I complained about the lack of character development in the premiere, so it was nice to see this follow-up episode place an emphasis on Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt), but the results were as feeble and boring as you could hope for. They just aren't very interesting characters, despite Potts obvious commitment and passion to his paper-thin role, and I can't be alone in thinking the writers needed to really nail the new characters in these early hours.
In this episode, Connor and Abby are told their services are no longer required on the frontline of ARC duties, as paymaster Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) prefers a militaristic approach to the base's operation. As recompense, Lester (Ben Miller) gives Abby a job in the ARC's new Menagerie (a giant hangar full of primitive animals they've captured but haven't returned home yet), and Connor goes to stay at Jess's (Ruth Kearney) flat to search the internet for a new home. However, after getting distracted with a search for "creature sightings", it's not long before Connor's sniffed out a prehistoric crocodile called a Kaprosuchus that's been surviving in the sewers for the past five years (after it was dropped into the toilet as a hatchling), and teams up with his geeky friend Duncan (James Bradshaw) who's witnesses the creature roaming a homeless district.
This felt like a money-saving episode at times, as nothing really happened for the first half-hour in terms of dinosaur action, and the show just isn't compelling or even intriguing when it's having to rely solely on its characters. Jess was more engaging this week (think Peep Show's Dobby crossed with 24's Chloe), although the extent of her quirkiness is becoming a joke (she owns four old-style telephones that spell out her name), but it felt like a wise move to setup the idea she fancies Becker (Ben Mansfield).
Comparatively, Matt (Ciaran McMenamin) is still an oddly distant and boring addition to the show. I suspect they're trying to bring back a calm and controlled core to the show, in contrast to the high-energy monster attacks, but it's not really working. The fact Matt occasionally disappears to report to an elderly gent called Gideon (Anton Lesser) about the ARC's activities -- with the insinuation being that one of the group will be responsible for a future catastrophe -- just makes us treat Matt as a snake in the grass. So without him as the clear hero (well, for now), the weight of the show has been put on Connor's shoulders; a character who staretd the series as comic relief. And while it shows growth that he's almost become the heart of the show now (forever determined to continue his mentor Cutter's research), I'm not sure I really want Potts as the focus. You can't take him very seriously in that role.
Overall, this was an episode designed to have Abby and Connor prove themselves as invaluable team members, by helping to stop the marauding Kaprosuchus. It achieved that aim (as if there was any doubt they'd fail), so hopefully the remaining episodes will start to give Matt, Jess and Philip a chance to shine, while developing this year's mystery about Matt's relationship with the enigmatic Gideon. But still, considering the fact Primeval has such a brief seven-episode run, series 4 is off to a very awkward and disappointing start. I don't expect storytelling genius and character depth to a lightweight show like this, but you do want imaginative stories, lively action, some degree of logic, regular surprises, and lots of excitement. The best that can be said about Primeval so far this year is how the high-definition quality of the CGI has given the creatures more tangibility.
WRITER: Steve Bailie
DIRECTOR: Mark Everest
TRANSMISSION: 2 January 2010, ITV1/HD, 7PM