Travel Through Time with BBC’s “Primeval”

by Shannon Baldo

I’m a television and movie addict. I love everything having to do with the screen, and I want to share the bits of knowledge I have discovered about the most interesting and most successful shows that most people haven’t yet stumbled across. I hope to introduce you to the best television you (probably) haven’t seen – and if you have something to recommend yourself, please send it along to feed my addiction.

Do not worry, faithful reader. I have decided this week to continue in the vein of my previous two weeks, presenting you with the “Best Sci-fi Television You (Probably) Haven’t Seen.”

This week, however, I have decided to go in a slightly different direction: I am abandoning the new turns that the genre has taken and instead opting for a show that salutes sci-fi’s traditions with respect, dignity and ease.

Thus I present the British science-fiction hit, “Primeval.”

This series focuses on evolutionary biologist Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), a professor of paleontology at a British university. When his naïve and goofy, yet brilliant, student Connor Temple (Andrew-Lee Potts) approaches him about recent sightings of strange creatures in a nearby forest, Cutter at first rejects him. He and his graduate assistant Stephen Hart (James Murray), however, finally agree to check out the occurrences.

When they arrive in the forest, however, they happen to find a glowing orb of white – a portal through time, a mysterious fact of the universe later called an “anomaly” – and a handful of dinosaurs that have managed to travel through this portal. With the help of zoologist Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt, from “S Club 7” fame), the newly formed team manages to help all of the creatures back to their homes.

As the series progresses, Nick, Connor, Stephen and Abby must band together in order to prevent irreparable damage from occurring around these anomalies. They eventually form the government-funded Anomaly Research Center (ARC) in order to detect these wrinkles in time and to protect the creatures around them, animals and humans alike.

“Primeval” follows the traditional formula for a science fiction show much more akin to “Star Trek” than to the new wave of original, multigenre shows. It focuses on a team of scientists, each with a certain specialty and a certain role, who must enter this brave new world for the purposes of research and progress, only to be met with action, adventure and fantastic new enemies.

The overarching storylines which comprise each season could come straight from a science-fiction show decades ago, and the overall emphasis on weaponry and technology reminds me very much of the genre’s conventions.

Plus, “Primeval” puts an almost overwhelming emphasis on the science-oriented aspect of the scientists’ time travel, particularly in the appearance and characteristics of the creatures they meet.

From tyrannosaurs ransacking airports to the ancestor of a shark swimming along the Thames, from predators from the future resembling bats swarming in parking garages to carnivorous walruses attacking a beach, each of these creatures exists perfectly, from the special effects to the descriptions and assessments of their abilities. Creative license is certainly taken, often to extremes, yet there still remains a strong respect for and focus on these aspects of science.

Though I am typically not much of a fan of conventional science fiction – too much action, not enough development – I have actually stayed interested and intrigued by “Primeval” throughout its three seasons. Perhaps it is the actors that have kept my attention, whose personal drama and dedication to the project seem to keep the action at least somewhat subordinate to the development; perhaps it is the writing, which manages to make me smile even through its incredible superficiality.

Or perhaps, every once in a while, we all just need a little science-fiction inanity of bad special effects, pseudo-science and action-adventure. If that is what you’re craving, “Primeval” is certainly the show to satisfy.

“Primeval” consists of three series and is available on DVD; most episodes appear frequently on BBCAmerica.

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