Primeval: New World: Season 1 Review
Reviewed by David Selby
Six years? I thought to myself when drafting out this review: Has it really been six years? 2007 marked the start of what would become a widely-known, widely-appreciated science-fiction show – in more than one country. Sadly, in 2013, it was over. The final series, however, was a contentious one. I’ve known fans who gave up after the first episode – an unfaithful choice, in my opinion, but one that’s testament to how much New World varies from the original series.
Here I’m going to examine the final series, including its successes, its failures, and its individualities, among others.
Something New World was that its predecessor wasn’t was a character-based drama. Whilst ITV’s version had some well-developed and fascinating characters (Nick, Helen, Matt, Jenny et al), this one accomplished just as much within one series. There were a good assortment of characters, each with their own respective humanities, imperfections and endowments.
Niall Matter’s Evan Cross was, arguably, the core protagonist. Great effort was placed into making us become emotionally invested in him throughout the series. It seemed forced at times; placing him as the antagonist in Truth was a unique decision, but the episode itself was somewhat wearisome to watch. It took a long time to establish something which had already been denoted to before (that Evan still hadn’t got over his wife’s death). For me, at least, episodes like Breakthrough or Undone were better portrayals of Evan: you see parallels between him and others, or you can observe the consequences of his decisions reflected in others. It’s a more subtle approach, but one, from my experience, which is more effective: it’s not ‘in-your-face’, but it impacts on you more than you’re aware of. One-off characters like Howard evoked more compassionate but indeed questionable qualities in Evan. This is where his character was ultimately a success.
Miranda Frigon’s Angelika Finch chagrined me. She started off well, and I enjoyed seeing her relationship with Evan play out through the first half of the series. Her and Evan seemed perfect together, and had an inimitable dynamic because of their prior experiences together. Their bond was authentic and heartfelt. She grated on my nerves, thus, when she left. It was her own decision, but the fact she continuously returned and made a big thing out of leaving over again made her appear as an attention-seeking, severe and frankly heartless businesswoman. Her lack of care for the creatures was acceptable – she’s a capitalist; she doesn’t understand animals – but her blatant disrespect for the planet as a whole was infuriating. How couldn’t she see the flaws in the Colonel’s oppressive plan? I’d imagine, from what we’ve seen of her, that she could, but she chose to block them out. She was an interesting character, and displayed prodigious potential, but ultimately ended up ‘ticking me off’.
It would be tedious to go through every character. The aforementioned two were the ones who had two of the greatest influences (either positively or negatively). Another worth mentioning it Mac Rendell (Danny Rahim). The decision to dramatically kill off Sam, his girlfriend, mid-series, made for some engrossing developments to his psyche. In Clean Up on Aisle Three there seemed to be an almost feigning madness, which was quite disturbing at times. Other characters worthy of a mention are Dylan (New World’s equivalent of Abbey, with a heartfelt backstory – the character I’d liken most to myself, and thus the one I can empathise with), Colenel Hall (because of how irksome he was – a nice idea, but an irritation – I’d only want to see him return if his presence was superior to before), Toby Nance (another favourite; slightly unconventional, but highly likable), and, finally, Ken Leeds. Leeds was by a long stretch my favourite New World character, played superbly by Geoff Gustafson. He was the paradigmatic loser, but a loser with power. A man who thought he had power but was being overruled by a iniquitous Machiavelli: a man who needed to make a choice. Was Leeds a good man? Did he make the right decision in the end? Did he redeem himself? They’re all subjective questions: he’s a character whom you can have your own opinion on.
Primeval’s all about the creatures, isn’t it? It’s about dealing with the threat of incursion; a threat to both life in the present day and to the causal nexus of time itself. Something I treasured about the original series was how, usually through Abbey, the creatures were imprinted with the ‘animals have feelings too’ moral. As an animal rights activist, it’s something which I feel strongly about. It should be accentuated upon, to the extent of impacting on the viewer outside of the show.
That’s why I was left feeling so cold at the end of the finale. It essentially disregarded all previous moral messages by representing the Albertosaurus purely as a nuisance. I understand that Evan was angry, but it infuriated me that at no point was it even suggested that this creature is acting out of instinct. It was depicted as the devil: a creature of pure wrong – which it absolutely was not. The poor thing was shot twice and chased by flames in the interval. It’s disgusting the lengths that the show went to just to have a flashy filmic ending.
Notwithstanding this, there were some good creatures. The Titanoboa (the snake-like creature from Sisiutl) was utilized well with a number of twists, whilst the insects from Fear of Flying were some of the most spine-tingling, threatening critters the show’s ever produced. The Lycaenops followed this pattern and were used well in the context of their respective story, but some of the others creature choices felt lacking and similar. It did seem as if the writers were deficient in inspiration on a couple of occasions, which is a shame, but some of the abovementioned creatures had a chance to shine, and that’s the main thing.
Something New World should pride itself in is the handling of the subplots throughout the course of the series. I admire New World for its realism, if nothing else. All events have their own consequences. Nothing is ignored. Clearly the show-runner had a firm idea of all the separate strands and how they’d tie in together by the end. Here are some examples:
- The New World: Dylan loses a colleague. In Fear of Flying, Evan draws a parallel between her and a frightened woman who is in the same situation.
- The New World: Evan lost his wife to a dinosaur – revisited in virtually every other episode.
- Angry Birds: Colonel Leeds steals Leggy, a Terror Bird. Leggy escapes in The Great Escape. Ken’s kidnapping of the bird stacks up as evidence against him in his trial in The Inquisition.
- Undone: Sam’s death; it has everlasting effects on Mac and Ange’s cover-up of it is revealed in The Inquisition.
- Truth – All aspects of the plot have a bearing over the rest of the series.
- The Great Escape – Ending scenes cause Ken Leeds to face court-martial in The Inquisition.
It’s stories like The Inquisition which are beneficial, if not crucial, for the series to progress aptly. They let all the various elements slow down; they give the series space to breath. I’m glad that the arcs were spread over 13 episodes – it meant gradual reveals and progressive character development.
My favourite arc is the Ken Leeds arc. Every episode saw progress and questions were raised and answered at the same time. Each week, your opinion would change, or you’d see more into something. It’s this kind of steady ‘evolution’ that pulls the viewers in every week.
Out of all the series of Primeval, New World was certainly the most mixed bag. Stories went from the sublime (Fear of Flying) to the ridiculous (Angry Birds). It’s very bad if a series ever leaves you underwhelmed, because it then risks losing a regular viewer. This is where the arc developments came in handy, because they were what made you want to return.
Some stories felt like poorly-made versions of the original series that even undermined it a couple of times. Even The Sound of Thunder, whilst being one of the better outings, carried bad memories of Series 1 Episode 1 (“If you don’t find the antidote, he will die”). There were moments where the series seemed to lack both originality and creativity. The first five series experimented with the ideas of ‘cracks in time’, going from returning creatures home to making dinosaur emporiums, from detecting Anomalies to generating apocalyptically-followed ones. Apart from seeing how long the Anomalies stayed open for, there weren’t any enticing new discoveries. It certainly discourages the show’s development.
Aside from this, there were some positive episodes. Fear of Flying was a dramatic, poignant and strong story with a solid ending. The Sound of Thunder Part 2, despite its faults, felt more like classic Primeval – as did Breakthrough, which didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. A lot of times, there were nice mixes of emotions (Breakthrough as an example; a blend of pathos and comedy), but on other occasions, the atmosphere felt unbalanced and overly-gloomy.
The whole was, in the case of New World, regrettably less than the sum of its parts. A few of the departments whose jobs it were to simply make the episodes more atmospheric could have stood-out better on their own, away from the more lacking areas of the episodes. For example: the music towards the climax of Fear of Flying and The Sound of Thunder Part 2 were both superlative. The direction in the opener, the finale and a couple of other occasions was memorable and noteworthy. Meanwhile the casting was stellar, for all characters. It’s just a shame that the writing felt off at times.
There are good things and bad things about New World. The good points don’t necessarily help repair the bad, but, at the same time, the bad points don’t blemish the good to the extent of not being able to appreciate when the show’s done something pretty damn well. I can’t agree with all the decisions made, but New World was superb drama, with some very well-thought storylines. I commend it for its diversity and its distinctiveness.
Overall score: 6/10