A TV series about hunting dinosaurs in the modern age seems to me like such an obviously great idea that it's hard to believe nobody made one until 2007. As far as I know they didn't, though, and perhaps it's just as well - it is only relatively recently that technology has made it possible to produce reasonably cheap, convincing dinosaurs for TV. Anything made more than about a decade ago, at least on UK TV budgets, would inevitably have looked tacky as hell.

Primeval is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a series about dinosaur hunting; it's deeply silly, action-packed and thoroughly entertaining - as long as your stoopid tolerance is sufficiently high. It's clear that nobody involved takes it terribly seriously, but they don't make the Torchwood error of not taking anything about it seriously at all. The acting is only occasionally rubbish, the scripts are unashamedly daft but don't insult our intelligence too much, and the directing is generally well-paced and compelling. The special effects, by the team that made Walking with Dinosaurs, are actually quite impressive - the dinosaurs are almost completely persuasive, far more convincing than they were in the aforementioned 'documentary' series, and the 'anomalies' through which they enter the modern world use a fairly simple effect, beautifully realised.

The team that ends up fighting the dinosaurs and other time-travelling creatures seems to be put together almost at random from people who happen to find out about them, but fortunately for civilisation as we know it they possess all the skills necessary to see off the transchronological threat. Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) is a university professor in the Indiana Jones mould; Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt out of S Club 7) is a zoo worker with conveniently advanced Karate skills; Connor Temple (Andrew Lee Potts) is a student of Prof. Cutter's who's a big dinosaur geek and helpfully also a general technological whiz kid; Stephen Hart (James Murray), Cutter's research assistant, has extensive experience in big game hunting for scientific purposes, and so on.

There is a big overall story arc about the mystery of the anomalies, why they seem to be getting more frequent and just how much Cutter's wife Helen - who disappeared into one of them eight years ago - might know about them. Most episodes are very much focused on the incursion of the moment, though - how to contain a herd of velociraptors, or a woolly mammoth or what-have-you without word getting out or too many people dying. It's probably fair to say that the writers learnt quite a lot from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in terms of structure and the combination of humour with darker elements.

Two and a half series in, not many of the mysteries have been solved, but that's quite okay; it looks like there's still plenty of fun to be had on the way. Without wanting to give too much away, the team has lost a couple of members, and they have been replaced with more new characters I like better anyway. The writing and direction keep on improving, and the effects see subtle improvements too. The series is less wedded to known prehistoric creatures than it was - RalphyK's episode (3/2) is just the first of several to see adversaries who are never identified at all.

Sure, it's cod-scifi candyfloss, but I think I kind of love it.



Note: Apparently this also shows on BBC America. Unfortunately, according to one commenter on RalphyK's blog, 'BBCA only butchers the most important parts, the parts that might tie episodes together, or where major characters die.' So, um, if you're in the US you might prefer to choose some distribution other than the TV broadcast. Sorry.

Incidentally in June 2009 ITV announced that they were axing Primeval after 'three very successful series', but in April 2010 they announced that they were making more series after all, after agreeing an international co-production arrangement with - perhaps worryingly - BBC America, alongside Germany’s Pro7 and the original production company Impossible Pictures. Series 4 and 5 are due to air in 2011.

Pri*me"val (?), a. [L. primaevus; primus first + aevum age. See Prime, a., and Age.]

Belonging to the first ages; pristine; original; primitive; primary; as, the primeval innocence of man.

"This is the forest primeval."

Longfellow.

From chaos, and primeval darkness, came Light. Keats.

 

© Webster 1913.

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