Primeval: Series 2 Review
When Hannah Spearritt appeared alongside boyfriend Andrew-Lee Potts on The Jonathan Ross Show prior to ITV's showing of this season and announced that there was to be less running around her apartment in her panties, it sounded as though one of the major attractions of Primeval was about to float away as surely as did any sense of logic in the first episode of the first series. For dads, that is. Ever since Leela arrived on Doctor Who wearing a fur bikini, a key part of Saturday night entertainment has been an attractive young lady as companion, sparring partner or guardian of a prehistoric lizard. It doesn't even need a setting in science-fiction as Marian returned in the second series of Robin Hood showing a touch more décolletage than she did in series one. Heaven forbid it but Primeval sounded as though it was going to get serious, something that, with its rather loose grip on science, it was ill-equipped to do.
One needn't have worried too much as Primeval was as silly this time around as it was last. Indeed, it was even more fantastical this year as, having exhausted most of the monsters that its audience would have known something about, it went about making some up, albeit as toothy and as vicious as the real thing. Otherwise, this second series of Primeval begins exactly where the first left off, with Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) standing in a clearing in a forest and looking around at his team of Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), lab tech Stephen Hart (James Murray) and student Connor Temple (Andrew-Lee Potts) and wondering why it is that none of them appear to have noticed that Home Office Official Claudia Brown (Lucy Brown) is missing. As it is, everything seems wrong. Where the offices of his rather shambolic department were something of a mess before his beginning to mess about with anomalies, the Home Office department of which he is a member is now situated in a glossy high-rise, they now have access to the kind of weaponry they'd previously only dreamed about and even their computers have been upgraded from the jumped-up calculators they'd heaved about before. Only Nick remembers how things were different and it is only he who is surprised to see that not only has Claudia's role has been taken by Oliver Leek (Karl Theobald) but that the new PR consultant hired by Sir James Peregrine Lester (Ben Miller) is Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown).
And just when you thought that there was nothing for dads in series two of Primeval then along comes Jenny Lewis, who favours skirts as short as those worn by Claudia Brown (also played by Lucy Brown) were long. This might be the reason why no one mentions Claudia Brown very much after the second episode and why this second series forgets all about any attempt to haul her back from whatever anomaly that she fell into in favour of dropping Velociraptors into shopping centres, a giant sabre-toothed cat into a theme park and giant scorpions onto a beach at a popular holiday resort. And, in the series' most ridiculous moment, a giant Colombian woolly mammoth onto the M25.
Unfortunately, this description makes the second series of Primeval sound slightly more entertaining than it actually is. Said woolly mammoth doesn't land on the M25 at rush hour somewhere around junction 24 but sneaks down the embankment on a short section of motorway. Rather like Torchwood's placing of Armageddon in some back streets in Cardiff, Primeval's mammoth has that most unlikely of things to contend with, a motorway traffic jam that extends less than a hundred yards from beginning to end and which no one drives away from nor joins, no matter that it is completely empty in either direction. It's made even more unlikely by the complete absence of drivers rubber-necking the mammoth on the anti-clockwise side of the motorway. Given that drivers will slow down to look at a larger-than-average puddle on the other side of the motorway, that no one thinks it worthy to have a good look at a woolly mammoth that clearly doesn't belong in the south-east of England makes this a larger-than-average stretch of the imagination.
However, this isn't an isolated example of the kind of nonsense that Primeval leads us into. Always looking to do things on the cheap, Primeval's Velociraptors co-operate completely with the ITV production by arriving late at night when the shopping centre is otherwise deserted. The sabre-toothed tiger at the theme park doesn't bother with such fresh pickings as children strapped into rollercoasters like sardines in a tin, choosing, instead, to go skulking about in a lonely part of the adjoining forest. The giant scorpions are to be mostly found in an entirely deserted other world while the mer, who could have swam up the Thames and snacked on tourists on cruise boats, actually make it no further than a quiet inlet in London's docklands. Very few of the employees in the nearby Canary Wharf Tower, HSBC Tower or the Citigroup Centre seem to want to have a look at what has so attracted boats full of special forces soldiers, never mind the giant water-dwelling carnivores that break surface never now and again.
However, no matter that, for the sake of its budget, Primeval tends towards deserted locations, there's still much to enjoy here as though the writers were running bets as to who could wring the most humour out of a situation. There were probably plenty of viewers at home who cheered on the creatures as the mammoth turned on a BMW, as the sabre-toothed tiger picked off a lonely commuter or the giant scorpion snacked on a dad buried up to his neck in sand, who's left panicking as everyone else, including his own children, run off the beach. Not entirely related to this are the laughs, which come thicker and faster than they did in the first series. Cutter, in particular, seems to have developed quite a dry sense of humour while Conor, though still a hapless geek, does at least look capable of the most basic of human interactions. Even if, when he does get a girlfriend, she's revealed as being paid-off by the bad guys.
Also better this time around is the story arc. Unlike the romance of the first series and its search for the missing Helen Cutter (Juliet Aubrey), this second series hints at peculiar goings-on before giving anything anyway. There is one particular cleaner, who's later revealed to be a special forces officer, whose presence around the anomalies reveals a conspiracy. One never doubts that Helen isn't so very far away but the surprise comes with who is working alongside her. It's not until the very last episode that the full extent of the conspiracy is revealed and, though it's not without moments of daftness, it's a good one. Money, power and neural implants are at the heart of what our villains have planned and while one struggles to see how exactly one might use such deadly animals for personal gain, without, say, a theme park, it's easy to look past all of the gaping holes in the series, particularly when the final episode is such an entertaining run of computer viruses, fistfights and Jenny Lewis sticking a stiletto heel into the ample rear of a Cambrian-era cow (or somesuch).
It's hard to say if Douglas Henshall is far too good for this material or if he, for the most part, carries it. Juliet Aubrey, Lucy Brown and Ben Miller all do their part but it's Henshall who, on a par with the monsters, makes the show as good as it is. It's he who leads carries the drama, who makes the horror at least somewhat believable and who is found, head in his hands, as the full conspiracy and the human cost of it is finally revealed. Like David Tennant over on the other side, Henshall has a tough job but is more than capable of keeping Primeval going. However, it's not entirely a one-man show. The very nasty monsters are still there and, as before, young children will be keeping cushions close to hand to hide behind as sabre-toothed tigers, giant centipedes, Velociraptors and the future predator from the first series are all given starring roles. The creatures know which dark corners are best to leap out from, where their snarling will have most impact and who much bloodshed is permitted for a Saturday teatime slot. Children will be suitably terrified but will have a marvellous time with it. And their dads will too but may need to make do with just the monsters now that Abby's decided to keep her clothes on.
Taking something of a step backwards from the first series, by its frequent use of smoke effects and atmospheric lighting, the second series of Primeval doesn't look a patch on the first. The CG creatures are slightly better, particularly the sabre-toothed tiger, but the mer creatures may be the least well-realised dinosaurs that the Primeval effects team have yet brought to live. However, by the extra bandwidth afforded to the show on DVD, everything looks very much 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, particularly in the final episode where much of the action takes place in dimly-lit corridors as well as the smoggy second episode, but for the most part Primeval on DVD is a noticeable improvement over its television broadcast. Still, as with series one, it remains a very distant SFX relative of Jurassic Park but, no matter, it wears its roots in television proudly.
This next section is my reuse of the same section from my review of the first series of Primeval, which is just as relevant here as it was then. As with series one, I had expected a DD5.1 audio track for the DVD release and though that hasn't been forthcoming, the DD2.0 is a fine one nonetheless. There isn't much in the way of surround effects but the dialogue is clear and the sound effects, even if they've come from recordings of various jungle animals and Foley artists screaming into microphones, are fine. 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.
Through The Anomaly (39m41s): Other than Andrew Lee-Potts clowning about onscreen having been gifted the role as host, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the series, happily spending less time than expected on the visual effects while landing up on the set to interview the cast and crew. To be fair, this feature does little that's unexpected. It avoids giving away too much of the plot lines that are threaded through the series, tries not to say much about how Claudia became Jenny and neatly sidesteps any talk about what Helen is up to. Watch it once, though, and it's fine. And very much better when Douglas Henshall is on the screen than when Andrew Lee-Potts is.
Commentaries: There are only two commentaries on this set, on the first and fourth episodes. Executive producer and co-creator Tim Haines, writer and co-creator Adrian Hodges and director Jamie Payne feature on both and while there's clearly a good relationship between the three of them, the tracks they've recorded are fairly dry affairs. These two tracks go into too much detail on locations, special effects and the use of extras, leaving one crying out for a member of the cast (or two) to lighten things a little.