TV Review: Primeval (1×04)

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

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.

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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.

primeval nick cutter douglas henshall connor temple andrew lee potts Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle jamie payne

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.

8/10

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TV Review: Primeval (1×02)

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

You know what? All my life I’ve wanted to be in a crime-busting gang. And now I am. Sort of.

What interested me about this episode was how heavily it focused on character development. It was a very talk-y episode, in fact; long swathes of the runtime dedicated solely to the characters talking and discussing things, with comparatively little action going on. It was an interesting choice for a show like Primeval – you’d expect, simply by virtue of the programme’s nature as a ‘genre show’, as it were, that it’d be packed full of cheap thrills and jump scares, following a fairly generic and formulaic structure.

And yet Primeval, in this case, largely eschewed that – and I’d argue that was to the episode’s credit. In spending so much time focused on our human characters, rather than a runaround with the monsters (which, make no mistake, did feature; just not to the extent one might expect) the show positions itself as a slightly different beast from anything comparable. In many ways it feels like it’s settled a lot since last week; most of the tonal variances have balanced out, giving us an episode that feels a lot more coherent than last week’s. There’s a clear improvement here, and a sense that Primeval has found its footing somewhat – there’s a greater understanding of what it wants to be as a drama.

All this means, then, that after a fairly short space of time we’re beginning to get to grips with our characters to a far better extent. Certainly, there are limits; Stephen remains something of a blank slate, for example, and the same is true of Tom Ryan. But in other places, it really does work; Nick Cutter and Claudia Brown are beginning to develop nicely, in no small part because of the chemistry of Douglas Henshall and Lucy Brown. Their early interactions in Cutter’s office really anchor the first half of the episode – it’s part of why the story works so well, despite (or because of) its nature as a talk-y episode. The real star, though, is Andrew Lee Potts as Connor; while a lot of his dialogue could leave Connor as little more than a simple stock character, Potts plays the role with a degree of self-awareness (particularly the Buffy speech at the end) that makes the character come across as far more endearing, and far more real, than he would have in the hands of a lesser actor.

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The monster aspect of the story is, if nothing else, functional; there’s a wise choice here to conserve the budget by largely keeping the creatures in the shadows, and limiting their appearances where possible. It’s a sensible economic choice, though I suspect that from a storytelling angle they could have pushed this a little harder – certainly, the direction of the episode is a little perfunctory, and I can’t help but feel that a lot more could have been done with the creatures to make them a little more frightening. A lot of it comes down to mood and the creation of atmosphere; while there were plenty of entirely serviceable sections, there are others where it’s all just a little bit flat.

On the other hand, though, this was a good choice of ‘monster’ – stretching the premise somewhat, and demonstrating that Primeval is about more than just dinosaurs. (Even if it will, admittedly, forever be known as “that one with the dinosaurs”.) I’d have liked to see more done with the comment regarding the oxygen moving back and forth, though; the idea that there’s more than just creatures that could come through and pose a concern is one of the more interesting extensions of the premise that’s been put forward so far. It’s about exploring it as fully as possible, really, and that’s a pretty good way to go about that – hopefully it’ll be returned to in future.

I also appreciated how, broadly speaking, they tied the creature-plot back into the storyline featuring our main characters, demonstrating how Connor is actually useful to the team; it’s a smart way of building the episode, and ensuring that the two threads mesh together, rather than simply running parallel to one another.

nick cutter anomaly underground douglas henshall juliet aubrey james murray cilla ware spiders adrian hodges review

The further development of Nick and Helen’s story is also quite engaging. A huge part of that, obviously, is Douglas Henshall’s performance; he carries the material extremely well, particularly considering we haven’t even been introduced to Juliet Aubrey as Helen yet. More than that, though, he’s able to make the limits to the material actually work. Consider the end, when Nick doesn’t go through the anomaly; really, the only reason why he doesn’t is because we’ve got four more episodes to fill. Here, though, Henshall is able to take that and show us the normally headstrong character in a place of almost trepidant awe – it attaches a far greater level of significance to the moment, and again gives the character a certain interiority beyond what’s in the script.

To be honest, though, that’s pretty much it. I’m starting to run out of things to say, and I suspect in future I’m not going to be able to sustain the same wordcount for these reviews as I typically try to do. It’s not a slight against Primeval as such, but it’s just that as a programme, it’s difficult to write about it; it’s usually just about decent, rarely stellar or abysmal. With no particular praises to sing or flaws to condemn, I’m going to end up running out of steam.

Hopefully, I suppose, that’ll prompt me to start tackling these reviews in a different way, and write them in a different style; I’ve become slightly frustrated with the fact that I’ve settled into a formula, because – if nothing else – it means I’m not really pushing myself as a writer anymore. So, next week, we might see something different. Or perhaps we might not.

Still. This episode was still an improvement on the last, which was good.

7/10

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