This is an interesting review – I had not watched the ITV production Primeval at all at this point. I intended to when it was on BBC America, filling the void of Doctor Who and Torchwood at the time. Unfortunately various things got in the way and it fell off the radar. So, what to do when I have Primeval Volume Two in hand, without having seen the previous episodes? Throw it in the DVD player and hope I can follow what is going on…
Still reeling from the shocking death of Stephen and the stunning betrayal of Helen (Juliet Aubrey, The Constant Gardener), Nick (Douglas Henshall, French Film, Dorian Gray) must fight to re-focus his embattled team, now reduced to two members, student palaeontologist Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and zoologist Abby (Hannah Spearritt, Agent Cody Banks, S Club7). Cutter’s crew is joined by some new recruits in the form of maverick policeman Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng), sparky Egyptologist Sarah Page (Laila Rouass), and the new leader of the ARC’s security forces, Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield). But the anomalies continue to present an unrelenting series of threats, including such terrifying ancient creatures as Giganotosaurus (a truly terrifying predator, bigger even than the Tyrannosaurus Rex), Pristichampus (a creature which strikingly resembles the ancient Egyptian crocodile demon, Ammut) and Dracorex. As deadlier creatures continue to rampage through the anomalies, the cloak of secrecy behind which the team has been working is in jeopardy. Questions are being asked and the conspiracy spreads its net wide. If something is not done quickly, the team’s future is threatened?not to mention the future of humankind itself.
Volume 2 is actually the third series of this British serial, consisting of 10 episodes. The first two series were 6 and 7 episodes respectively (presented as “Season One” in the US), so I’m starting more than halfway through the entire series, and my experience with British serial TV is that it can be very difficult to pick up on characters without some background. Attempts at serialized American TV have probably be just as criticized. But it is also what makes the shows good.
Just as a bit of background, the first two series saw the Anomaly Research Center (ARC) team discovering “anomalies” that turned out to be doorways in time to other periods on Earth – often the past but occasionally the future as well – and the future is NOT pretty. Nick Cutter’s wife Helen had disappeared through an anomaly eight years earlier, and is found…but she appears to have other motives now. In the meantime, Nick Cutter and Claudia Brown had begun a romantic relationship, until something Nick and Helen do in the past results in Claudia disappearing in the present at the end of Series 1. However, a new ARC PR officer named Jenny Lewis is identical to Claudia in every way.
At the start of series 3, the ARC team consists of evolutionary biologist Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), public relations officer Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown), technical and research specialist Connor Temple (Andrew Lee-Potts), herpetologist/zookeeper Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), along with Home Office official and head of the ARC Sir James Lester (Ben Miller). Joining during the first episode are Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield), the military security officer, and Sarah Page (Laila Rouass), an Egyptologist. Former police constable Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng) joins a few episodes later. Another addition to the cast is Christine Johnson (Belinda Stewart-Wilson), Sir James sort of boss and nemesis, who seems to want total control over the ARC.
So essentially having missed 13 episodes of the show, what did I think?!? I think it was a mistake for me to have missed it in the first place.
I hate to make a direct comparison like this, but if you took some of the edgier material out of Torchwood, changed the rift and aliens to time anomalies and dinosaurs, this could easily be the same show. Quasi-government group of semi-misfits investigating strange phenomenon and dealing with whatever slips through it. I even could see the Jenny Lewis character in something of a Gwen-style role. However, to give it proper credit I think there is enough distinction in the show that it isn’t a clone – it is just that I am far more familiar with Torchwood so it was easy to see the similarities.
The show mixed a decent amount of humor in with the drama to keep it from being too scientifically sterile. There is even an interesting episode that starts of like it is a period piece – perhaps the team had gone back in time 100 years or so, all dressed up for a night of dancing – but then the reasons become evident. But they also used “real” dinosaurs so there was a decent educational science component.
I think the actors all did a great job. It was hard for me to pick up exactly on Cutter’s motives, but I’m sure that was due to not seeing the previous episodes. And unfortunately there are cast changes through the series as well, so emotional investment in the characters suffer at this stage from missing episodes. I do think that cast changes are an interesting difference between US and British TV series – you never know if a character really will survive in a British show.
The special effects were quite good. I’m not sure the anomalies were as good as they could have been – basically just glowing balls of broken glass – I just think something extra would have made it interesting – perhaps a glimpse of the other side. The creatures were quite interesting, with only a few example I can think of where the CGI creatures didn’t look natural to the surroundings, like the stampede of Embolotherium in Episode 9 where their feet don’t seem to be quite on the path. The future Earth scenes were a bit of a contradiction – they were done very well for the limited area that was shown, but even the long shots appeared to be showing a very small area. There was a lot of opportunity to show a devastated, abandoned city.
Unfortunately, the series ends in a cliffhanger, which appears as if it will remain unresolved, as ITV has elected not to produce a forth series. There has been some talk of perhaps continuing in another medium, as well as a possible US spinoff and movie, but both of those were announced before the fourth series was shot down.
As for the DVD set itself, the 3 discs come in a nice slipcover with a raised impression of the characters, logo and a Gigantosaur on the front and an amalgamated image on the back. The discs themselves are in a tri-fold folder with the same image as the front of the slipcase on front, and a couple of other images on the outsides, and the discs are held in clear plastic holders behind which are more amalgamated images including a couple of anomalies. The three discs are nicely screen printed with different scene images.
The discs all open with an advertisement or two, and then a fairly simply menu, where you can choose to play all the episodes on the disc, select one, select scenes, or set up the audio. The first two discs have 4 episodes each, and the last has 2, plus two special features: Cutter’s Odyssey, a behind the scenes from the point of view of Douglas Henshall (Nick Cutter), talking about filming, locations, the other actors and the stories, and Genesis of a Creature, the results of a 2008 competition to design a creature for the show, resulting in the Megoptera insect predators from the future.
There is also some audio commentary, but I missed where it is – probably in the Set Up menu item, so I’m not sure how many episodes it covers or who it was done by.
Final verdict: Thanks a lot Warner Home Video/BBC Video, because you just cost me some quid to pick up Volume One…