The anomalies are conclusive proof that the past exists in a fourth dimension as real and solid as those we already know.
The most obvious thing to do, at this point, is compare Primeval to Doctor Who – after all, it’s pretty obvious that was the intention behind the show. Primeval only existed because of the success of Doctor Who; it is, on a very fundamental level, a response to the hit BBC show, and an attempt by ITV to find their own equivalent.
So, where did they go with it? The most obvious comparison is also the most basic – the time travel element, and the monsters. In that sense, the two programmes share a broad similarity that’s going to bind them together to most of the television audience, particularly if they’re not so inclined to sit around thinking about the deeper differences. It’s clear, though, that there are some; otherwise Primeval would be entering its tenth season in a few months’ time, just as Doctor Who is.
Arguably, what Primeval shares more with is the programme that inspired Russell T Davies in his vision for Doctor Who in 2005 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although, admittedly, only in the most basic sense; we’ve got the Scooby gang, we’ve got the monsters each week, they have a bit of a runaround to fix things. Sorted.
And yet Primeval isn’t quite a patch on either show. It doesn’t work in the same way. There are, I suspect, two main reasons for this – limitations on the show that prevented it from ever moving forward than it really did.
First, let’s consider why Primeval can’t quite measure up to Doctor Who.
On a fairly simple level, Primeval can be considered a reasonably straightforward adoption of a stalwart Doctor Who story – the ‘aliens in London’ plot. (Or, if you’re so inclined, ‘Yeti on the loo at Tooting Bec’.) It’s meant to be a collision of the mundane and the fantastic, crashing those two worlds together, and setting the story within that central moment of tension.
And that’s fine, really. That juxtaposition has made for some excellent Doctor Who stories, and it’s been the central hook of various different programmes over the years – something like The X-Files, for example, makes a lot with this idea – so there’s no reason why Primeval couldn’t do it either. Certainly, thus far, they’ve done a decent enough job of trying to advance their premise each week, and adding in some interesting little details with each new episode.
But it isn’t enough. Part of why this juxtaposition works on Doctor Who, and indeed why Doctor Who maintained a certain longevity that Primeval could never attain, was that it always aimed to be something different – those moments when we saw the intersection between the ordinary and the extraordinary work because they’re rarer, and because we’ve already seen the extraordinary independently of this.
It’s unfair, admittedly, to level this criticism against Primeval only after its third episode. But at the same time – this is the third episode in a series of six. While they might well be trying to set a status quo of sorts, they don’t have the room for these sorts of establishing episodes; we need to have had a little more variety in terms of what happens. Just switching up the settings a little bit – forest, underground, and water – isn’t quite enough.
Which in turn brings us to Buffy, and the other issue to level at Primeval. Because, like I’ve said, other shows have made that ‘freak of the week’ type storytelling work before – plenty still do now. Even Buffy, oft-hailed as a masterpiece, engaged in quite a lot of this other its duration, and like Primeval, it was typically fairly similar stuff – each week, Buffy slays a new vampire. I’m being terribly reductive, but I think the basic point is clear.
These shows were able to sustain themselves, though, on the basis of their character work. Each week, further developing a character, keeping them turning, keeping them moving – it’s what lets the ‘freak of the week’ format work, because at the end of the day the monster doesn’t actually matter. It’s just set dressing.
At the moment, though, it feels like Primeval doesn’t quite get that as a principle; it’s just a little too concerned with the dinosaurs than the characters. Arguably, the dinosaurs are the main characters. You can sort of understand the temptation there – these CGI creations would have been one of the main draws for the show, and were groundbreaking in their own right at the time the show first aired. But ten years later, that doesn’t quite mean the show is going to have much longevity.
Now, in all fairness – Primeval is doing some character work. The episode was full of lots of nice little moments shared between Connor and Abby (you can see why they became fan favourites), Douglas Henshall continues to do great work with Nick, and Juliet Aubrey is fantastic as Helen, who’s surely one of the most fascinating characters we’ve been introduced to so far.
Perhaps this episode is just filler, in some regards; after all, I’m well aware that the next episode, which I’ve been looking forward to ever since the start of this rewatch, is going to address both of my above concerns. And, to be fair, it’s not like this episode is bad – I could have written quite a lot about Helen, actually – but it was an easy place to posit this argument.
For now, though, we’ll just have to see where Primeval goes – and whether it can evolve beyond these limitations.