'Primeval' and the Anomalies of Time Travel

Primeval's Season Five again raises intriguing questions involving the anomalies, mechanics, and consequences of time travel.


Director: Mark Everest
Airtime: Saturdays, 9pm ET
Subtitle: Season Five Premiere
Network: BBC America
Cast: Andrew Lee-Potts, Hannah Spearit, Ben Miller, Ciaran McMenamin, Alexander Siddig
Airdate: 2011-11-12

Primeval enters its fifth season on a bit of an upswing. This science fiction show has gone through a lot of changes over the years, many of them positive. It started out as a mildly diverting action show about scientists fighting dinosaurs, but has gradually evolved into a stronger, more involving drama. It has also displayed a willingness to kill off major cast members, an attrition that now leaves only three original players: scientific genius Connor (Andrew Lee-Potts), zoologist Abby (Hannah Spearit), and pompous boss James Lester (Ben Miller). After the third season ended with Connor and Abby trapped in Earth’s distant past, the fourth provided a reboot: they returned a year later to find that their home base, the ARC, had undergone significant changes. New team leader Matt (Ciaran McMenamin) was harboring a secret history, and there were hints that the ARC’s new benefactor Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) had his own hidden agenda.

Season Five, which premieres on BBCA 13 November, again raises intriguing questions involving the anomalies (usually time warps), mechanics, and consequences of time travel. It opens with another monster of the week, a group of gigantic insects from the future, whereupon Abby notices that Matt seems to have intimate knowledge of their habits. At last, after maintaining his secret all last season, Matt admits he has come from the future to prevent the destruction of civilization. His disclosure jumpstarts the new season -- which is only six episodes, which brings a kind meta-urgency -- by granting him some much-needed help in his effort to save the world.

Still, the new season takes time to revisit the problem posed by Matt’s time-crossed love interest, Emily. Also a time traveler, but from the mid-19th century, and she returned to her original time at the end of Season Four. Abby's research reveals what happened to Emily after she returned to her own time, and she convinces Matt to go after her. This is a welcome turn, as Emily has previously helped to complicate Matt's thinness as a character, being (understandably) dour and single-minded.

Connor this season is assigned his own single focus, namely, to learn how to use the power of the anomalies to satisfy the world’s energy needs. He's assigned this classified project by Philip, a character in need of more shading. Here, as the short season works against developing details, the casting of Siddig, a subtle actor able to complicate Philip's villainy. Charismatic and charming, Philip appeals to Connor’s ego as a scientific genius. But keep in mind that Primeval has a history of plot twists involving its main characters. There’s no guarantee that everything is going to work out all right for the heroes.

There's also no guarantee the monsters will be convincing. During the first couple of seasons, they were marked by mediocre CGI and an over-reliance on dinosaurs. For a series that was premised on portals opening to any place in time, past or future, these ideas were sometimes frustratingly limited. Primeval still uses dinosaurs as its go-to creatures, but it's a bit more creative about how it deploys them these days. The new season’s second episode takes place largely inside of a submarine after an anomaly opens in the North Atlantic. Not only does the team face an external threat from large aquatic dinosaurs battering the sub, but they also have to deal with a smaller, amphibious dino that gets loose inside the boat. It helps as well that the special effects are much better now than they were in earlier seasons. The creatures in Season Five aren’t quite photorealistic, but they’re often very convincing (and they compare favorably to Fox’s much more expensive Terra Nova).

Primeval isn’t without its flaws, though. The character of James Lester has always been a tricky one. The show too often has him seem an obnoxious jerk boss, an overbearing bureaucratic twit, and a sly ally -- all in the space of a single episode. Miller is a good actor who tries his best, but it’s tough going when the character writing is inconsistent. This season's not quite coherent character is Connor’s new assistant, April (Janice Byrne). Because she's actually spying on him for Philip, April works in opposite directions. She's characterized by cliché wardrobe choices: because she's wearing horn-rimmed glasses and unflattering sweaters, she's supposed to be an awkward nerd. But Byrne never really manages to pull this off, because she isn’t awkward or dowdy, or really much of anything April is supposed to be.

These complaints about minor characters don't matter so much in the series' trajectory. On the whole, the fifth season of Primeval is consistently entertaining science fiction, appealing to multiple demographics. There’s enough action-packed monster fighting to keep the show exciting, the character development is solid, and the cerebral overarching plot will keep sci-fi fans interested.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.