding piece of scientific analysis from Nick Cutter – it’s so good they use it in the title sequence:

“The anomalies are conclusive proof that the past exists.”

Way to go, Nick! That’ll show those bureaucrats at the Home Office what an evolutionary zoologist can bring to the table!

Or how about this:

“Woah, careful – that’s invoking a sacred relic.”
“Yeah – like the Bible.”
“I know what a relic is, Duncan. I have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Yeah, that’s some more sympathetic nerdism right there.

At times it seems like Primeval is getting it right just a little bit with, say, some subtle foreshadowing. For example, in one episode a blood drip is knocked onto the floor and crushed underfoot. It’s a fleeting shot and only just sticks in the memory, and it occurs immediately after an apparent predator has been captured and everyone is safe. There’s a nice sense of dawning realisation once certain other critters appear, and it’s clear they’re being drawn to the smell of the blood. This is all quite nicely handled. But is Primeval content to leave it at that? Is it fuck. Apparently, viewers are unlikely to remember the incident. So as soon as things start going wrong, a female character hurls herself across the room backwards, lands right in the blood, and then begins to smear it all over herself. She actually scrapes it up off the floor and wipes it on her clothes. Wow.

But none of this really matters a great amount, and to be honest Primeval is probably the better for it. It isn’t about strong characters or dynamic, believable relationships, or plots that make any sense whatsoever. It’s all just a framework to barely justify the generation of a random mix of prehistoric creatures and chuck them into modern-day Britain. And this works. Camel spiders in the London Underground, a mosasaur swallowing lifeguards: it’s a creature feature. It’s low-budget spectacle with vaguely authentic monsters. And it puts these star attractions up against a background of stupid characters and a daft plot because, really, how could you make a serious dinosaur-giant-bug-time-travel-thriller? There you go: you couldn’t. I just wish Primeval had its tongue in its cheek regarding its source material, was a bit more aware of its painful cliches, and deliberately had a bit more fun with them, rather than unthinkingly leaving itself open for people like me to poke fun at it.

Ah well: roll on season two. Bring on the huge-o-saurs!

Fight! Fight! Fight!Final Update: I actually wrote this piece after watching episode 5. Episode 6 changes things quite a bit, but I’m not going to be a arse and put spoilers in here. Except for mentioning how it apparently turns into a teen drama near the end. But I do want to add that episode 6 has the scene the series exists for. It’s a fight between two of the nastiest and biggest predators of the series, and one of them wins it with a wrestling move. No shit. Have a blurred screengrab. It doesn’t look that great but the scene itself is fairly well done (you can tell where the CGI budget was focused, anyway).

3 Responses to “Primeval: It’s exactly what you’d expect”
  1. Colum Paget says:

    > “The anomalies are conclusive
    > proof that the past exists.”
    Damn, that is awesome dialogue. I wish I’d thought of that. And yes, I’m totally and completely serious.

    I’m still laughing now. Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.

  2. Amandala says:

    So I had the same initial reaction to “proof the past exists.” And then I remembered that THIS place also exists:
    so now I pretend that it’s actually an intelligent line…kind of.

  3. Shaun CG says:

    Haha, that’s an angle I hadn’t considered Amandala. Good call!