Primeval: Series 3

Before this series of Primeval, I would sometimes take to wondering what folk did with anomalies before Cutter and his team figured out how to close them. Depending on the era in which the sparkling link to the Earth's past opened, I imagine that people either took up spears, swords or cannonballs against whatever came out of it or hung back from the monsters that emerged and tossed a couple of virgins at its direction in the hope that, well fed and sleepy, it would emerge from whence it came. Such events seemed so random in nature and without precedence in history that Primeval seemed to suggest that the anomalies were relatively recent things. Like an end-of-the-world event, like crops failing, strange sights being seen in the sky and children being born with six toes on each foot.

Not so with the addition of Sarah Page (Laila Rouass) to the Primeval team of scientists, army types and comedy sidekick Connor. It turns out that anomalies have been occurring throughout time but rather than documenting them as such, ancient civilisations described only the monsters that emerged through them. Primeval, perhaps realising that to actually deal with this twist in anything like a serious and thoughtful manner would cause its already stretched thin credibility to snap, makes up something about giant crocodiles roaming through ancient Egypt before moving quickly on to deal with said monster frightening diners on the South Bank. Still, the seed was planted and in a trip into the future, Cutter finds a strange object that seems to hold the information both on when anomalies occurred in the past but when they will do so again in the future.

Other than the occasional mention of this object, which often occurs after Helen Cutter attempts to sneak into the ARC in search of it, it's business as usual in Primeval. Or rather, it's a cut above business as usual as Primeval has hit something of a stride in this third series. In particular, Primeval has paid close attention to those episodes of Doctor Who that play out like horror movies for the under-tens. Blink was a haunted house movie made for children and Tooth And Nail a retelling of Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires but with werewolves, so Primeval pays homage to ghost stories, scary monsters and creepy cabins in the woods, often freeing itself from the dinosaur-shaped noose around its neck to have fun with creatures that are clearly the invention of its writers.

The first episode here might be Primeval-by-numbers, in which a Pristichampsus creeps out of an exhibition of ancient Egyptian relics to wreak havoc on a small part of London, but the second, in which Connor, Abby and Jenny solve a fourteen-year-old murder mystery in what appears to be a haunted house is much better, moreso when a strange little girl is found walking in the park alongside what looks to be a gremlin. Episode five forgets about dinosaurs completely when it honours Nigel Kneale's Quatermass Experiment by having mysterious flesh-eating spores invade the present day, turning a successful businessman into a fungus creature. But even that episode is overshadowed by the seventh episode in the series in which, with the ARC taken over by Christine Johnson and her Home Office goons, the team flee to a safehouse deep in the woods, where they find that the building, abandoned in the thirties, was done so with undue haste. Very soon, an anomaly opens and creatures emerge from it, all of which don't just snap at the team's heels but at every flesh-and-blood-bearing part of their bodies. By parts The Evil Dead, The Blair Witch Project and Survivors, this is superb Saturday-night entertain, with the sight of Abby and Connor in evening wear, drinking champagne and dancing to light jazz offset by the giant birds that are then emerging from the anomaly. And still the series sets out to entertain as much as to terrify its younger viewers. Having seen monsters, mushrooms and Megopterans arrive out of anomalies, Primeval drags a Dracorex through an anomaly-within-an-anomaly followed by a knight from the 14th Century, who believes that he is hunting a dragon.

If some of the episodes here seem rather slight, such as that featuring the Fungus Creature, their purpose is to develop the backstory with Helen and the clone soldiers. The third episode, which keeps Cutter busy in a hospital aiding a woman to give birth whilst herding several Diictodons back through an anomaly, allows Helen, her soldiers and a clone Cutter to infiltrate the ARC. The next episode, in which the team have to hide a Giganotosaurus from the public, which, given the name, proves to be as difficult as it sounds, allows for a guest appearance by Nigel Marven and for Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng) to get more of a foothold in the series. The invading spores gives Claudia Brown/Jenny Lewis the chance to come to a decision about her time in the ARC and if the final couple of episodes in the series don't sound awfully interesting, they serve to further the story of Helen Cutter.

Otherwise, this may not provide the best story arc across an entire series but it has a few great episodes and is memorable for its changing of the ARC guard, writing out several characters and bringing new ones in. Perhaps it is the same old Primeval but ITV have not only fashioned a show capable of winning decent ratings Saturday-night but have a confidence in it. That it was often competing against an out-of-form Robin Hood flattered it but never to deceive. As family entertainment goes, Primeval is memorable for many of the right reasons.

The first series of Primeval remains the best-looking of the three so far, with this continuing in the parallel timeline set up as a cliffhanger back when Cutter's actions wiped Claudia Brown from history. However, the CG creatures are slightly better, not least the future predators, who have looked better every time they appear. By the extra bandwidth afforded to the show on DVD, everything looks slightly better than it did on television, being slightly sharper, more detailed and with less obvious problems in the encoding. There are still moments when artefacts are evident but for the most part Primeval on DVD is a noticeable improvement over its television broadcast. Still, as with earlier series, it remains a very distant SFX relative of Jurassic Park. Having been through two series expecting a DD5.1 audio track on the DVD release and being disappointed, I thought better than to believe we would get anything more than a DD2.0 track. Still, it's not a bad soundtrack with clear dialogue and fairly impressive sound effects, even if they've come from recordings of various jungle animals. However, it is clearly a show that could have done with much more of a thud from a subwoofer channel as the creatures stop across the screen. Finally, there are English subtitles.

Without any commentaries, the only bonus material comes with two features on the third disc in the set. The first of these is Cutter's Odyssey (18m45s) in which Douglas Henshall looks back over the times that Nick Cutter has had in the world of Primeval, from his early appearance as a university professor to his facing down future predators. Or the ones with the hats as my younger children refer to them. Other members of the crew, including Lucy Brown, contribute to this and there's a nice selection of scenes which tell Cutter's story in less than twenty minutes. Much as Doctor Who did before them with the Absorbalov in Love and Monsters, the producers of Primeval set a competition for fans of the show to design a monster. The eventual winner was sixteen-year-old Carim Nahaboo and Genesis of a Creature (19m01s) looks at how his sketchbook drawings of a giant insect came to virtual life on the screen. By the looks of a book of drawings that Carim brings to the set, he's a very talented artist and this does well by him, going from his meeting the special effects team that will bring his monster to life, to his short time on the set with the cast and crew and the final pasting in of his CG creature.

7 out of 10
7 out of 10
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