This feature contains spoilers.
Primeval has enjoyed a good run of thirty-six episodes so far but it’s not been smooth sailing. The show endured a withdrawn cancellation after series three, several major cast changes, and now has a big question mark hanging over any future British episodes.
Alongside BBC flagship show Doctor Who though, Primeval helped fly the flag for British-made sci-fi drama, so when better to take a look at its ten best episodes thus far?
10. Series 3, Episode 6 (2009)
Though initially from the teaser trailer it looked as if the team had found themselves hiding in the past, in this episode they actually hide out in an old Ministry of Defence bunker whilst Christine Johnson come after them in search of the future artefact. The episode is crammed with great periodic detail and music – though annoyingly changed to less authentic music in the DVD versions – plus some genuine threat from the minefield located next to the bunker and Johnson’s soldiers, plus not to mention the first appearance of the terror birds which make convincing and scary monsters, even if the appearance of the anomaly from which they emerge is shoehorned in.
There are also some great moments of humour involving pets Sid and Nancy and a tying-up of Danny’s testing out of the ARC’s security systems. Oh, and Becker’s apparent change of character and solution to the problem is a great moment for the team.
9. Series 4, Episode 1 (2011)
In a series that, overall, wasn’t as strong as that which preceded and would follow it, the opening episode is a tour de force for the programme with Connor and Abby’s relationship forged in the Cretaceous forest quickly but satisfyingly before the episode kicks in properly with a well constructed introduction to the new team, threats, weapons and ARC. There are also a handful of quality moments scattered throughout including their biggest creature yet, a cracking set piece in the O2 Arena, a magpie-like raptor and Becker’s no-fuss way of dealing with filming the dinosaur. Plus, we get a hint to Matt’s origin and the events of series five. It’s just a shame they, like in the last entry, replaced S Club 7’s Don’t Stop Moving on the DVD release, removing the nice nod to Hannah Spearritt’s past career.
8. Series 5, Episode 3 (2011)
The series has always tried to include ‘real-life’ stories into the episodes, providing explanations for creatures such as dragons, Egyptian gods and poltergeists (more on that later) and this instalment is no exception. Weaving in the Victorian storyline from series four with dinosaurs and the myth of ‘Spring Heeled Jack’, this episode takes famous reports of murders in the 19th Century and justifies them with the myth of the anomalies. Plus, the recreation of Victorian England looks brilliant.
7. Series 3, Episode 10 (2009)
Though the two episodes that precede this one create an effective three-parter and each are excellent, it’s the final episode of the third series that deserves a mention. We get the apocalyptic future filled with predators, a glimpse at technology to come and lots of running through past times in a dramatic episode filled with dinosaurs, peril and death, with the best cliff-hanger outside of series two we’ve had so far. Throw in a wide variety of creatures and some excellent CGI and moody landscapes and it rounds off the series nicely. Plus, it brings the Cutter arc to its full conclusion, tying in the first three series.
6. Series 2, Episode 7 (2008)
The conclusion to series two follows the epic episode six to create an excellent conclusion. With the team fractured due to Nick and Stephen’s falling out over Helen, we get an heroic escape, a battle with a giant scorpion on Bournemouth beach and a heart-breaking end to the episode where one character sacrifices themselves for the cause. Plus, we also get the best cliffhanger at the end as we discover Helen has brought a character back from the dead but there’s more than one of him…
5. Series 3, Episode 2 (2009)
As well as using actual creatures in their episodes, the series frequently would create threats and this was often when it was at its best. The camouflage beast of series three, episode two, an explanation of poltergeist myths, is one of only a few episodes where there are some genuine scares and a very creepy foe. Plus, the scarier side is balanced brilliantly with the humour of Danny Quinn and his arresting of Connor. As a standalone episode it’s one of the best but it also sets up not only the rest of series three but events in this episode impact on series four as well, but you wouldn’t know it just from watching it on first viewing.
4. Series 1, Episode 6 (2007)
Through the series the team battled many prehistoric creatures but it was this final episode where we finally saw something not from the fossil record but from the future. It’s easy to be blasé about the future predator now as it has become the Dalek of the Primeval universe, but this first appearance was great on first watch with a creature that seemed impossible to kill and one that would lead to many deaths, the first few in this episode. With many great set pieces and attacks, it’s also easy to forget what a well-designed monster it is. Plus, at the end we get two twists as we find out what the team going back into the past has done, and what Helen can also do…
3. Series 2, Episode 6 (2008)
The first episode of the two-part conclusion is one of the best written episodes of all five series. In it, we get a great sequence involving a Mammoth on the M25 which mixes death with a challenge for the team and some great one liners for Ben Miller’s James Lester. When this problem is dealt with in the first fifteen minutes, the episode still has a lot of mileage, with the threat of a bomb, future predators with a scary new adaptation and a climatic battle between James Lester and one of the creatures from the future, also setting up the final episode mentioned above.
2. Series 5, Episode 5 (2011)
This is the episode where the series goes really big. Convergence is happening and anomalies are appearing all over the world. Though the programme doesn’t have the budget to show dinosaurs in New York or pterodactyls in Paris and the episode does, at times badly, reuse some footage, the scope of this episode is massive with the sense of the team struggling against the increased threat with resources maxed-out. The sense of threat is well created and it feels like the most wide-reaching of episodes. There’s a great scene with Ben Miller and a real effort from all the team to tackle convergence. Plus, it’s set aside the growing threat of New Dawn and where that will lead…
1. Series 3, Episode 3 (2009)
There’s only really one episode that could top the list, and it’s one that shows Primeval at its best. On one hand you have the monster-of-the-week threat, which is handled brilliantly with plenty of humour as Nick tries to deliver a baby and Connor attempts to capture the creatures. On top of that, we’re treated to the return of journalist Mick Harper teased at the end of series two, who will appear in the following episode, plus the conclusion to the build-up of the cleaner clones that have been drip fed to the viewers over the previous three episodes, creating a huge threat within the ARC whilst also showcasing some fantastic split-screen and CGI work.
But the big scene of this episode is, of course, the destruction of the ARC with another bomb, caused by a familiar looking clone in an impressive piece of visual effects work, and the stand-off between Nick and Helen Cutter, leading to the most touching, sad, and poignant end to an episode ever, and an event that will have repercussions throughout the rest of the series and the two that follow.
Those last few minutes as the camera crane lifts up and James Lester calls out for an ambulance while the other characters – in particular Jenny and Connor – react to the unfolding events made more emotional impact than I’ve seen in this sort of drama.
Bubbling under: I have a soft spot for all three episodes that conclude series three, with the battles in the future world of episode eight being a particular highlight, but felt series three is already represented a lot in the countdown. There are also the episodes with the Dracorex, fungus and Gigantosaurus, all from the stand-out series three, but also the humour of the Dodo episode of series one and the conclusions to series four and five. Oh, and the scene involving Becker and a tank from the first episode of series five deserves special mention.
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