We're halfway through series 4 already, and duly rewarded with another episode that reeked of by-the-numbers storytelling, offering us little new or surprising. However, as prescribed as it undoubtedly was, writer Paul Gerstenberger's plot was the best iteration of chase-the-dinosaur we've had this year, locating the action to a fortuitously empty school after hours.
Things began promisingly, as they often do with Primeval's jump-scare teasers, with a vague Breakfast Club vibe as three teenagers (two "geeks", one "mean girl") were seen being kept in detention by a teacher quickly eaten by a prehistoric therocephalian -- illogically able to get inside a vending machine for the purposes of attack. The anomaly was detected by Jess (Ruth Kearney) back at ARC, whose perky cuteness is beginning to defrost my disdain for her character, and a team comprised of Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts), Becker (Ben Mansfield) and Matt (Ciaran McMenamin) was sent to the school to close the gateway. Back at the ARC, Philip (Alexander Siddig) shocked Abby (Hannah Spearritt) by planning to euthanize some of the Menagerie's creatures they've been unable to return to their respective eras (do they ever try?), which inspired Abby to ignore her boss and find a way to smuggle the animals out of the facility to a private zoo.
The series appears to have settled on the idea of splitting its time between the field missions to protect the public from time-travelling beasties, and some ARC-set shenanigans. Abby's crusade to protect the Menagerie's animals from death wasn't a bad story to tell, and certainly had value for younger viewers because of its ethical theme, but it didn't really amount to much. It was hard to see how Abby could achieve anything, even with inside help from Jess, although I quite liked the development that Jess eventually refused to assist Abby after witnessing the therocephalian eat the trampolining student via CCTV.
Overall, episode 4 was just another hour of people running around a building with flickering lights, armed with unconvincing high-tech guns, reacting to waddling CGI monsters. It handled that stuff fairly well, with enough pace to keep you engaged with its mild thrills, in-between your eye-rolling at the dumb teenagers making matters worse every step of the way. In the background of this episode, Victorian time-traveller Emily (Ruth Bradley) was captured in Matt's apartment by Ethan (Jonathan Byrne), who must rank as the most puzzling screen villain of the past decade. Beyond some understandable grief that his friend died last week, it's hard to know where Ethan's motivation is coming from, or what his deal is. These two characters are suffering even more than Matt, Jess and Philip this year, with the writing so unfocused that it's impossible to see what the point of them is.
- Matt doesn't like to talk about his childhood. Why do you think that is? Our of desperation for something interesting to happen, I'm going to theorize that Matt's a time-traveller like Emily and his childhood occurred in the future. C'mon, Primeval -- I dare you to top that.
- You can tell Ethan's a villain from the past very easily: he wears a cravat.
WRITER: Paul Gerstenberger
DIRECTOR: Cilla Ware
TRANSMISSION: 15 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7PM