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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s really been a renaissance for British sci-fi TV in recent years, and it isn’t limited solely to “Doctor Who.” If you’re a regular viewer of BBC America, then you’ve been witness to it, but if you’re not, then you really should go out of your way to investigate such series as “Hex,” “Jekyll,” and, of course, “Eleventh Hour” and “Life on Mars” – both of which have been adapted for American audiences and are airing on CBS and ABC, respectively. The latest and greatest contribution from our friends across the pond, however, may well be the most fun series they’ve offered us yet.
The concept behind “Primeval” revolves around temporal anomalies beginning to pop up around Great Britain – a phenomenon which quickly necessities the creation of a scientific team, due to the sudden arrival of prehistoric creatures strolling willy-nilly through the anomalies and into the present. Actually, the story began almost a decade prior, when Dr. Helen Cutter (Juliet Aubrey) vanishes after following a Gorgonopsian – that’s a type of dinosaur, kids! – through one of the anomalies, but since no one witnessed her disappearance, she was presumed dead. Eight years later, her husband, Dr. Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), is cajoled into joining an exploratory party to investigate a reported dinosaur sighting; he soon discovers that not only is the creature the real deal , but that his wife has been alive for all this time, living in the past. As a result, he joins the research team full-time, bringing with him his lab tech, Stephen (James Murray), one of his top current students (Connor, played by Andrew Lee Potts), and zoologist Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearitt, best known as a member of the late, great pop group S Club 7), on a quest for both scientific knowledge and personal gratification; namely, what his wife’s been doing in the past for all this time.
If you’re not into sci-fi, then you’re probably already hemming and hawing at the concept, which so conveniently opens a hole in time and space and drops dinosaurs into our front yards. You will quickly discover, however, that the effects on “Primeval” are so fantastic that you quickly learn not to care about the scientific implausibility of it all. The show was created by Adrian Hodges and Tim Haines, the men responsible for the BBC’s groundbreaking prehistoric documentary series, “Walking with...” They’ve utilized their knowledge and CGI effects to reproduce these creatures with breathtaking detail, from dodos to pteranodons to raptors, and they’ve also utilized their scientific know-how to create a few post-historical creatures as well, most notably a future predator which possesses a bat-like sense of radar.
One thing that will no doubt drive the real hardcore sci-fi geeks nuts is the fact that there are a plethora of romances running hither and yon through the series. Nick still has feelings for Helen even though she’s been gone for eight years, while Helen once had an affair with Stephen and is reviving that relationship. Hannah’s got an unrequited thing for Stephen, Connor’s got an unrequited thing for Hannah, and when Connor begins a relationship with Caroline, Hannah suddenly realizes that maybe she rather likes Connor after all. There’s also a relationship between Nick and Claudia Brown (Lucy Brown), the government liaison for the team, but that falls apart in the first season finale, when Nick follows Helen into the past and, while they’re there, they manage to change history just enough to cause a slight personnel change. (Trust me, you’ll understand when you see the episode.) Still, the fact that they’re all intermingling in both their personal and professional lives means that we get to know them better than we might otherwise do in such an FX-driven series, so it actually proves rather beneficial in the long run.
“Primeval: Volume 1” includes both the first and second seasons of the show, and its release dovetails nicely with the conclusion of the second season’s run on BBC America. The feel of the show changes slightly at the beginning of Season 2, due to the events hinted at in the above paragraph, but the adventures still remain approximately the same. The mystery of Helen’s goings-on deepens dramatically, however, and even by the end of the second season finale, we’re left with plenty more material for a Season 3 – which, as it happens, has already been greenlit.
Given that “Primeval” is non-stop sci-fi action and fun, those new episodes can’t come soon enough.
Special Features: The BBC rarely fails to provide excellent bonus material for its programs, and “Primeval” is no exception. The highlight is unquestionably “The Making of ‘Primeval,’” a 45-minute look behind the scenes of the show which, in addition to revealing how the cast came together, gives viewers an idea just how much effort is involved in putting together a series which leans as heavily on special effects as this one does. The other featurette, “Through the Anomaly,” is hosted by Andrew Lee Potts and takes a look at the show’s second season and the decidedly dramatic changes that took place; it’s also enjoyable, with a lighter feel due to Potts’ involvement. Lastly, although the back of the box trumpets the inclusion of audio commentary, you will have to do a bit of searching – specifically, into the screen where you select individual episodes – to access the commentaries by producers Tim Haines and Adrian Hodges and director Jamie Payne on Episodes 7 and 10. Fortunately, the three provide lighthearted conversations about both episodes, making them very much worth seeking out and hearing.