Dinosaurs in London – Primeval
As you are about to discover, I have something with British TV-productions that I find particularly fun and creative…
I remember hanging out with my friends in a Virgin Megastore. We were looking at the sales on DVDs as my pal noticed as he saw the series – mainly British fantastical and sci-fi stuff: “What are those series? Who the hell does only know and watch them?” I couldn’t help it, I answered: “I DO.” Among “those series”: Torchwood, Doctor Who, Merlin and… Primeval. I discovered Primeval by accident, and it is one of the rare series I had the time to watch entirely these past few years. Indeed I was tired, I wanted to see something fun on TV and my mother and I decided to watch SyFy: this night, we came across a repeat of Primeval series four. In the first minutes, the apparition of prehistoric creatures in the centre of London has troubled me and I wasn’t sure I understood what was going on…We finally found it so fun that we begun to follow it, and became curious about was happened in previous series, so we watched all repeats we found on French TV. But I had to wait for my DVD-box to know exactly how the story begun – yeah, I never, NEVER saw series one on TV! I don’t know why but French television broadcasted many repeats of the series, but rarely first season…
I made some pieces of research… If I understood, Primeval broadcasting started in 2007 in the UK, as ITV response to BBC Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood. Adrian Hodges and Tim Haines, who previously worked on documentary features, have created it. It was filmed in studios and in several places in London. The least I can say is that Primeval is a quite unusual stuff, a mix of Jurrassic Park, maybe a little inch of Terminator in last two series and… some say Torchwood, but with dinosaurs. It started in 2007 and ended in 2011, after five series. But what exactly is the topic of Primeval?
- Phase One: Beating Hellen Cutter
To sum up the series take place in London area and involves a team of experts and scientists fighting dinosaurs and mammoths in the city, and sending them back to their time. How is it possible? Animals travel in time as they go through mysterious glittering entities, in fact, holes in time-continuum, known as “anomalies”… Main characters – except ones of them like Connor, Abby and Lester – last the whole series, as other ones die, disappear, appear or change, even baddies. So, I am sorry for spoils…
Series one begins as Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), a palaeontologist, is still traumatised since the disappearance of his wife, Hellen (Juliet Aubrey), eight years ago. He works with his research assistant Stephen Hart (James Murray), his student Connor Temple (Andrew-Lee Potts), a clumsy little genius in sciences and IT stuff, and charming Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), a young veterinary working in a zoo, who incidentally meets Cutter’s team as she’s purchasing a dinosaur with a young boy in the Forest of Dean. British government gets involved with characters like very strict and sarcastic James Lester (Ben Miller) and charming Claudia Brown (Lucy Brown). Against all expectations, Hellen Cutter everybody thought to be dead reappears and seems involved in the apparition of prehistoric and strange creatures in London area. Indeed, she spent these past eight years travelling through anomalies. Although Nick tries to show her how manipulating time travel and allowing ancient creatures to walk in London, Hellen doesn’t want to listen to him. Disappointed about his spouse and maybe a little upset because of eight years of questioning Hellen’s disappearance (and in my opinion, a little bit frustrated), the professor falls in love with Claudia – what Hellen doesn’t particularly appreciates. Hey Hellen, you have been absent for eight years, for God’s sake! As if it wasn’t enough for this poor Nick and his team, he soon realises that evil Hellen manipulates anomalies and brings into prehistoric times some predators from the future, into changing the time-line… At the end of the series, Nick manages to secure an anomaly but as he comes back after Hellen escapes, our times changed for him and he’s the only one, with Hellen, to perceive it. And in this alternative reality, Claudia doesn’t even exist!
Fortunately, most of the teams is still here in series two (2008): Connor and Abby, Stephen, and of course (my favourite character!) Lester! He manages the Anomaly Research Centre, that didn’t exist in previous reality. Another member joins the team, a public relations professional Jenny Lewis… She’s the perfect Claudia look-alike, what is very disturbing for Nick. This series is short but intense: Connor, sharing a flat with his co-worker and friend Abby, has a girlfriend, Caroline (Naomi Bentley), who actually works for a man manipulated by Hellen Cutter, who also tries to manipulate Stephen, Cutter’s assistant she previously had an affair with, into serving her evil plans. Stephen finally sacrifices himself and dies before Nick, into saving the team at the end of the season, as they’re held prisoner by Hellen, in a building full of furious prehistoric creatures and predators.
We have new issues in series three (2009): as Nick and pals continue to investigate anomalies, new members join the team, like funny Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield) for security issues, and Sarah Page (Layla Rouass), a clumsy historian of the British Museum. Working with Connor, she manages to explain that mythical creatures in Ancient and Medieval times actually were creatures coming across anomalies, and helps him in predicting the apparition of anomalies. But our dear Hellen is quite tough and tries to invade the ARC… And something really strange, in terms of storytelling, happens: Nick Cutter, team leader and main character, dies, in the middle of the series. Hellen kills him, as he manages to steal a mysterious artefact from her. The objet reveals to be a map of different anomalies, and Connor begins to investigate it. A former police detective, Danny Quinn (Jason Flemying) whose young brother has been killed by a predator, joins the team as leader into replacing Cutter. Jenny, traumatised by Cutter’s death and tired of facing danger, departs. Hellen comes back – oh dear! – and manipulates anomalies into saving our planet. She has a radical approach: she plans to eradicate first hominids, because humans are the source of cataclysm, pollution and destruction. Danny stops her – she gets killed by a creature – and finds himself trapped in prehistoric times, as Abby and Connor, who accompanied him, are trapped in Cretaceous. Freaky!
- Phase Two: Consequences of a public-private partnership (or how Hellen succeeded in messing timeline and how the damages have to be repaired)
In my opinion, new phase begun in the middle of series three, after Nick’s death and the discovering of the artefact – all these points are crucial for next series. But as I already told, the death of main character in the middle of a series is quite unusual – I’ll later mention it in the critics.
Series four (2011) starts with the return of Abby and Connor from the past after one year – as you can guess their relationship has grown, as they were on their own, and now they are able to control anomalies. Meanwhile the team has changed: James Lester and Captain Baker are still at the ARC, but Sarah died; a new team leader, mysterious Matt Anderson (Ciarán McMenamin), and a new team co-ordinator, Jess Parker (Ruth Kearney), and an entrepreneur initiating a public-private partnership with a company known as Prospero, Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig). Abby and Connor have to re-adapt to those new people… Especially as new mysteries emerge: a group of time-travellers arrives, led by dangerous and violent Ethan Dobrowski (Jonathon Byrne), known as an anarchist and expert in all kind of explosive stuff, and determined but sweet Emily Merchant (Ruth Bradley). As Ethan runs away, Matt, not willing to keep Emily as a prisoner at the ARC, takes care of her in his apartment, and soon develops romantic feeling for this young woman from… Victorian England, and will so anything he can into saving her from Ethan. In the same time, Philip Burton, who wants him in his research team, hires Connor – what strains his relationship with Abby, who doesn’t trust Philip. And – drums! – Matt reveals to be a warrior from the future, meant to stop Connor and Philip’s experimentations that caused the destruction of the world by predators and many other creatures… Into putting things in right order, Emily is sent back to her times, although Matt’s feelings for her are shared.
During this series, two funny characters briefly reappear: Jenny Lewis, whose wedding do creatures coming through an anomaly perturb, and who finally invites the team at the ceremony, and Danny Quinn, who briefly comes back from Pliocene, tells the team that Philip Burton used to know and to work with Hellen Cutter – so, the good innovative entrepreneur is not particularly trustworthy, and that he could use Connor’s competences in an evil purpose (!)…
Series five (2011) is very short – six episodes – and fast-paced. It starts as Connor, sure he’s about to resolve energy crisis, mostly works with Philip. Abby finds out who really is Matt, who asks her to spy on Connor, into knowing exactly what his research is about. At the same time, Philip recruits a new assistant, April (Janice Byrne): she actually is in charge of looking after Connor and making sure that he quickly progresses on New Dawn project… he’s soon able to generate first humanly created anomaly inside the ARC. There is an interesting romantic subplot: Abby, making some pieces of research, finds out that Emily Merchant has been sent to an asylum by her husband has she came back. So Matt goes to find her and free her from her terrible husband, and she joins the team back! YEAH! EMILY RULES! The fact is Philip manages to activate New Dawn, and generates a huge anomaly he cannot control. The problem is several anomalies open anywhere on Earth, and prehistoric creatures and predators invade our world… and the ARC. Lester is injured, as Jess tries to co-ordinate several teams on mission into securing London. Connor, feeling guilty, and Philip, actually not as bad as he seemed, realizing that Hellen tricked him, find a solution into closing New Dawn. Philip sacrifices himself and the world is safe. And lovers find each other… Abby is not angry anymore with Connor and proposes to him. Concerning Matt, he makes a strange encounter: he meets a second version of himself, warning him and advising him to come back home!…
The series end with this scene, that particularly annoys me because I expected a new series to learn more about this new issue…
- A diversity of issues
I think there are people who don’t like this series, especially my Dad, who never watched it with my Mum and me because, according to him: “It’s not credible…” I just wanted to reply: “Hey, you like watching Merlin, and it is not more credible!” (Yes, as I begun to follow Primeval, I used to have some issues with Merlin) Indeed, it seems quite funny to see people running after dinosaurs across London, but honestly, who cares if you spend a good moment and enjoy the stories? The only thing I could say it that sometimes episodes seem to repeat them, but in fact, many themes linked to science, environment or animal protection, are explored – sometimes in a quite naïve approach, but, it’s an entertainment after all, not a documentary! Another critic: I have some difficulties to understand what was in mind of producers and screenwriters as they “killed” Nick, and make Jenny leave in the middle of series three… Usually, that kind of event occurs at the end of a series! New team leader is quite sympathetic, but it would have been more relevant if creators had divided third series in two parts. Indeed, other ones are relatively short as this one counts ten episodes… Anyway.
Prehistoric creatures likes T-Rex and other, or even Predators from the future, are really fun, and give some good action moments, sometimes funny situations, communicating with the adventurer or the child in every adult (if I remember in series two, a giant worm tries to swallow Connor’s head… I laughed so much; I thought I was going to piss myself!). But most important is the questions these visitors from different times arouse.
What to do with creatures, which are not born and made for our times? What if you kill one of them in the past? What if you manipulate anomalies just as Hellen does and introduce new factors in the past? What are consequences for us and for future generations? It’s interesting that main characters are scientists or experts, with different positions concerning ethic… Of course, Primeval is a fiction, and there are the good ones, and the bad ones… and characters in-between. Typically, Nick, delicate Abby who cares for animals and hates seeing mammoths in a dark cell of the ARC, and Connor are the good ones: they have good intentions, they don’t want to kill creatures they rather send back to their time – into ensuring that timeline would go normally after that – and think of their human counterparts, who are in danger each time a Predator or a Dinosaur comes through the anomaly. They don’t aim to damage anyone. Of course if you judge them according to criteria from our “real” world, they seem morally to perfect, maybe naïve. Remember, it’s a fiction, they are not only human character, they represent certain positive, humanist ideas or conceptions. On the other side, Hellen is a brilliant scientist, but uses her knowledge for herself and its own conception of “good”, and at the service of its megalomaniac ambitions. Motivated by her ambition of rewriting history and making Earth a paradise, she doesn’t even care for other humans, she manipulates people – like Stephen Hart she used to have an affair with as we learn at the end of series one, and even powerful Philip she used the ambition into taking her revenge on Nick’s team and letting creatures from different times going through the world and anomalies destroying our civilization. Hellen is the danger, and her acts have consequence even after her death…
Interesting characters are those we cannot clearly guess the intentions… like Stephen, Philip, or someone like Matt or Emily. Stephen has some difficulties in series two and three: he’s not only attracted to Hellen, he loves her and tends to understand her point of view he momently tries to conciliate with his loyalty to Nick, especially as he thinks that public has to know about the activities of the ARC and the eventuality of prehistoric encounters. Concerning Philip, spectators are used to Hellen’s twisted tricks, and consider him to be an arse-hole as they find out he worked with Hellen: he actually is quite megalomaniac, ambitious and aims to become a pioneer in energetic issues, but we cannot say his intentions were all bad. Matt and Emily are interesting because they are outsiders. They have different conceptions: they are more likely that Abby or Connor to kill a creature they think to be a danger; they obey to a logic of survival, Emily is a time-nomad and had to face many dangers, as Matt has seen his world destroyed because of creatures coming across anomalies generated by Philip and Connor. They don’t really care about science, except if it represents a danger for human beings, and although they are conscious of the issues and dangers of time-travel. Both are ready to go back to times they don’t feel they belong to anymore, into putting things in right order and avoiding new dangers.
Of course, the series is, most of time, quite fun and those issues are not explored on a “philosophical” or intellectual way. So they’re not, in my opinion, what the most matters in Primeval. Indeed, more than scientific and ethical issues, the audience is more interested by characters, ordinary humans – if you exclude there competences and knowledge – facing extraordinary situations that impact their lives.
- Attaching characters
Characters themselves, their emotions, catch the attention. They’re not only dinosaur hunters, they have personalities – even someone they seem quite typical, interests and very often, love-interest. Running after raptors and Predators get people closer together and I have to admit, that except the guideline of the artefact and New Dawn, I followed the evolution of characters’ relations to each other. As I already mentioned, first team leader, Nick Cutter himself, falls in love with Claudia/Jenny although they’re totally different (I dare to think he was attracted to her because she was a lot different from Hellen – bleeding Hell, I am analysing a fictional character!). But funniest couple of this series is Abby and Connor. Since the beginning, our clumsy little genius, Connor has a crush on charming, energetic and sweet Abby. Regularly in the series, he hunts creatures with her, and saves her if necessary. In several episodes, he even thinks she died – drowned, eaten by a creature (I have to say that this time was hilarious), and tells her his feelings as he wants to motivate her… But he’s really shy, and she finally takes all initiatives – their first kiss, after he helps her to save her little brother, is SO funny. Their relationship becomes more mature after one year spent in Cretaceous, and is regularly perturbed by trust issues as Connor begins to work with Philip.
Other characters are quite… comic reliefs. Like Captain Becker with his sense of humour, or Jess with her vague air with a 60’s doll – oh, those both will develop romantic feelings too, Primeval is full of monsters and romance! Claudia/Jenny also is quite funny before Cutter’s death unveils a more vulnerable side of the young woman who gets along very well with Danny Quinn, a former rebel police officer who has his own way of proving security in ARC building.
Concerning new characters of series four, like Matt and Emily, I find them very touching. They are far away in time from home and find each other; he becomes the serving knight of this young lady in danger. I personally really liked Emily’s character. I fear you could find me conservative if I tell you I liked sweetness she managed to keep unless her terrible adventures through time, her refreshing Victorian side, compared to the other women of the series. She has something really cute, natural and sincere – but it the fact of the actress, Ruth Bradley, I think she’s really good in this role.
But my favourite of all remains the head of the ARC. I mean… JAMES LESTER. I got something with this kind of character; we hate at the beginning and later appreciate when we better know them… He’s sarcastic, abrupt and likes to control everything. He finds Cutter’s team totally inadequate and as a bureaucrat, has some difficulties to deal with scientists and would rather work in diplomacy (in my opinion, he wouldn’t have been a good diplomat). One of my favourite Lester’s quotes is: “I’m brilliant, and I am not the least bit unusual.” But his terrific sense of humour and his devastating lines, his horrific wardrobe – he always wears striped suits and shirts, with flashy BRACES! – show his originality. He’s huge. Honestly, he’s a “good one”, as my bro’ would say. More and more, he gets attached to the members of the team and protects them, as he has to struggle with government and people aiming to replace him, and reveals to be a formidable fighter – seeing him with a big gun, fighting Predators in his suit is… PRICELESS. So, in my opinion, this pain in the arse is the TRUE STAR of Primeval.
- Conclusion: good moment of fun
If you like London, dinosaurs and mad scientists running after them and saving the world, if you’re not fond of intellectual stuff – I cannot deny it’s not something you watch if you want to talk about philosophy with repressed scholars or university pals, if you’re tired and want to watch something unusual and fun, Primeval is made for you. Maybe it’s not one of most popular series I know, or not the best one I have ever seen – issues are interesting but naïvely explored, but I really appreciated main topic I found quite original, and funny characters.
The only thing I could regret is that the end let me unsatisfied, I had the impression that the audience was left abandoned as a new problem appear with Matt… and at the same time, I wonder if there is something more to add about the other characters who finally save the world and found satisfaction in their lives… But who knows?