Terra Nova episode 7 review: Nightfall

It's episode seven of Fox's dino drama, Terra Nova. Has it hit its stride yet? Here's James' review of Nightfall...

1.7 Nightfall

There’s little doubt that over the last few weeks, Terra Nova has started to become the TV show it always wanted to be, mixing sci-fi ideas, CGI dinosaurs, and tepid romantic sub-plots. This week: a meteorite unleashes an EMP above the base, causing a variety of critical situations which the Terra Novans must handle without the help of their beloved electricity.

It’s a fairly standard “disaster” episode, in which characters are separated and placed in (notional) danger, and we get to imagine what it might be like if the series had the stones to do something unexpected. Admittedly, it would have been a fairly severe shift for someone to die, given the irritatingly upbeat tone of the episode, but it might have got people talking about the series with words other than “boring” and “uninteresting”.

As usual, the most interesting character was Taylor, whose “maybe good, maybe evil” schtick never gets old just because he plays it with more ham than a field of pigs. Meanwhile, Jim got to have some self-consciously “sweet” moments with his daughter (cringe-inducing), Elisabeth got to remove a prehistoric tapeworm (entertainingly gruesome) and Maddy went on a secret excursion outside the colony walls without telling anyone, which I believe is the leading mortality rate for Terra Novans. Did you know there are dinosaurs out there?

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Hilariously, the writers seem bound by some mandate to use as few dinosaurs as possible, because the entire time they were outside the walls, they saw two, and they were both the same species. For a series whose main draw was “Spielberg does dinosaurs again!”, it’s painful to watch it limp along using as few as possible. Even when the Sixer-propelled dinosaur attacked Terra Nova at the end of the episode, the effects were so dire that it was hard not to wish it had never happened in the first place. One can only hope that they’re saving the budget for some dinosaur-filled finale.

It would certainly help matters if the story of Terra Nova was anything more than generic inter-personal drama, but six episodes in we’re still seeing only the smallest hints of a wider arc. There was an argument, somewhere, that Fox was forcing the show to keep its episodes stand-alone and accessible for the first half of the series. If that’s true, next week will let us know, because under no system can episode seven be considered part of the first half. If it doesn’t but some meat on the bones of its story, it’s surely doomed to obscurity. I couldn’t face another season like ths one.

It’s a shame, really, because the idea of a meteorite strike started off quite exciting. A literal blast, with the potential to clear out the cobwebs. Instead, it near-instantly devolved into the same limp narratives that every other episode has pursued. Literally the only time any interest was sparked came when the arc-related stuff got a look in.

On that front, we did get an answer to the question of what’s in the box, although disappointingly it turned out to be maths. The introduction of Taylor’s crazy son was so poorly executed that not only was it instantly guessable when he turned up, they strung it out and “revealed” it at the end with some horrendously clunky dialogue (and not the first instance of that in this episode either. Yeesh. Don’t these people ever do a second draft?)

Even now, though, it’s so easy to see the potential in Terra Nova‘s set up. All it needs is someone with a little vision to transform the show into exactly what it should be – challenging, ecological sci-fi with visceral dino-thrills and an emotional core of family drama. Right now, we’re only getting one third of that mix, and the only thing being challenged is our collective patience. If the series doesn’t improve substantially in its final episodes, don’t be at all surprised when it doesn’t get a second series.

You can read our review of episode five here.

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Terra Nova screens in the UK on Sky1 and Sky1 HD.

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