Prime-time ITV Saturday teatime drama about dinosaurs attacking modern Britain. How we laughed and muttered “Cheap Doctor Who rip-off” under our breaths. Well I should take that breath back, and the mutt’rin’ too: last week I watch all of Primeval, said programme, and it is great. What is really nice about it is its greatness lies in almost all the areas which are different to Doctor Who. Primarily in a strong set of casting and central performances which dovetail nicely with the expensive special effects. But also with a script which actually spends quite a lot of time trying to make its nonsensical premise make sense – particularly from a dramatic viewpoint.


The problem with much sci-fi and fantasy is not with far-fetched ideas. Far-fetched ideas is what the genre is based on. But because the premise may be implausible, there is no reason why the world created from that premise need not make sense. Doctor Who recently has been a terrible proponent of this, take Gridlock: an episode I actually rather liked. We have a non-stop motorway, where people have been driving for twenty years to get to a destination. This could be plausible. But what is less plausible is where the food, air and water comes from, what have people been doing for entertainment, health-care, for money to pay for any of this. FUEL? None of this was touched on and therefore it just felt like a fantasy piece, written on the back of a fag-packet while Andrew Davis was stuck on the Westway.

But Doctor Who is a selection of short stories. Primeval is one big story which does (slowly) develop its premise. Said premise is that time anomalies keep popping up in the UK, letting prehistoric creature through. Home Office is trying to manage this, as deadly creatures attack, and uses an open minded scientist and a loose gang picked up in episode one to do so. During the series we have an
a) Impressive dinosaur episode
b) Giant centipede/bugs episode
c) Ruddy great crocodile episode
d) Dodo episode*…

And two more episodes which end in a whopping season finale which is both mysterious and leaves you wanting more. It really is terrific stuff and you feel remarkably short changed with your six episodes. Because the love triangle between Home Office bird, Douglas Henshall’s Prof** and his anti-heroic ex-wife actually seems tense. Indeed she is a great sort of villain (she knows stuff about the anomalies, but ain’t saying). Because the youth characters are smart and stupid in equal measure. Because rather than just sticking to dinosaurs the show thinks of new things to do. Because Hannah SClub is great and in her pants lots FOR A GOOD REASON. But mainly because this all comes together in a smartly written forty five minute episodes the equal of good US television. And yet feels remarkably British. Basically it is everything Torchwood is not (for good and bad).

And that’s the problem with the six episodes. The mysteries inherent in the show slowly creep forward just like those in Lost. But six episodes, packed with character development and monster hunting leaves little room for the over-arching story to go on. Perhaps they should cut some corners by having some really cheap rubbish animals attacking this week. Or some plants come through. I am glad it has a second series, but I hope it gets even more because its the best piece of original adventure television on British TV for almost fifteen years! (Lookie here: Paul Cornell has written an episode for Season 2).

*The point of this episode is to show that sometimes uncool things come through too.

**Douglas Henshall’s Prof Nick Cutter is the classic British scientist hero. No guns for him, but smart, able and in control: and more importantly wants to understand stuff. Like why are there dinosaurs here. And why did my wife leave me?