TV ITV's new Saturday night sci-fi drama Primeval is dreadfully dated, gloriously misconceived, horribly written, annoyingly acted piece of garbage that's so horrifyingly bad that I found myself actually thinking about tidying the flat half way through. The fact that I went to get a bin bag so that I could empty my bin says a lot about how the creators of the show have fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of all television drama - to the keep the audience member entertained and intrigued enough that they'll stay with it, even during the ad breaks.

I'll leave the real wit to this blog entry and instead offer a quick analysis of what I thought was wrong with it in terms of script and storytelling. The general problem a lack of focus. It was desperate to introduce the premise and all the characters as quickly as possible which meant that, rather than gradually introducing the premise through a gateway character (see Rose in Doctor Who or Gwen in Torchwood), there was instead a premature ejaculation of a narrative with about ten characters and the whole premise largely set up before the second break.

In the best dramas, characters are introduced subtly through behaviour and signals; in this noisy mess everyone was given a name and a job title and back story through infodumps, clunky exposition which did nothing but stop the viewer from becoming engaged with them. About the only character who left a mark was zoo keeper Abby played by Hannah Spearritt. Partly because of her sparky performance, but also since in most of her scenes she was the narrative focus and was allowed space to discover the central mystery. How much better if the opening of the episode had stayed with her and she'd brought the problem to the professor. Instead they simply and co-incidentally ran into each other in the forest and made what looked like a rather sudden alliance.

The show was riddled with useless exposition about these fictional dinosaurs which most audience members will never remember anyway, when really it could have been providing us with reasons to love the characters. Much of the dialogue either made no sense in context or was deeply clich├ęd. For example, if your were a mother and you went up to your child's room and found the wall missing, I really don't think you'd be telling the tyke to tidy up the mess as you were reaching for the phone to call emergency services.

You need to keep this kind of stuff fundamentally realistic so that the unrealistic resonates more clearly. Personally I knew that all was lost when the chiseled lab assistant was trying to attract the attention of the dinosaur in the school by shouting 'Pick on someone your own size' without a hint of irony. But Henshall's character was prone to big speeches which he simply hadn't earned because we didn't know enough about him - we hadn't been given enough time to get the measure of the man.

Also, by introducing the dinosaurs so early in the episode, in the second shot I think, it suggests an acknowledgment by the programme makers that they're already old hat. You can't throw away moments like that - and not their fault but ITV1 ruined this first money shot by throwing the 'Subtitles' reminder up over it. Even in the second Jurassic Park movie, Spielberg teased his audience until some way into the movie giving us only that small fry dinosaur. He understood that we need to discover the reptiles with the characters and if you notice in those films, we never actually see a dinosaur before the human characters. Here, because we'd already seen the thing, when the group bumped into it in the forest it simply didn't resonate the same way.

But then, the thing generally misjudged its sense of wonder. The really important moment when Henshall's professor, the apparent central character stepped into the past for the first time should have been the central, important moment in the story. In the event it was ruined firstly by giving the initial introduction to the place earlier in the episode to a young child who wasn't central to the story and seems to have been forgotten in the grand scheme of things and by cutting away to the crew on the other side of the portal just as he and we should be enjoying the tantalizing possibilities of what might be there.

Personally I would have found a reason for him to have to wait until another episode for him to crossover, tantalizing us instead with the beasties and whatnot that are coming through, playing on our imaginations of what he might find through there. That way the trip would have really been special, the discovery of the base camp and the skeleton and the photographs something major - they felt rather wasted here. Why did they decide that slagheap was a good idea? I'm reminded of that moment in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur Dent was all excited about visiting his first alien world, only to be deflated when someone offers the description 'Desolate hole'.

Overall it was just another example of style over substance. Were Jurassic Park is fundamentally about not meddling with nature, although this had a slight suggestion of government attempting to control science it was mostly about trying to get to the next action sequence. Tonally it was all over the place too -- not sure whether it was supposed to be a comedy drama. Alright, I laughed at the moment when Rex bopped to the music in the lift, but that's the sort of thing that turns up in Hanna Barbara cartoons and undermines our ability to appreciate this things as living creatures rather than constructs.

The whole thing seemed to come from a sense of trying to create something by committee based on a mission statement - beat Doctor Who - which on only rare occasions leads to anything good. I'm biased but even the worse episodes of that series had more wit and passion than this farrago. The trailer for next week's episode suggests that the weekly premise is going to be that something appears through the portal and that they have to deal with it. That could get very old very quickly in this day and age.


  1. Great review, Stu, and while I agree with everything you said I still enjoyed it a lot more than any episode of Doctor Who in 2006. Maybe it's because it's got Hannah out of S Club 7 in it (hubba hubba), maybe it's Ben Miller's silly turn as the government hatchet man with shit on his suit (where was the comedy parp-parp music?), or maybe it's because it's inherent naffness is somewhat charming. Next week: Thrill to the sight of the Professor filling in his RAE application...

  2. What even Girl In The Fireplace? I think I just wanted so much for it to be good and in the end it looked like Torchwood on a higher budget with less frottage.