Primeval - New World

This Canadian produced series takes the premise of its UK predecessor and is able to make use of the more interesting locations of North America. Some things have not changed- the dinosaurs mostly pop up one a time and there are plenty of scares and near misses. The gore quotient is slightly higher and the language more ripe as this is aimed at a wider audience, not just a family one like the original was. To bridge the gap Connor Temple pops up in the opening and final episodes though in the first one he makes only oblique references as to why he is there which probably baffled most of the audience. Instead of having government involvement behind the operation the series initially portrays billionaire  software developer Evan Cross as pursuing a personal fascination with the anomalies. A handy flashback sequence in the opener tells us his wife died at the claws of a visiting dinosaur and this is what spurs him on. 

If the UK show was not renowned for character development it’s Canadian cousin opens similarly with Cross’ operation in full effect. There’s plenty of tech and hardware, lots of chasing around a park but little real insight into Cross himself except for the fact he likes to hire people on a whim. The main cast are all roughly the same age so there’s maximum efficiency and little punchiness to the exchanges between them with only Sara Canning’s Dylan Weir, a predator expert who gets dragged into proceedings, providing an identifiable presence. Danny Rahim’s Mac provides some lighter quips but his hiring seems somewhat unlikely. In the role of Cross, Niall Matter does what he can with generic dialogue and less than sympathetic character. You sense the actor could do more but his character is not offered the space. The series also has the same problems as the UK one in that instead of trying to kill the monsters, the idea is to get them to go back through the anomaly from when they came. After a while this becomes less than engaging. It may be some of these things that alienated viewers from the off because the series does improve as it develops.

As with the UK series the effects are excellent, the first episodes’ Pteranadon has a real size and fury while the snake in episode 2 makes for a very menacing presence as it slithers about underground tunnels. The landscape here is a help giving each episode more of its own look whereas the UK show tended to have fewer locales available to use.

The New World opens the series with a flourish, there’s plenty of action and three dinosaurs to deal with. One interesting aspect is when Cross’ chrief finance officer Angelia Finch finds a down at heal government agent Lieutenant Leeds to help out. In dingy offices surrounded by untidiness Leeds is the only member left of project Magnet, once set up to investigate unexplained phenomena. Played in slightly dishevelled fashion by Geoff Guftafoson, he seems a more interesting character than Cross and would have made a much better starting point for the series.

Sisiuti plays with the idea of a myth being an actual dinosaur when an anomaly appears underwater near an oil refinery. The native Americans protesting against the refinery idea seems rather 1970s especially as the place has clearly been built for ages but one of them believes the dinosaur is a sea serpent from their mythology.  The breezy locale and somewhat gory discovery on the beach adds much to what is a much better assembled episode than the first. Dylan remains the best character as she deals with having been suspended for telling the truth about the events of the first episode and ends up joining Cross’ team to whom she will no doubt add some variety. The denouement has some slightly convenient heroics from Mac which sends the snake back through the anomaly it has hitherto ignored. They never quite explain why the creatures would go through such strange looking lights under any circumstances.

Showing the hallmarks of a production finding its stride, the third episode Fear of Flying is excellent ramping up considerable creepy tension from a scenario in which Evan and Dylan are trapped on an old plane that’s flown through an anomaly and now sits surrounded by flesh eating beetles. What works especially well is that after the initial set up things do not go as you might expect. With only three characters in the plane – after the main pilot dies horribly – the script slowly turns the screw against expectations leading to a shock incident that seems to seal their fate. You might quibble about Evan’s resourcefulness and how he seems to know more or less everything when needed but this doesn’t detract from the manner in which director Mike Rohl and writer Jon Cooksey extract maximum peril from the scenario. Just the sound of the bugs scuttling over the plane is enough to give you shivers and wisely we don’t see too much of them leaving a lot to the imagination. The situation also helps to expand on both Evan and Dylan’s motivations. As if that wasn’t enough, the creature’s queen escapes the other way meaning Mac and Sam have to track it down. While the prehistoric beetles are about the size of a hand, this is a massive flying thing; not sure why there is such a size discrepancy but its presence only adds more to what is a dynamic, thrilling and occasionally icky episode!

Angry Birds (neat title) seems to confirm a signature style for the series involving the main team trapped in an isolated location harassed by the week’s dinosaurs with a couple of characters to share the ordeal. This time we’re in old railway sidings wherein a stoner duo have been manufacturing weed but now find themselves out of their depth when a couple of very big birds turn up looking for their baby. The stoners are portrayed as slightly humorous amateurs whose unpredictable reaction to events makes them a risk.  The situation marks a first time out for Toby normally left back at base, which Crystal Loew handles well in showing her fear and also resourcefulness. Once again Cross is somehow an expert – this time on how to create a smoke filled trap for the birds using the weed – is there anything he doesn’t know about?  Leeds is also involved, given the location by a frustrated Ange and proving himself a strong addition fictionally and in terms of the series. The whole thing is less exciting than it should be- and than episode 3 was- because whenever one of the birds pokes its head through a window or door it looks a bit silly. Though they are seen to kill two people, the creatures never quite muster the viciousness of a raptor and the baby one is rather cute.

However frivolously it appears to open, Undone proves something of a game changer. So far the series has had plenty of tense moments but there’s been a levity to proceedings. Courtesy of a couple of prehistoric big cats called Lycaecanops, a sort of cross between a wolf and a jaguar matters turn much darker resulting in the deaths of two people one of whom is Mac’s girlfriend whose been enthusiastic about getting involved in the adventures. At first it seems like these creatures will be a lesser threat as the first one see mostly hides and avoids capture. Yet the arrival of a second and some miscalculations over the dosage required to tranquilise the animal and taking it into their facility have traumatic results. Each of the characters have reason to mull over their actions though its nobody’s fault. The script again re-iterates the risks of not returning the creatures to their correct time; indeed the episode title could just as easily refer to some temporal ramifications as to the the emotional ones. There’s also a moment where we see that the male animal has suffered loss too when the female is killed and Mac’s subsequent execution of the former suddenly seems harsh if understandable. They are after all just animals stranded in a place they don’t know.

Director Mike Rohl seems best suited to this series again ramping up the tension with a series of searches in empty campus buildings where he accentuates the neon outside. The shock developments stretch the cast and provide a more sombre atmosphere and underline that this is a very dangerous business. The sequences where the dinosaurs attack their victims are quite savage portrayed in a manner that would certainly not be shown in the teatime slot the UK series had. It seems early in the season to introduce these developments but the series will surely benefit from them provided they are followed through. 

If the casual title of episode 6, Clean Up In Aisle Three suggests a standard episode it’s not the case. Despite the presence of a quartet of Deamonosaurus on the loose in a DIY warehouse, the best scenes involve some character moments exploring the ramifications of the previous episode. With a lucrative job offer that she seems ready to accept. Angelika’s thoughts about the situation she’s in are revealed as she meets Ken Leeds. Both previously underused characters finally get the attention they deserve in a sequence that threads through the episode. Even amidst the hide and seek in the warehouse there are some similar moments notably the singing of a Hindu hymn at the body of the dinosaur’s victims. All told the script for this episode reaches higher than the original UK series ever did and even if some of the dialogue seems a bit clich├ęd it is a good sign that the series is willing to step beyond the action sequences. Here we have a predator that seems to adapt to the situation, making Cross and co’s work a lot trickier. With guns and radios taken the trio have to rely on hockey gear and sticks to defend themselves!

After a more serious couple of episodes, the season reverts to a lighter touch for Babes in the Wood which gives us a little (slightly unlikely) background on Toby and plays up the relationships between members of the team. Despite a rather gruesome opening sequence in which a photographer is gored the majority of the episode is the now familiar hunting with banter that remains Primeval’s default position across both iterations. The one change is having Ange accompany them and this brings out something of the awe with which the anomalies can be viewed. From the first episode there has been a certain nonchalance from the main participants to the phenomena but here her expression when she first sets eyes on one is more appropriate and brings a touch of wonder to an otherwise formulaic episode.

Introducing more complexity Truth is a well rendered episode in which Evan having breathed in some toxic defence from a dinosaur starts to hallucinate. Imagining the dinosaur that killed his wife has returned he takes increasingly dangerous actions to stop it. At first the effect is disconcerting as events ebb between what Evan is imagining and what is happening and its unpeeled carefully. The episode buzzes with incident and delights in misleading the viewer especially when we first catch sight of the dino. The difference between reality and what Cross is seeing is also well constructed. This would be enough in itself but the episode has a further trick to show involving Mac whose origins had hitherto been only vaguely explained to us. Here we learn more when it turns out the cryogenically frozen body we glimpsed earlier and assumed was that of Evan’s wife is actually the `original` Mac who died trying to save Evan. It’s the first hint of the timeline altering results that the original series also showed. Making strong use of all the main characters, this is the best episode yet of this spin off combining plenty of visual effects with an unusual plot, great character work and those surprises.

Breakthrough successfully juggles three separate plotlines revolving around the appearance of a Triceratops, footage of which is soon spreading around the Internet. The episode relies on thoughtful ideas rather than action and comes across as a more intelligent script than was ever attempted in the original series. The search brings Evan back into contact with old rival Howard Kenan. What follows is a refreshing debate about achievement and what its for. Kenan blames Evan for stealing his ideas, an obsession that has isolated him, yet both men also find common ground and Kenan even helps develop the locater so that it can predict how much time before an anomaly disappears. As Kanan Colin Ferguson gives a convincing portrayal of a brilliant man blown off course by academic jealousy though his final actions are surprising. The encounter with the Triceratops gives Sara Canning’s Dylan an opportunity to truly study a dinosaur and in a heartfelt speech at the end to Evan suggest the idea that the technology they are developing is helping the dinosaurs who are essentially victims. Throw in Mac’s covert return when he helps Toby debunk the trending real dinosaur fuss and another enigmatic phone call that Leeds receives and you have an episode that shows how the series was at this point reaching its full potential.

The Great Escape has a Titanus – a sort of huge ostrich with attitude- that Leeds had covertly captured escaping and ending up in an ice rink. Here, the different military agendas come into play with Leeds out of the loop when soldiers led by Major Douglas arrive to deal with the bird while Even and Dylan are trying to keep Douglas otherwise occupied while they find it. It’s an episode that is more significant for its final minutes than for most of its running time which sees people walking around the large centre with guns. Here Dylan is the only party on the side of the trapped birds itself meaning the action she takes must have quite an impact. The day ends even worse for Leeds who is arrested by the soldiers for shooting a tranquiliser dart into Douglas (which I’m sure some of the other soldiers would like to have done) but more importantly takes the hit for the dead dinosaur which the high ups had wanted alive.

The Inquisition may not actually have any live dinosaurs in it but proves to be one of the most absorbing of the episodes. More dialogue heavy than usual it turns on several revelations involving both Leeds and the returning Angelika as both the former and Cross are questioned by Colonel Hall. He turns out to be a refreshing variation on the standard military type often seen in fantasy series. Rather than lay down the law and dismiss all the science, Hall is something of a visionary albeit a dangerous one with an aim is to re-write time setting a new path and using Cross’ technology to do so. He is not above a little duplicity either trying to use Leeds and Cross’ previous misdemeanours to force them on side. The resulting verbal gymnastics proves just as interesting as the usual dino chase because there is even more at stake.

Parallel to this Dylan and Mac explore elsewhere on the base. Flimsily disguised in white coats they discover some rather undermanned labs full of dead specimens many of which come from previous episodes. Again this draws out one of the series’ most successful strands of animal cruelty and experimentation as Dylan is appalled by what they see. She has never differentiated between the dinosaurs and any other animal to the credit of the show. The episode is paced perfectly leaving you unsure which way the dice will roll.

The two part finale The Sound of Thunder plays with the temporal aspects of the scenario rather well after Toby is infected by a large scorpion crab thing whose venom is needed for an antidote. How all this ties in with the return of Connor Temple and that dinosaur that killed Even’s wife six years ago takes interesting turns. Time travel stories eventually tie themselves up in knots unless you don’t think about them too much so in this case we are essentially seeing the events leading up to Even’s wife’s death from different angles. It ends up being a fact that cannot be changed and unfortunately even two episodes run time is not enough to delve thoroughly into all areas. Thus Mac’s storyline is seemingly resolved in a few moments leaving just enough seconds for a race by Even and Dylan to the anomaly they need to escape. The episodes contain some excellent sequences- notably in a cramped cave and barren surface- but here are just too many elements to fit in. The decision to play one sequence in dramatic slow motion also wastes valuable time that could have been used elsewhere, ironic given the subject of the story.

Primeval New World gets better as it progresses, opening up the scenario and employing a cliffhanger ending allowing changes to a second season and it’s a shame the latter never happened. Perhaps the series was too slow to get going or maybe the fact that the main characters worked for either a big corporation or the government alienate viewers who dont' necessarily trust such organisations. Nevertheless the potential for another iteration of Primeval strong and who knows if or when those anomalies might start opening again….

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