Primeval’s cast and crew on unanswered cliffhangers, Doctor Who rivalry and dinosaur co-stars

primeval behind the scenes douglas henshall tim haines adrian hodges andrew lee potts hannah spearitt itv watch britbox

“I’ve always been obsessed by dinosaurs and monsters, all that kind of stuff, since I was a boy,” said Douglas Henshall, explaining what drew him to the ITV drama, the first two series of which are available on BritBox today. “Primeval was kind of a hang-over from childhood, a way of vicariously satisfying the old childhood memories.”

The series began life at the BBC, under a very different title. “I’d made a [documentary-style series] called Walking with Dinosaursfor the BBC back in 2000,” recalled co-creator Tim Haines, previously a science journalist with a background in zoology, “and it struck me that all that technology [could be] used for a drama. Because the BBC wanted a recognisable piece of IP, we made Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World first. I then came up with the idea of Cutter’s Bestiary, and developed a script with another writer, which didn’t go anywhere.”

It’s at this point that Adrian Hodges – who had recently won a BAFTA for Charles II: The Power and Passion – came on board. “One day I went into [BBC Head of Drama] Laura Mackie’s office, and she asked me what I wanted to do next. She suggested Bleak House – I’d already done David Copperfield, so I said no, I don’t want to do another Dickens, thank you. I want to do something that’s fun, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d just watched all of Buffy, I thought it was a brilliant show. I wanted to do something with the same vibe, the same feel to it.”

New inteview(s)! With the first two series of Primeval on BritBox, I spoke to the cast and crew about the early years of the show – how it developed at the BBC as Cutter’s Bestiary, how Douglas Henshall leaving the show impacted their plans for the series arc, that sort of thing. (Most of the reason why I pitched this was so, almost fifteen years later, I could finally find out what the whole Claudia Brown/Jenny Lewis plotline was about.)

Quite enjoyed writing this one! It was by some distance the most logistically complicated piece I’ve ever done, in terms of co-ordinating all the different interviews – might try and write up a behind the scenes type thing one day, figure that might be an interesting thing to do.

You can find more of my interviews here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed reading this piece – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?

TV Review: Primeval (1×06)

primeval logo hd itv science fiction dinosaurs nick cutter douglas henshall tim haines adrian hodges impossible pictures

The past has the habit of coming back these days, doesn’t it?

If we follow on from the idea presented last week – that Primeval is, fundamentally, a programme about unsustainable beauty, and nature fighting back against humanity – this finale episode becomes an obvious example of the past fighting the future.

It’s interesting to look at the future predator here, and to consider what it means. It was always the most iconic of the Primeval monsters; understandable, given that it was also one of the few original creatures. Certainly, it is an effective creature – this episode is a well-directed one, and far more tension was wrought from this one episode than have been in any of the preceding ones. There’s something about the future predator that does make it scary. Of course, it’s also the most well suited to Primeval’s fundamental premise – a literal representation of the danger presented by the future.

But then, however, when you look at the fight between the future predator and the Gorgonopsid, it’s the Gorgonopsid that eventually wins; the ultimate killing machine from the future can’t beat the past. It’s Primeval’s most blatant statement of intent – past is paramount. You can’t escape it. It’s always going to reassert itself, and it’s always going to win.

In that vein, Primeval certainly becomes a very cynical programme; the anomalies here a far more a representation of danger than of grace and beauty, with the attack of the future predators…

primeval nick cutter douglas henshall itv future predator gorgonopsid hd wallpaper tim haines adrian hodges claudia brown lucy brown

… and, of course, the disappearance of Claudia Brown.

It’s the great unsolved mystery of Primeval – one that positions the programme’s first series as a strange little oddity in its own right, at just enough of a remove from the rest of the show that it doesn’t quite fit alongside any other series. There’s various conflicting theories and assumptions as to what it all meant, how it happened, and why it was never explained; the most commonly accepted theory seems to be that Helen caused it somehow, or that it was a result of the baby future predators being left in the past, or something along those lines.

Both are wrong. The actual answer is this:

Claudia was taken by the anomalies.

It’s made clear from her dream – dream sequences rarely have dramatic merit in their own right, but at times the symbolism can be interesting. So, when we see Claudia’s reflection replaced – subsumed – by the anomalies, what does that mean?

It might simply be that this is the next stage; we’ve seen her largely abandon the bureaucracy she came from, acknowledging and embracing the beauty of the anomalies. Perhaps this is what happens next? (You can also note that both Nick and Connor, the other characters who came closest to engaging with this beauty, are wearing quite dark clothes, whereas Claudia is wearing brighter colours; the implication, presumably, is of a certain innocence and purity to her that they lack – making her ready for this ascendance?)

That doesn’t feel quite right though. More likely, perhaps, is that this was an act of foreshadowing rather than explanation – after all, while the above is an interesting idea, there’s actually very little to support it anywhere else in the programme. Instead, it might just be an indication that the anomalies will offer a reflection of Claudia in her place; that, of course, is Jenny Lewis.

primeval claudia brown lucy brown anomaly reflection arc itv impossible pictures

At the end of the day, though, there’s still not a lot to say about Primeval. It’s still difficult to call this particularly well-written television – there are certainly some egregious moments in this episode, though surely the crown must be handed to the shockingly poor throwaway revelation that Helen had an affair with Steven. It’s a very rushed reveal, which is handled quite poorly – and it diminishes the impact of the Claudia cliffhanger, which is where the focus should really be.

The fact is that Primeval actually isn’t all that good from a critical perspective. That’s not to say it isn’t fun or entertaining; after all, I’ve enjoyed watching each episode. But there’s just not a lot of depth here. Which is a shame, really, because there’s certainly the potential for that – often the show gestured at ideas that were quite interesting, and went deeper than what was on screen, but rarely followed them up or pursued them to their full extent.

To some extent, it’d be easy to write off the programme’s first series as a misstep – if you’re grading it all on the metric of characterisation and writing, that is. You can’t deny, though, that Primeval was often suspenseful, usually entertaining, and had some stunning CGI for its time. In that sense, then, the show is a success.

And in all fairness to it – I enjoyed myself. I think these reviews were worth writing, though I do suspect no one read them. And I think I’ll probably do series two next year – part of me wants to start watching it now, actually.

So, for all I criticised the show (and with the series roundup and graph coming next week, I suspect it’s due for some more critique in time) it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t so bad after all.

7/10

Related:

Primeval reviews

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