After a hopeless run of wretched episodes, Primeval delivered a competently-told story with an agreeable mix of imagination, silliness, decent action, tongue-in-cheek homage's, and clarity with most of its storytelling. The script was co-written by creator Adrian Hodges and John Fay (Torchwood); two writers evidently more talented than the scribes who churned out the previous four hours, although there were still elements beyond their abilities to repair -- like the abortive subplot with the Victorian time-travellers.
Opening with a clunky pastiche of The Blair Witch Project (the first of many pop-culture references this week), we were swiftly presented with another of Primeval's standard setups: an anomaly giving off a fluctuating signal was detected by the ARC, so Lester (Ben Miller) sent Matt (Ciaran McMenamin), Connor (Andrew Lee-Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) to investigate the source at a small coastal town. Arriving to scout the location, Connor and Abby discovered a local legend about a man-eating "worm", which may in fact be a prehistoric Labyrithodont that's been visiting the area for centuries, and was responsible for the recent murder of a backpacker (shades of An American Werewolf In London, not least in the presence of an oppressive, murky pub.)
I also liked the clarity with Philip (Alexander Siddig) and Lester's relationship is representing, with brainiac Philip stressing his interest lies with the science of the anomalies, whereas Lester's focused on protecting people from the creatures that tend to wander through them. The story was primarily focused on Abby and Connor trying to locate the errant Labyrithodont around the eerie town, with a little help from Matt, who was eventually drawn away to rescue Emily (Ruth Bradley), who has been kidnapped by time-hopping oddball Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) and taken to a nearby cemetery.
The Emily/Ethan storyline has been series 4's biggest frustration, as I sense it's a decent idea that's been poorly handled. It's too unclear who Emily and Ethan are, what they both represent, and thus impossible to care about Ethan's mania over the death of their sick friend Charlotte -- who was a character that died minutes after her on-screen debut. While I understand a few vagaries are intentional, designed to provoke a sense of mystery, the writers haven't given us enough information to engage with these characters or this storyline.
I'm still utterly bewildered about Ethan, in particular. Who was Charlotte to him? Why is he the villain? If he's so unhinged, why were Emily and Charlotte hanging around with him? What is his plan, now he's in the 21st-century? And before you say the remaining episodes might explain all of this -- that's beside the point. You shouldn't be introducing characters in a situation that are impossible to engage with because of so much confusion, but expect audiences to put aside their complaints and wait for answers that aren't even guaranteed. Right now, it feels like Ethan's a variation of Helen Cutter, the time-travelling supervillain of series 1-3, who was likewise written awkwardly and illogically, before being killed off without giving us many satisfying answers. That I can remember, anyway. Feel free to elucidate me, Primevalites.
Overall, episode 5 was another step in the right direction and has me mildly optimistic the worst is behind us. Nothing here excuses the weak introduction of Matt (who's failed to leave his mark as the show's new lead), and the time-travelling vagabonds have been totally mismanaged by the writers, but the action-adventure at the heart of this week's episode was far more palatable. It even restored some semblance of intelligence to the series, when Connor realized the unstable anomaly was actually jump-started by an acidic pool of water in a seaside cave. This was a good episode of Primeval, particularly because it rediscovered its sense of humour and thus felt more likeable than it has done in awhile -- best demonstrated in a brief scene with Lester struggling with some tracking software on a laptop with Jess (Ruth Kearney). It's the little things, but they add up and can make a show appealing.
- Watch are currently airing repeats of Primeval in the UK. I never thought the sight of Douglas Henshall grumbling as he traipses up an office stairway, armed with a leaf blower, would feel like the good ol' days. Well, the better ol' days.
- I'm sorry if you're a Ben Mansfield fan, but this episode was noticeably better without Becker's character charging around with a stoical expression, clutching his gun.
- A minor observation, but it was nice to see Jess wearing something less pointedly kooky.
WRITERS: John Fay & Adrian Hodges
DIRECTOR: Robert Quinn
TRANSMISSION: 22 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7PM