Saturday, September 19, 2009


As the regular reader of this blog knows, I have an obsession with with the British TV series Primeval. To my dismay, however, I recently discovered that ITV has cancelled the show. On June 15 the BBC reported (successfully resisting the desire to gloat) that the massive production costs associated with all those computer-animated beasties had proved too much for their cash-strapped rivals. The production team was apparently devastated, but nowhere near as devastated as me. With half of our heroes stuck up a tree in the Cretaceous (literally) and cheeky cockney wideboy Jason Flemyng wandering the Pliocene (having saved the genus Australopithecus from extinction at the hands of the evil Helen Cutter - no, please don't ask) there's now no chance of my getting answers to some of my most pressing questions. Why did they recruit an Egyptologist? Is Nick Cutter really a paleontologist? Why do they never encounter an animal that's not in Connor's database? At least I now know why they killed most of the major characters in Series 3, as the talent was obviously frantically bailing in advance of cancellation.

Some people have asked why I have devoted so much time nitpicking the credibility of minor details in a program which, after all, deals with holes in time that allow creatures from the past and future to run amok in present-day Britain. As this will be absolutely-and-positively my last post on subject of Primeval, I will explain. IMHO, the best type of science fiction is the one where you take something entirely fantastic and plonk it down in a context that is entirely normal and believable. There are some writers who are masterly at doing this - John Wyndham being possibly the best example. Primeval tries to do this, and sometimes it almost succeeds because of the quality of its special effects, but ultimately the series fails because the context isn't believable.

Nick Cutter and his team are supposed to be scientists working for the British government. If this were truly the case, they would not be in a gleaming laboratory. They would be in a ramshackle building with aging computers and equipment, surrounded by piles of paper and overflowing files. They would continuously gripe about budgets and paperwork, and spend their time in pointless turf wars with other agencies. Most of the time they would have no clue what they were doing or what they were looking at and they'd have to muddle through. Conner's database would never do what it's supposed to do - it would give them the wrong answers, or incomplete answers, or it would keep crashing an inopportune moments. And (on the basis that people are responsible for most problems in the workplace and that most scientific researchers are borderline Asperger's cases) they would probably have significant personnel issues with their team members that would necessitate brain-numbing trips to their Human Resources department and which would conspire to ensure that they never worked at more than about 60% capacity.

Think that you can't write a sci-fi novel that's like this? Well think again and, if you can, try The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, or Tim Powers' Declare, both of which take fantastic events and make them (almost) believable by embedding them in a world of realistically suffocating government bureaucracy. Or, alternatively, you could read the Primeval spin-off novels. Oh yes, there are novels.... for example, in Extinction Event (Dan Abnett, 2009) "When an Entelodon goes on the rampage down Oxford Street causing untold damage and loss of life, Cutter decides a new approach to tackling the anomalies is needed." Entelodonts in Oxford Street? Be still, my beating heart!

1 comment:

  1. Although only marginally SF, there is also Dave Langford's The Leaky Establishment, for a full expose of the world of government research labs.