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'Primeval' - the Television Series

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Primeval was an ITV science fiction television programme that had 36 episodes broadcast on Saturday nights in five series between 2007 and 2011, as well as a Canadian spin-off series, Primeval: New World. The series premise involved dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals entering the present through anomalies - portals in time that can appear at any time and in any place - as well as the team that investigate them.

Background

In 2005 the BBC brought back Doctor Who, a science fiction programme about a man who could travel back and forth in time and have adventures with monsters, which was quickly restored to being one of British television's most successful programmes. Commercial television channel ITV wanted something similar, and turned to Tim Haines and his experienced Impossible Pictures team. Impossible Pictures had been behind Walking With Dinosaurs and had made Prehistoric Park for ITV the previous year.

Haines, who had built an international reputation for excellence in presenting, co-created with screenwriter Adrian Hodges a drama in which dinosaurs and other creatures would interact with actors, similar to his 2001 adaptation of The Lost World. Instead of a one-off drama, this would be a continuing series in which time portals from different eras in Earth's history bring back terrifying creatures to within easy commuting distance of a top-secret government organisation in the present.

The effects were created by renowned special effects company Framestore. German television company ProSieben co-produced the series, which was distributed and sold to more than 45 countries by BBC Worldwide.

Review

The team spends each episode fighting dinosaurs and other creatures, armed only with enthusiasm. Sometimes they are accompanied by a number of 'special forces' troops. These are Primeval's equivalent of red-shirted extras1, dressed in a black uniform that makes the wearer look like a cross between a bouncer and a dog handler. Their top-secret government organisation seems to have spent its entire budget on gadgets and gizmos and does not have any money left for basic protection like helmets, gloves or kevlar body armour, or other basic facilities. In the first series, Abby Maitland is left to do an autopsy on a dodo on her own kitchen table. This seems incredibly unprofessional, especially as she kept her flat's temperature high to be suitable for her lizard, Rex.

The creatures were a mixture of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life. Some were modelled on animals that had appeared in the Walking With series, although the size of many of these creatures was exaggerated to make the episodes more dramatic. As well as dinosaurs, creepy crawling insects often recurred as well as speculative future animals.

Primeval was very good at being a recurring family-friendly B-movie at tea-time. As a creature feature the series worked well, especially as it was inspired by many of the best of the genre, introducing the post-Tremors generation to the genre's conventions and highlights. One episode about saber-toothed tigers seemed almost a best-of compilation of Jaws, only without the shark, while one featuring a fatal fungus is clearly modelled on Alien, complete with flamethrowers. The Blair Witch Project and even the scarab beetles in The Mummy (1999) also influenced episodes.

When the series tried to do more than be a B-movie and become a character-run drama it began to struggle. The cast list changed more often than Abby's underwear, and viewers generally were more interested in the creatures featured than the characters. There were attempts to create a vague sense of character arc, but many questions were left unresolved, ending up either disappointing the series fans or, at best, irrelevant distractions from the action.

Sadly, after briefly calling a halt to the series in 2009, ITV cancelled it entirely in 2011, when they faced a financial crisis and could not afford to make dramas anymore. Primeval was replaced with Red or Black?, a £15million programme in which things were randomly either red or black for no apparent reason, which unsurprisingly failed to find an audience. Since then the channel has made fewer dramas and given up its attempt to challenge Doctor Who.

Cast and Characters

To an extent the cast is irrelevant, though the stars of the first series were made into a range of action figures. Primeval has attracted criticism that the cast are predominantly white and middle class, yet their role is mainly to fill in the minutes between showing the dinosaurs.

CharacterActorSeries
Connor TempleAndrew-Lee Potts 1–5 & New World
Abby MaitlandHannah Spearritt 1–5
James LesterBen Miller 1–5
Professor Nick CutterDouglas Henshall1–3
Helen CutterJuliet Aubrey 1–3
Jenny Lewis} Lucy Brown 2–3 & 4
Claudia Brown1
Captain Hilary BeckerBen Mansfield3–5
Matt AndersonCiarán McMenamin4–5
Philip BurtonAlexander Siddig4–5
Jess ParkerRuth Kearney4–5
Stephen HartJames Murray1–2
Doctor Sarah PageLaila Rouass3
DC Danny QuinnJason Flemyng3 & 4
Lady Emily MerchantRuth Bradley4–5

Please note '&' means the character makes one or more guest appearances in the later series and is not a regular character.

Most of the cast of Primeval are known only for their roles in that series, although Abby Maitland was played by former S Club 7 singer Hannah Spearritt. Her real-life romance with co-star Andrew-Lee Potts received a lot of publicity at the time. Ben Miller is a well-known comic, half of The Armstrong and Miller Show who has appeared in television series such as The Worst Week of My Life as well as playing Bough in Johnny English. Perhaps the most famous star in Primeval was Alexander Siddig, previously known as Siddig El Fadil, who had earlier starred as Doctor Julian Bashir in all seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Series One (six episodes, 2007)

In the first series Professor Nick Cutter and his research assistant Stephen Hart work in the Central Metropolitan University's palaeozoology department. A young student at the university, Connor Temple, informs them that a monster has been sighted in the Forest of Dean, which is the area where Cutter's wife, Helen, disappeared eight years earlier. Also investigating the forest is an attractive government official from the Home Office, Claudia Brown, as well as Abby Maitland, a lizard expert from a nearby zoo who is investigating reports of an unusual lizard.

They soon discover a portal in time that they call an anomaly leading from the Permian era, which has let different prehistoric animals into the present day, including a flying lizard that Abby adopts and calls 'Rex', as well as a fierce predatory gorgonopsid. After discovering evidence of an encampment in the past, including human remains, senior government official James Lester takes charge, especially when it is revealed that this anomaly is only the first they have discovered.

Soon more anomalies are discovered, bringing a range of prehistoric animals from the past into the present, normally with fatal results for the people nearby. Connor, despite being a self-confessed poor student who rarely attended lectures and prefers spending his time with mates Duncan and Tom, is considered an expert on prehistoric life. Connor moves in with Abby, who is more interested in Stephen, while Cutter finds himself attracted to Claudia. Then it is discovered that Helen is actually still alive and knows far more about the anomalies than she is prepared to reveal and seems to have her own agenda, as Nick Cutter learns that the fiercest monster of all is an angry ex-wife.

In the first series, episodes have an unusual habit of including events in the 'previously on Primeval' introductions that have not actually appeared in Primeval yet. For instance, episode 3 begins by including in its 'previously' introduction a scene in which Cutter says 'The anomalies are conclusive proof that the past exists' and then when the episode begins properly, goes right into the scene in which Cutter says 'The anomalies are conclusive proof that the past exists'. This is very sloppy, but presumably it also conclusively proves that the past exists. One thing the first series did well was to include a mention of the previous episode when beginning the next one, tying up loose ends and resolving plot points.

Primeval also received a lot of publicity regarding the character of Abby Maitland, who spends several episodes wearing only pants and light t-shirts. The plot explanation for this was that her pet Rex needs a very warm environment, leading Abby to turn her heating up to such an extent that only by not wearing legwear does she feel comfortable in her own home, much to the annoyance of actress Hannah Spearritt, who later said she felt exploited2.

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Coelurosauravus (flying lizard) nicknamed 'Rex'
  • Scutosaurus (armoured herbivorous reptile)
  • Gorgonopsid (carnivorous mammal-like reptile)
  • Arthropleura (giant centipede)
  • Giant spider
  • Mosasaur (aquatic reptile)
  • Hesperornis (predatory bird)
  • Dodo
  • Dodo Parasite
  • Pteranodon (giant pterosaur)
  • Anurognathus (small, vampire-like pterosaur)
  • Future Predator (giant flightless bat/rat-like creature)

Series Two (seven episodes, 2008)

The series one cliffhanger had Cutter returning from the prehistoric past, only to discover that time had changed and he was in an alternate reality. In this parallel universe the team work in a building called the ARC – the Anomaly Research Centre – with a bigger organisation and they have a new boss, Oliver Leek. Connor is now no longer a lazy student but is an electronics genius who designs and constructs an Anomaly Detector Device and other assorted gadgets. Abby no longer spends all her spare time wearing pants, having taken up kickboxing instead, and she does not fancy Stephen. This dimension's Stephen has had an affair with Helen and is sulky and suspicious of everyone. The biggest difference is that in this timeline Claudia Brown never existed, yet there is a similar-looking woman with a completely different character called Jenny Lewis. Cutter misses Claudia terribly, carrying a photo of them together in his wallet everywhere, even though in the first series the two were never actually a couple.

Were these changes accidentally caused by inadvertently introducing a predator from the future into the past? Were they deliberate alterations caused by Helen? Her knowledge of anomalies and time travel, as well as jealousy felt towards her rival for her husband's affections, could have resulted in her meddling in the past. This is never answered, and the original reality is never returned to.

Who can be trusted? How has Connor managed to get a girlfriend? Does Caroline want Connor and Abby to take her to their lizard? Who is the Cleaner, and what is his secret? Why are some of the creatures disappearing? What is Helen up to? Why won't they resolve the Claudia Brown plot twist?

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Rex
  • Velociraptors (man-sized carnivorous dinosaur)
  • Giant worms
  • Smilodon (saber-toothed cat)
  • Future Shark
  • Mer (Giant cross between King Kong and a merman, with a dash of the Kraken from Clash of the Titans)
  • Giant Scorpion
  • Columbian Mammoth
  • Future Predator

Series Three (ten episodes, 2009)

At the end of Series Two, Stephen snuffed it, saving his friends. He is replaced by new members of the team. His action-man role is taken over by Captain Hilary Becker, who leads the Special Forces team. Another new character is Doctor Sarah Page, an Egyptologist who believes that anomalies have opened in the past and are the real explanation behind many myths and legends, from Ancient Egypt to Mediaeval England. Detective Constable Danny Quinn longs to learn the truth behind the anomaly that took his brother 14 years earlier. Meanwhile, Lester has a new boss, Christine Johnson, who has her own army and secret agenda and is after an unusual artefact. Jenny finds that she is being followed by a journalist determined to learn the truth, while Cutter begins to learn how to predict where and when anomalies will occur.

Soon a bad situation is made worse when Helen turns up with an army of Cleaners, having stolen cloning technology from the future. Believing that Cutter is about to inadvertently end the world with Predators, she launches a suicidal full-frontal attack on her ex-husband, even though she had encouraged Leek to build up his own army of Predators in the previous series. At least Connor is having more luck, discovering that the Egyptians were able to contain an anomaly within a magnetite cage and later learning how to close anomalies using electricity. Yet soon he has to move out of the flat he shares with Abby when her brother Jack comes to stay, and Jack causes chaos by losing Rex in a poker game and inadvertently finding himself in the future.

The series does try to develop the 'monster through the anomaly this week' format. Anomalies that opened in the distant past begin to influence the present, while the audience sees a recurring vision of an apocalyptic future in which humanity appears to have been wiped out shortly after the present day. There are even creatures who come through the anomalies without actually killing anyone.

One episode features wildlife presenter Nigel Marvin, the star of both Walking With Dinosaurs spin-off Sea Monsters and Prehistoric Planet, only for him to be eaten by a Giganotosaurus. However the plot arc of Christine Johnson, a rival with her own secret agenda regarding the Future Predators, does feel like a repeat of series two, in which Leek had his own secret agenda regarding the Future Predators.

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Rex
  • Future Predator
  • Pristichampsus (land-based crocodile, considered to be Ammut in Ancient Egypt)
  • Gremlin (whispering creature capable of camouflaging to blend into its background)
  • Diictodon (cute, burrowing mammal-like reptiles)
  • Velociraptors
  • Giganotosaurus (Large carnivorous dinosaur, nicknamed 'G-Rex')
  • 'Fungus the Bogeyman'3 (A fungus whose spores, when touched or inhaled, turn the victim into a walking fungus)
  • Phorusrhacos (Large predatory bird)
  • Dracorex (Dinosaur mistaken for a dragon in mediaeval England.)
  • Megoptera (giant ant/wasp-like insect from the future)4
  • Embolotherium (prehistoric rhinoceros)
  • Australopithecus (humanity's ancestors)

Following Series Three

Series Three ended on a dramatic cliffhanger. It was discovered that the apocalyptic future in which humanity has been wiped out and the only living animals are the future predators and megoptera had been caused by the ARC. In their quest to prevent Helen from wiping out all humanity, Abby and Connor were left stranded in the Cretaceous surrounded by a pack of Velociraptors, while Danny Quinn was trapped in the Pliocene.

In 2009, ITV was suffering from a financial crisis, having a £105 million half-year loss, and began cost-cutting, eliminating expensive television dramas such as Sharpe. Even Heartbeat, in which police Ford Anglias drive around the North Yorkshire Moors a lot while accompanied by a 1960s soundtrack, was no longer financially affordable.

After vehemently denying rumours in May that they were going to cancel Primeval, by June ITV announced that it was, in fact, axed. As Primeval had been successful overseas, proving popular on BBC America, Impossible Pictures was able to negotiate a deal between ITV, their German partner ProSieben, and BBC Worldwide. Part of the deal included the right to broadcast the final series on Watch before ITV. Watch is one of the channels in the UKTV network, a commercial enterprise 50% owned by the BBC. A series of 13 episodes was agreed on; the first two series had been broadcast as a run of 13 in America for ease of scheduling5 and BBC America was keen to repeat this. These episodes would be broadcast as two separate series, one of seven and one of six, in the UK.

As part of the reduced budget, production moved from Surrey to Dublin. Although it had been hoped to retain the complete cast, some of the UK-based actors were unable to relocate due to family and other commitments. This led to the loss of the character of Doctor Sarah Page, and DC Danny Quinn only appeared once in series four. Instead, new characters with new backstories were introduced. In order to bridge the gap between series three and four, a series of five short webisodes were released online. These explained that Sarah had died in a rescue attempt to find Abby, Connor and Danny, implied that the ARC would be run differently, and hinted that there was more to the new characters than immediately apparent. Disappointingly, these webisodes were not included on the series four DVD.

Series Four (seven episodes, 2011)

A year has passed since the events at the end of the last series. The ARC is now the subject of a Public-Private Partnership, in which it has received funding from commercial company Prospero, headed by Philip Burton, who wishes to use research in anomalies for commercial purposes. The ARC team have relocated to new, larger facilities which include a menagerie area, and been issued with new weapons - EMD (Electro Muscular Disruption) guns. There are also new team members Jess Parker, who stays in the office guiding the investigative teams, and new team leader Matthew 'Matt' Anderson. Matt, however, has a secret agenda, constantly talking to a mentor named Gideon and referring to his 'mission'.

After surviving a year in the Cretaceous, Connor and Abby return to the present followed by a Spinosaurus, which Abby disorientates in an arena by playing her former band S Club 7's music at it6. On his return from his journey into the past to prevent Helen from wiping out humanity, Connor, having previously invented the Anomaly Detector as well as handheld anomaly trackers, devised a method of closing anomalies as well as discovered how to move anomalies and invented a remote-operating vehicle out of a hairdryer that can transmit pictures from the other side of an anomaly7 is of course instantly fired. As he does not having a military background and instead has centred his life around researching anomalies, he obviously does not have the experience to work for the Anomaly Research Centre. He manages to catch up with Duncan, an old friend in this reality too, and his discovery of a prehistoric crocodile leads to him being allowed back in the team. Soon after, Matt discovers a group of time travellers from disparate periods of time, with one, Emily, warning him about the mentally deranged Ethan.

Before long Jenny Lewis has had her wedding day ruined, Danny's reunion with his brother doesn't go quite as expected and Connor, after inventing an anomaly dating device, discovers that the anomalies are appearing more frequently, with potentially catastrophic results.

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Rex
  • Velociraptors
  • Spinosaurus (Large carnivorous dinosaur)
  • Dracorex
  • Kaprosuchus (Large boar-tusked crocodile)
  • Arboreal Raptors aka 'Tree Creepers' (Monkey-like carnivorous dinosaurs)
  • Therocephalians (Venomous mammal-like reptile)
  • Labyrinthodont (large crocodile-like amphibian)
  • Hyaenodons (Large wolf-like mammals)
  • Phorusrhacos 'Terror Bird'

Series Five (six episodes, 2011)

Matt confides to Abby that he has travelled back from the future with his father, hoping to prevent the anomaly apocalypse glimpsed in series three. All he knows is that the catastrophe will be caused by someone involved with the ARC, and suspects either Connor or Philip Burton. Connor has been recruited by Philip to work closely on a top-secret project called 'New Dawn' which aims to harness the anomalies as a source of renewable power. Connor's every move is monitored by April, his new assistant. Now forced to keep secrets from Abby, could he be the one to cause the end of the world? Before long the team has to deal with dinosaurs on board submarines, burrowing beetles, a love across the boundaries of time and a dinosaur mistaken for a serial-killer in Victorian England while Connor and Abby's relationship is strained to breaking point.

Why does April always wear glasses when around Connor, but not at any other time? Who will sacrifice their lives in a futile attempt to prevent the apocalypse? Does April actually need glasses or not? Why is the ending so enigmatic?

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Rex
  • Burrowing Beetle (Giant carnivorous insect)
  • Eustreptospondylus (Carnivorous theropod dinosaur)
  • Liopleurodon (Large pliosaur, marine reptile)
  • Velociraptors
  • Beetles
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • Pterosaurs
  • Kaprosuchus
  • Arboreal Raptors
  • Future Predators

Primeval: New World (13 episodes, 2012)

There was a Canadian spin-off, Primeval: New World. This lasted for one 13-episode series.

Set in Vancouver, Canada, the main character is Evan Cross, a rich inventor who spends his time investigating anomalies after one led to the death of his wife. His team includes Dylan Weir, an animal expert, tech genius Toby Nance, Cross' PA Angelika Finch and Mac Rendell, a man who rides a motorbike and likes carrying guns. They are occasionally assisted by Lieutenant Leeds, the sole remaining member of a Canadian Government department set up to investigate UFOs in the 1950s. The series was adapted by husband and wife writing team Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, close friends of William Shatner8 with whom they have often collaborated. They had previously produced the second and third seasons of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1999-2002) and had been the lead writers on the final series of Star Trek: Enterprise. Some episodes were directed by Stargate star Amanda Tapping.

This series had a new theme tune and opening sequence. When watched back on DVD the way many episodes are edited are quite intrusive, as they contain noticeable 'jump' moments where viewers can tell where the advert break was placed.

Who is actually already dead? How will the past affect the present? Who will betray who, and lose which loved ones?

Cast

CharacterActor
Evan CrossNiall Matter
Dylan WeirSara Canning
Toby NanceCrystal Lowe
Angelika FinchMiranda Frigon
Mac RandellDanny Rahim
Lieutenant Ken LeedsGeoff Fustafson
Connor TempleAndrew-Lee Potts

In many ways the characters replicate those of the original series. Cross, like Cutter, becomes obsessed with anomalies after losing his wife to one many years earlier. Dylan, like Abby, is an animal expert and Toby, like Abby, likes wandering around in her pants, while performing the same role as Jess.

Creatures Featured:

Animals in italics are fictional

  • Albertosaurus (T-Rex relative)
  • Brontoscorpio (Giant scorpion)
  • Carnivorous Beetles
  • Daemonosaurus (Man-sized carnivorous dinosaur)
  • Lycaenops (Wolf-like mammal-like reptile)
  • Ornitholestes (Man-sized carnivorous dinosaur)
  • Pachycephalosaurus (herbivorous head-butting dinosaur)
  • Pteranodon (Carnivorous flying reptile)
  • Titanis Walleri (Terror Bird)
  • Titanoboa (Largest-known prehistoric snake)
  • Triceratops (large horned herbivorous dinosaur)
  • Utahraptors (Large raptors)
1A reference to non-regular crew members in Star Trek who were invariably bumped off during away missions.2The character of Connor would later be seen in his underwear in series three.3Nicknamed after the popular Raymond Briggs character by Lester.4This was designed by 16-year-old Carim Nahaboo, winner of a 'Design a Monster for Primeval' competition.5There are 52 weeks in a year, 13 is a quarter of 52 and so easily equates to a television season.6Sadly the track 'Don't Stop Moving' is replaced on the DVD release version by another song, presumably due to music licencing reasons.7The last two only appearing in one episode each, before being promptly forgotten.8Star Trek: The Original Series' very own Captain James T Kirk.

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