Sunday, February 11, 2007


Well, there's no doubt that ITV want Primeval to be their answer to Doctor Who - and heaven knows they need one. It's been many, many years since ITV tried a mainstream, Saturday night action show of any sort. In fact, off the top of my head, I can't think of anything more recent than Dempsey & Makepeace, and that was twenty years ago. It's mainly been gameshows, police procedurals and cuddly low-impact dramas about things like 1950s vets.

The high concept is that creatures from the distant past are randomly appearing in unlikely places thanks to inexplicable time portals, and a team of experts end up coming together to investigate while (from the look of it) fending off the Home Office's interference. But wait, there's more - for Douglas Henshell's wife disappeared years ago while investigating just such an incident. Could she have become stranded in the past? Can he rescue her?

As action show pitches go, I've seen a lot worse. And it's a decent enough first episode, gathering the characters and setting up the roundabout premise. They're also lucky to have Henshell playing it dead straight, wich is what you need if something like this is going to work.

On the other hand, some of the plotting is ropey in the extreme. Are we seriously being asked to believe that a full-scale dinosaur turned up in a housing estate and attacked a bedroom window, and nobody saw it? Come on, that's pushing your luck even by the standards of this genre. I'm not sure they've really thought out what all their characters are for, either. They've got a comic-relief conspiracy theorist who seems to be there to deliver expository dialogue about lizards - but since there are two other expert characters already, one of whom is the lead, what do we need him for? Two Home Office liaison characters seems like overkill as well.

The CGI dinosaurs are surprisingly good for an ITV budget, but it's also clear that the director is shooting around their limitations. They look good, and they move right, but they can't really interact with the human performers. This leads to a lot of rapid-cutting sequences of people reacting to off-camera dinosaurs, or dodging heavy objects thrown into the shot. The first episode's director and editors got away with it, but it's going to take careful script editing and direction to keep that up. The potential is there for some seriously bad-looking episodes.

Still... it's silly, but it was better than I'd expected from ITV. Total hokum, but pretty enjoyable. I can see this working.