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Primeval started out with great potential to be Saturday evening’s must-watch sci-fi (at least when Doctor Who is on hiatus). The first series was a rollicking success and ended with Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall, above with the rest of the main cast) returning to the present somewhere in the south of England through an anomaly – a hole in the space-time continuum (what, you thought they were all in Cardiff?) – to find his world altered. Claudia, the government adviser he’d developed a relationship with, has disappeared, not just physically, but as in “ceased to exist”. And at the start of the second batch of adventures, Cutter finds that his team are different too.
In this new world order, Stephen has become a boring, bland character whose only function is to grab the really big gun from the car when they are faced with a woolly mammoth. Connor has developed delusions of being Pete Doherty and is sporting a really silly hat. Abbie manages to keep her clothes on for whole episodes at a time. Added to that, they are all now working for the government through the Anomaly Research Centre and, oh look, there’s a PR-woman who looks suspiciously like Claudia, only now she’s called Jenny and wears improbably short skirts and high heels, even when chasing after the bad guys.
The team’s work continues to be undermined by Cutter’s ex-wife Helen (played with gusto by Juliet Aubrey) who is pursuing her own agenda which includes the earlier-mentioned changing of history. James Lester, the government man overseeing the anomaly research programme, started out as a potential bad guy, but has grown into a reasonably likeable and snarky foil to Cutter and the team.
All this sounds enjoyably daft enough but the “monster of the week” format is proving a real constraint, and what could be the major source of interest – what Helen is really up to – is being strung out at such length that it’s hard to care. And, while the history-changing plot seemed clever initially, it really makes little sense to change the back-story to the premise that has been painstakingly set up. There’s always the thought in the audience’s mind that, having changed the history once, the writers might decide to do the same again on a whim, or if they hit a patch of drought in their ideas. Or will they simply change everything back at the end of the third series and bring back Claudia and send Jenny and her tight skirts through the nearest anomaly? It all seems rather pointless and meandering, as though they hadn’t really expected to get a second year, and certainly not the third they are now working on.
Primeval burst onto our screens as a fresh, action-focused romp ideally suited to the early Saturday night audience, but has gone sadly limp in its second year. They will need to pull Primeval out of this anomaly and restore its original bounce if it is to last beyond its next batch of episodes.
© Carole Gordon 2008