Discussing Primeval with a colleague a few weeks ago (we do spend a lot of time talking about telly, it has to be said), he recalled overhearing a child on a train calling the ITV drama: “Dinosaur Chasey Chase”. What a delightful and perfect summing up of Primeval. ITV has Dinosaur Chasey Chase with Primeval, while the BBC has Monster Chasey Chase with Doctor Who.
I’ll readily admit to taking a while to warm up to Primeval - trawling through some of my musings in the three years that TV Today has been in existence, you’ll see I was a bit sneery at first. How dare ITV try to take on my beloved Doctor Who. It will just be a pale imitation of that much-loved institution, who do these upstarts think they are?
Well, they thought they could make quite an exciting adventure drama series - and they did. True, much of the casting of Primeval *was a direct reaction to *Doctor Who. Proper thesp Douglas Henshall as Nick Cutter mirrors Christopher Eccleston’s appointment as the Doctor. Fallen pop princess Hannah Spearritt is a match for Billie Piper, while Andrew-Lee Potts is as clumsy and stupid as Mickey Smith ever was.
But it worked - eventually. The first series was unsure and seemed determined to trip itself up with some duff stories, but the second knew where it had gone wrong and made some clever tweaks, culminating in a cracking pair of closing episodes.
And now we have season three that sees Primeval cutting a very confident dash. It’s the only show that’s come along post Who that gets anywhere touching the BBC show. That might sound like damning with faint praise - not at all. This first episode is fun and fast, with everything we’ve come to love about Primeval, along with a couple of new characters and a fresh spin on the concept of the time portals that bring big nasties into the present.
As Cutter tortures himself with guilt over the death of Stephen, it’s not long before the ARC team have a new dinosaur sighting to deal with - in the basement of the British Museum. Egyptologist Sarah Page is researching the ancient Sun Cage - and guess where the anomaly opens up. It’s not long before Cutter and his team arrive with their big guns to chasey chase a big crocodile type creature through the streets of London…
This is a great first episode that re-establishes the format and cast for those coming new to the party. There’s an ease and sense of fun about the cast - they’re all comfortable with each other and the spikiness of the earlier seasons has gone. Cutter is still a miserable old goat, but that’s what he’s there for.
With the confidence of two seasons behind it, this could be the best season of Primeval yet if this opener is anything to go by. Big dinosaurs, some great action pieces, good use of Central London as backdrop and a lightness of touch that wasn’t there before add up to a promising start.
As for new regular Laila Rouass as sexy but brainy academic Sarah Page - let’s see how that one works out, eh?
Primeval is on ITV1 from Saturday 28th March