A sad end for what started out as quite an inventive, creatively-written series. As I`ve stated already (ad nauseam), season 3′s quality took a nosedive into the cludgie, purely as a consequence of decisions taken by Impossible Pictures with regard to the generation of stories and the hiring of writers. Of course, there are many out there who see completely the opposite, who think that Primeval improved in season 3 and was becoming a fine example of action-packed family fun. Well, for a family of dunces, maybe….
Even so, the demise of Primeval in the current econocrapstorm is a bellweather for things to come; less or no money for SF/fantastical series, and more money for knuckle-dragging, indoor gagfests like Big Brother, Britain’s Got Minitalents, or Jeremy Kyle’s Bad Person Smackdown. Inexorably, the tainted channels of TeeVee are devolving into gruntertainment. How else do you explain Graham Norton?
Just in case y’all are wondering, I’m recording tonight’s episode 8 for viewing tomorrow, mebbe. Meantime, me and SuperSusan are just heading off to see the new Trek movie. Ye cannae change the laws o’ physics, allegedly!
Star Trek The Reboot was pretty good, thanks for asking. A nonstop rollercoaster of spills and thrills, with lots of not-bad witty character bits dotted through it like chocchips in a tasty croissant-type snack.
As for Primeval Episode 8, seriously, the Jack character serves no other function other than to get the team mixed up in a bit of bovver. Must admit that the future desolate London looked terrific, and the mantis Vs bat-predator smackdown was pretty good. But this is ultimately scenery and effects – the plotting, motivations and dialogue are as clodhoppingly vacuous as ever. I won’t go into exhaustive detail, other than to state if I were venturing into the vicinity of an anomaly (never mind going through one) I’d be wearing kevlar and toting a heavy-duty trank gun with an assault weapon for backup. And talking of backup – why, why, WHY did they go haring off to investigate an anomaly without taking along a squad of hefty blokes armed to the teeth?
As for Jack The Unbearable driving a car into the anomaly so we can get to see the other side - ie behaving like a clueless fudder – well, like I said, that’s his function. So help me, I could do better plotting in my sleep. How about this – the team figure out from a captured insect that its the future on the other side so they get tooled up in an armoured personnel carrier and drive that over to the other side (after sending a mobile camera through to get some pictures – why has no-one figured that one out yet?). Once there, they venture forth for a spot of investigating and, darn it, get jumped by a pack of the batoid nasties; they get split up, one lot having to fend off the beasties with some weird weapons found in a storage facility, the others finding an underground lab along with folders of dusty notes detailing the end of the world. Unfortunately, the mantis buggers are holed up down there too so our valiant investigators use some handy chemicals to blow the underground lab, thus forcing the mantises to the surface – cue a return to the APC and thence back out of the anomaly.
Hmm, yeah, like it. Beats the hell out of the idiotic suckfest that they gave us instead.
God, its been crud.
What? – you want more than that? Really? … fair enough.
Okay, just to give you something to ponder, four of Season One’s 6 episodes were written by Adrian Hodges, with #4 by Richard Kurti & Bev Doyle and #5 by Chris Lang. Three of Season Two’s 7 episodes were written by Adrian Hodges, with #9 by Kurti & Doyle, #10 by Cameron Mcallistor, #11 by Ben Court & Caroline Ip, and #12 by Paul Cornell. In Season One, the directors were Cilla Ware and Jamie Payne (directing 4 episodes and 2, respectively); in Season Two, the directors were Jamie Payne (3 eps), Andrew Gunn (2) and Nick Murphy (2).
In Season Three, so far, Adrian Hodges has written no episodes, and the directors have also been new names, apart from Cilla Ware who has directed the season’s 2nd episode and tonight’s. From the wikipedia page on Primeval episodes I note with trepidation that the writer of the last episode of the season is the guy who penned the clod-hopping idiocies of the 1st, to whit one Steve Bailie. Whose screen creds include writing for Spooks and The Bill, not unlike James Moran who has also written for Spooks and Law & Order. Hmm, I detect a pattern here…well, mainly the pattern of duff writing.
So, tonight’s Primeval – will it be a sparkling gem of screenwriting brilliance, or a slung-together heap of slop, bubbling with corrosive cliches? On past performance, I give odds of 5 to 1 on the latter.
Well, maybe the scriptwriters saw this episode as a homage to the Quatermass Experiment. God knows it wasn’t a homage to writing that made any kind of rational sense. Characters doing stupid things just to keep the plot moving along, like having a Rich Berk’s PA stupidly assume that the anomaly that appears before him is an art installation, then have said PA stray into unknown world beyond the anomaly where he gets sprayed with Satanic Foofoo Dust straight out of an old Star Trek episode (and have said dust squirt up out of a pod that looks a lot like the pods in Alien). So PA returns to Rich Berk’s apartment, coughs up some messy Satanic Foofoo Gunk and gets sucked back into the anomaly. Handy, that.
So, to cut an asinine story short, Rich Berk goes back to apartment, dips finger in Satanic Gunk, sniffs it then heads off in his chauffered limo to a railway station. Connor leads team from ARC to RB’s apartment (due to having tracked it with the handy Anomaly Trackometer), gets sample of Satanic FF Gunk back to lab, susses out that it’s Satanically Lethal and warns Jenny + Abby and their team, still back at RB’s apartment to clear out. Meanwhile, Christine Johnstone, Civil Servant From Hell, pays the ARC a visit, during which one of her henchthugs goes off for a nosy around the place, finds the containment where Connor put the Satanically Lethal Foofoo Gunk, and touches it. In seconds he’s on the floor, covered in grey, spore-tastic, self-spreading gunk. Henchthug is pronounced dead at scene, zipped up in bodybag. Then shortly after, Danny Q and Connor are in the lab, investigating, when the henchthug – now transformed into Sporeboy – comes to life and tears his way out of the bag with the obligatory Wooooarrrgh!
Meanwhile, Jenny and Abby etc are chasing after the Rich Berk, gradually turning into Sporeboy2, eventually tracking him down to some underground concrete tunnels. Then they’re joined by Danny Q with some handy flamethrowers (by Moulinex for all I know), and go after Sporeboy2, but then a call from the ARC warns them not to use flame as it`ll make the spores propagate (though they didn`t use that word, too many syllables, like). But they get Sporeboy2 into the van, speed back to the ARC, steer it into the central ops room, drop the temperature, but tragedy strikes and Jenny is trapped in there with it! It touches her and the self-spreading gunk starts to eat her face! But after killing Sporeboy2, they wait for the cold to kill off the spore gunk, leaving her alive and well enough to say, sod this, I`m off, and resigns from the team.
There were so many idiocies in this episode that I don’t have time to go into them – I gotta life and work to be getting on with. But I must, I MUST, point out the most godawful clunking gaffe in a veritable Everest of clunkers, that of the infective spores. Why is that when the Henchthug was infected it was all over him in a minute or less, leaving him apparently dead, while it took almost a third of the episode for the same thing to happen to the Rich Berk? Who didn’t do the dead-as-a-possum bit before his transformation, rather he sporishly blorked out while on the move. And if the mere touch of the Sporeboys was so lethal, surely that would make anything that they touched become a source of infection – the tunnels, the inside of the van, the lab? Then there’s the scene at the end, where Jenny had the infection on her face, but they had to wait for the low temperature, minus 30 or so, to kill it off. But…in order for that to work, Jenny’s own body would have to fall to minus 30 (AKA death) to kill it, since otherwise it would be depending on her body heat to survive! Doncha think?
I can imagine some responses to these criticisms – “Oh, you’re just nit-picking!… It’s just good escapist fun!… How can you be so horrid?…. But the kids love it!”
Ah, right, so if its escapist fun for the kids, then you’re allowed to slop together a heap of lazy plotting, banal characterisation, duff plausibility, and dead-as-a-doorpost dialogue then shovel it out the screen, is that right? But then, if you take a close look at those programmes specifically made for children, and using contemporary settings, Primeval-style characterisation and motivations would be rigorously excluded, so why are we expected to accept it in a series like Primeval? It’s not as if its fantasy, like Merlin or Buffy – it is presented as science fiction, with all the furniture that goes along with it, rational, investigative, and consistently plausible. Which depends on a knowledge and respect for what is actually scientifically possible and impossible – if you’re going to present something fairly wild in SF you have to back it up with a plausible explanation that takes account of rational cause and effect. In Primeval’s 1st two series there was a reasonable attempt to maintain consistent plausibility, but with series three it’s just gone right out the window. I’m now at the stage where Diabolical Helen could morph into Prime Minister and go to war against Christine Johnston, each commanding clone armies of Nick Cutter, and I’d probably just shrug.
Well, no, maybe I wouldn’t because then I’d be rooting for Connor and his clone army of Danny Quinns. Now THAT would be a hoot.
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Here’s a little story from my distant past. While growing up in Clydebank, Scotland, my best buddy was (and remains) a guy called Stewart; he lived not far from my parents’ house and we hung out a lot, talking about SF and comics, listening to music, even making music and weird, Pythonesque, cast-of-a-thousand sketches. Once I was visiting his house, standing on the front doorstep, just chinwagging, when his family dog, a (to my 15yr old eyes) huge alsation of a somewhat fierce disposition, appeared at the back gate, staring at me through the wooden slats. One look at me and the barking started, as it disappeared from view. I knew immediately from the travelling sound that the Hound of Hell was racing around the house to get at me, which prompted your humble scribe to dive in past Stewart and ascend the stairs to a safe room with an alacrity later described as warp speed. Dog’s name was Kyle, and I was his special food. Stewart and his folks usually found this hilarious since Kyle, they assured me, was usually quite even tempered. It was just the sight of me that awoke the Beasht Inshide.
Anyway, the point of this tale is that when faced with oncoming doom the natural instinct is to leg it, take a sharp exit, and just get the hell outa Dodge.
But not, it seems, if you’re a character in Primeval.
So, anomaly opens in a hangar at an unnamed airfield, BFD….er, Very Large Dino – a Giganotosaurus – pokes its head out while a media crew is in the hangar, along with their own pet dino expert. Dinoman is taking point when the BFD leans out, roars, exposing its well-handy dentures. But does Dinoman do what any sensible person woul do and run like buggery? Why no, he just sits there, quailing like a wuss who’s lost all sensation in his legs, and thus becomes the Giganotsaurus’ special food. Same thing later on, when some media harridan, in defiance of yer basic human instinct for self preservation, gets in close to the 30-foot armoured killing machine just to get a good camera shot and instead gets chomped.
Sorry, just don’t buy it. These are just 2 more examples of the Idiot Plot in action.
Makes you wonder what they were thinking…so in order to make Duh Big Monstah a real deadly threat, right, we gotta have it eat someone, yeah? So we`ll bring in the Annoying Journo’s boss, make her out to be a real piece of work, and we can get her eaten by the Dino, as well as that expert guy. Yeah, it’ll be great. We can’t show the gnashing and the blood and everthing, but it’ll be cool.
Okay, sorry, just channelling an imaginary conversation between the writer and the director. Who clearly haven’t got a clue, as proven by the over-egged inclusion of Nastier-than-Lester demonic civil servant Christine Johnstone, and the return of Danny Quinn (aka James Indiana McLane Bourne), (yet no sign of Diabolical Helen). And the attempted reframing of Connor as the serious bloke-in-charge fell flatter than one of David Cameron’s jokes. And the clodhopping stab at the cast emoting over Cutter’s demise, which might have worked if they’d had some decent lines and direction. And the completely brainless, stunningly obvious and ultimately time-wasting Abby’s-brother sub-sub-plot, and the continuing slobification of the Jenny Lewis character…
Oh god, why am I using up my valuable time torching this farrago of cliches? Maybe because to begin with it was entertaining without being cringeworthy, populist without being dumb and insulting. But since the start of Series 3, almost every scene oozes with contempt for the audience, as well as the actual craft of screenwriting. And here’s another example – if you go to the Primeval blog at ITV.com, one of the post titles is ‘No funeral for Nick?’ Yet Stephen got one, which would be considered a normal element of consistent and plausible storytelling. Yet the hacks who are involved in the current season just don’t care about the Nick Cutter character. Yeah, thats him out the way, lets get some real muscle in there, lets have a makeover.
And further proof, if ever it was needed, was on show in the trailer for next weeks episode. And I gotta say, these writers have got the cojones, they’ve got the tackle – yup, they’re going to rip off Nigel Kneale. To get some idea of what next Saturday has in store, go to Wikipedia and look up The Quatermass Experiment.
Roll on episode 5.
Aar, but it only appears that I missed blogging about Primeval cos I was away in Bradford, attending Eastercon along with a megagaggle of other writers, editors, readers, critics and sundry mighty-brained fans. Apart from the cough thats been dogging me for over a week, a good weekend was had, such that certain career advancements were achieved. Sshh, no names, no pack drill. Further details shall emerge in due course, doncha know.
Anyway, to the matter in hand, my current favourite cultural trainwreck, Primeval. Suffice to say that astute readers of this blog may have formed the opinion that I wasn`t to enamoured of the script and plot elements on show in the first two episodes. In fact, rereading my effervescent rant, I kinda worried that mebbe I had overstepped the mark, that perhaps I was being unfair and not giving the series’ writers and directors the chance to get their feet.
Then I watched episode three. Nah. I was right before.
Where to begin? I had thought that episode two was an unsurpassable mound of careless writing and reeking cliches torn bodily from their graves. But Ep3 inflicted more idiocies on the audience (as well as the actors, poor sods) than I thought an hour of commercial television could safely contain. Okay, lets start with the cute Diictodon and their charming little tunnels, and those holes in the walls which, unaccountably, no-one thought to try and block up in the pregnant womans room (or elsewhere), which would seem like a natural reaction. And I dont know about you but watching Cutter and Abby and Connor and Annoying Journobloke chasing after the widdle cute dinos engendered in me a titanic, jaw-breaking yawn. Then there was the hospital evacuation, possibly the most inane and incompetent building evac ever witnessed. Then there was the Cutter-and-Abby-do-doctor-and-nurse in the pregnancy plot-thread which, like the girl-in-the-red-dress subplot last week, was utterly superfluous and contributed absolutely nothing to the main story. (And you have to ask what the point of the Annoying Journobloke subplot? As far as I can make out, his ONLY function was to lock Cutter and Abby in with the pregnant woman. Was the writer really that stuck for some plot action?)
Then the action shifts to the ARC, that top-top, uber-top secret gummint building that the Diabolical Helen can seemingly waltz in and out of at will. And LO! for we are introduced to Nick Cutter’s clone, which DH seemingly whisked up in a farfuture Kenwood combined cloning and ageing tank (the Kenwood Clonemaster 9000, no doubt); now watch as he penetrates the ARC’s security (which astonishingly has an eye scanner this time, unlike last time when one of DH’s goons was able to waltz in with a purloined card). Clone Cutter strolls around the place, talking in a monotone voice while employing a 40-word vocabulary and no-one bats an eyelid, not even the 2 women who clearly have an interest in him (yet not to the point where their special woman-powers would be capable of spotting suspicious changes in his character).
This is ridiculous – Clone Cutter is even dressed in totally different clothes from almost anything he usually wears, yet everyone just assumes that he must have changed them on his way back from the situation at the hospital (with which no-one, not one of the personnel at the ARC seems to be, er, monitoring or keeping tabs on in any way, y’know, which might drop a clue that, er, Cutter was still there, y’know, the real one).
Of course, Cutter meets his clone and the scenes involving the two of them are suitably emptyheaded and cliche-ridden; the plot-twist by which Cutter’s trapped colleagues free themselves and neutralise Diabolical Helen’s verbal commands seems almost plausible, and all her goons stop being goonish, including Clone Cutter. Plausible until Helen talks extra loudly at Clone Cutter, telling him to complete his mission. Which he has to do because thats what idiotic characters do in an idiot plot, despite the fact that the other goons are NOT obeying DH’s verbal commands.
The burning building scene was the most unconvincing I`ve ever seen; didnt seem to be any firefighters present, or indeed anyone with the slightest knowledge of the dangers of smoke inhalation, for example. Yup, Cutter goes running back in to save DH, even though she was clearly seen to be the first one heading out of the building. Then there’s Cutter’s death scene which, for clunking bathos, was on a par with death-scenes from the Carry On movies. So DH shot him and vanishes, as only a black-clad moustache-twirling villain can vanish, leaving Cutter slumped against a bit of wreckage (non-burning, non-hot) where Connor finds him, amid the flames and the destruction. If this scene had possessed a gram of honesty, Connor would have hauled Cutter up over his shoulder and dashed out to waiting medics; instead what we get is Cutter saying something like ‘just stay here with me’, and yes, with flames and destruction all around, Connor – rather than saying, shut the f*** up, I’m getting you out of here – says okay, sits down while Cutter has his deathbed speech, handing on the mysterious artefact etc. Head tips over onto Connor’s shoulder. Dies. Connor then leans his head on Cutters. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as bathos. Look it up.
Awful, just awful. You have to wonder what persuaded Dougie Henshall to jump ship – did he get some inkling of the way the story was going and, listening to his instinct, said I want out? I absolutely don’t blame him. But then again, never underestimate the ability of TV networks, in their pinheaded way, to dumb things down beneath and beyond the call of corporate duty.
Roll on Episode 4.