Well, there was early promise, but it didn't last very long. Since this show began I often wondered why more people didn't come through anomalies (if they're not confined to prehistoric times), and Primeval has only ever explored that possibility once -- in the disappointing episode that wasted Tony Curran as a medieval knight. This episode returned to the idea, with three Victorians coming through an anomaly into a modern-day theatre, hoping to find medicine to save their sick friend. To add some of Primeval's usual spice, a bizarre "tree creeper" (think a lizard-y Michael Phelps with the head of a small T-Rex) followed them through, setting the stage for another ho-hum monster hunt, but with a character-based subplot. Sadly, this was all lost in a confusing and annoying storyline...
Primeval's always been a tough show to review, as it's plots and characters are paper thin and its aspirations low or beyond its skills. I could simply recount my reaction to the week's special-effects, list the plot-holes, and that would pretty much cover it. I think the big problem series 4 has is how the new characters are terrible, adding nothing to an already weak ensemble. Matt (Ciaran McMenamin) is excruciatingly earnest and boring, Becker (Ben Mansfield) has turned into a grade-A idiot, and Jess (Ruth Kearney) is only there to wear short skirts, bright shoes, and smile. Philip (Alexander Siddig) is easily the best new addition, but he's stuck behind a desk at the ARC, apparently filing in whenever Ben Miller's unavailable. Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt), in particular, have never been that great, but they're benefiting from the fact their characters are the only ones with personalities of any description.
Slightly more competent was a subplot at the ARC, even if it was ripped from the jumbo book of sci-fi clichés, with Connor accidentally triggering a building-wide lockdown when a security program he's testing for Philip detected pet dino Rex and sealed every door of the ARC. Of particular concern, Philip is trapped inside a room with Rex, where the air supply is quickly diminishing. Who creates a security program that, upon detecting a non-human creature, locks every door of the entire building, preventing any escape from said beast? Why does the system have no option to reverse this lockdown when the all clear's been given? Why does the system take 20-minutes to remove the oxygen from a room where a beast has been detected? And what a design flaw to have the lockdown happen, knowing it's trapped someone inside with the creature it's supposed to protect people from! I could go on. There was nothing new or surprising here, but it was at least harmlessly predictable fluff, and delivered a tiny clue about series 4's big picture mystery when Philip mentioned his top secret project "New Dawn".
Overall, this was a very unsatisfying episode from writer Debbie Oates, jumping between three boring subplots (catch the monster, the Victorian interlopers, and the ARC lockdown). I appreciated seeing Matt venture through the anomaly into ancient times (the show should really be embracing its time-travel possibilities), and the lockdown scenario was made bearable thanks to Siddig and Potts, but everything else felt meandering and too loose. This appears to be part one of a mini-arc, as Emily is still around for next week's episode, so maybe episode 3 will feel clearer in retrospect... but I'm predicting not.
WRITER: Debbie Oates
DIRECTOR: Cilla Ware
TRANSMISSION: 8 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7PM