It was a conspiracy, wasn’t it?
Essentially, this is the consensus best episode of Primeval. Or is it? If not, it’s surely only because no one’s ever actually cared enough to come to a consensus; writing these, I do wonder if anyone has actually ever brought themselves to consider Primeval in any particular depth like this before.
In any case, though, this was the episode I was most looking forward to – upon deciding I was going to be doing these reviews, it was this episode that kept me going at the points when Primeval was getting a bit, you know, meh.
A lot of it is because this episode starts to move beyond the fairly simple monsters-chasing-people set-up that we’ve had so far; even just the smallest tweaks to the format feel like quite significant structural changes (even when, admittedly, they’re not) that really allowed the show to breathe. It’s one of the most concise arguments for variety within the show, really, because of how fresh this episode feels in contrast to the prior ones.
Certainly, in terms of how the piece is made, it is a lot more effective than prior episodes – the team take a much more proactive approach, which gives the script a lot more drive. There’s a real central tension that comes from this, too, which allows the episode to be that much more effective again – which is helped, of course, by a higher quality of direction than we’ve seen on the show so far.
Following on from last week, where I spoke at length about the need for Primeval to engage a little more in some emotional content, this episode actually does that – which is nice!
There’s a danger that this week’s storyline might not have been as effective as it could have been – and, admittedly, I’ve got to concede that it wasn’t actually as impactful as I remembered it being. The impact of Tom’s death is blunted by how quickly it’s dealt with; I suspect it might have been more effective had it been moved forward slightly, with Connor’s crisis of confidence and Nick’s reassurance happening after a bit of a time delay, just to allow the magnitude of what happened to sink in a little more.
Nonetheless, though, it does work. Yes, it’s not fantastic, but it is one of the most subtle and intelligent moments we’ve seen in Primeval so far. It’s certainly an instance where the script was better, but it’s carried by the acting; Andrew Lee Potts demonstrates, once again quite clearly, why Connor fast became one of the breakout characters on Primeval. There’s a consistent ability of this cast to take the material they’re given and elevate it higher than it really is – and the show is all the better for it.
At the end of the day, though, the most significant realisation that comes with this episode is the fact that Primeval just isn’t that good. And, fair enough – that was always sort of to be expected. It’s very much the epitome of decently entertaining mid-2000s sci-fi which was, while perfectly functional on first broadcast, never really anything special; certainly, it wasn’t meant to be written about in any particular depth ten years on. I don’t know that anyone involved was really expecting it to have this odd little cult lifespan that it does.
My own primary attachment to it is a sentimental one, really; when watching the show, it is consistently frustrating how often they’ll throw out some genuinely quite creative ideas with reams of potential to explore, but then return to that basic format of monsters chasing people. Sure, it’s still enjoyable – but there’s very much the feeling that this show probably could have been a lot more, had it been pushed further and developed more.
And yet, though, this episode was very good. Certainly, it’s the best episode that Primeval has had so far – the first one that’s made a break from the more generic aspects of the series so far, and given us a bit of variety and some deeper emotional content. The first episode, really, to be telling stories as though it was genuinely in a post-RTD Doctor Who world, demonstrating that Primeval can be quite good.
It’s just that it also makes it quite clear that “the best episode that Primeval has had so far” is damning with particularly faint praise.