After an absence of 18 months, Primeval returns to our viewing screens with some major changes in both the cast and the feel of the series. I'm understanding of why the change in cast occurred, but that doesn't lessen the fact that a whole new cast means an investment in time and energy to get to know them, and that's something that Primeval hasn't handled well in the past, given the short length of a Series run. Anyway...
The new opening credits sequence leaves me quite "meh", as it doesn't have the flair and style that the ones from the first three series had. For one thing, one sees the cast members' names, but there's no graphics of them, being replaced instead by images of various dinosaurs and creatures (some presumably from the forthcoming series, perhaps?), and the anomaly style of the opening credits is more reddish and orange than the previous versions. It may grab me somewhat later as the series goes on, but for now, not so much.
I loved the start of the episode, with a really nice review of "what has gone before", and liked it. I found it interesting that it was done from Lester's point of view. This made sense, given that he's the only remaining character as given that Connor, Abby, and Danny are trapped in the past. The focus of the story was on two things - the return of Abby and Connor to the present day, a year and a bit after the events of Series 3, Episode 10, and the introduction of the new personnel at the ARC: Jessica Parker, Matthew Anderson, and Philip Burton. To be honest, I've got mixed reactions about both storylines.
First off, the introduction of Matt, Jess, and Philip is somewhat jarring. If I had not seen the five webisodes created by the Impossible Pictures folks(available for viewing for North American fans of the series as noted in this journal entry), I would have been somewhat lost at the backstory of what was going on at the ARC. The new-look ARC immediately told me that there were some definite changes around the place, and to be honest, I'm not sure I like the high-tech feel of the place and the fancy new tech that's been introduced by Philip Burton and Prospero Industries. Both the new EMD weapons and the ID bracelets make me suspicious, as they seem a bit too high-tech, and my first thought was that they were based on future technology, but that's another matter and perhaps can be dealt with in several posts.
As for the three new characters, Jess Parker seems to be the most straightforward of the group, and I think from what we've seen in this episode that she's the new techie, replacing Connor in that respect. Matt Anderson, on the other hand, is very much an enigma wrapped in a mystery at this point, especially in view of his chats with Gideon and some of the implications in those conversations. Philip Burton didn't get as much air time as I would have liked to see of this new character, but he's intriguing in his own way. Alexander Siddig definitely looked the part, but Burton didn't come across to me as a genius, more as an arrogant fellow who thinks he has all the answers and who thinks he understands the whole business of the ARC and what it's about. For me, the presence of Lester was really something of a bonus here, as other than Becker's interaction with both Jess and Matt, there was no grounding for older fans of the series for the new characters, especially if one hadn't seen the webisodes. I loved the bits with Jess and Becker and Matt and Becker, and there seems to be an attraction between the former two and a rather acrimonious relationship between the latter two, but these make for good building blocks on the relationships between the various characters.
The sequence with the Dracorex being loose in the ARC was interesting and fun to watch, gave some good indications on skills and abilities of some of the new characters, notably Jess and Matt, but raised a whole new issue in terms of Jess and Matt mentioning the ARC menagerie. That would seem to indicate perhaps that Rex and Sid and Nancy can still be found in there, which I'm happy about if it occurs. However, the whole Dracorex sequence seemed to highlight that the menagerie is definitely not secure (unless there's something I missed there). I rather liked Matt Anderson's handling of the situation, and was highly amused at James Lester's reaction to the Dracorex in his office and all.
Then we come to the Connor and Abby business. It was terrific to see the two of them again, but I have some reservations about the two of them. First off, living in the Cretaceous for over a year neither of the two seemed all that grimy as they should have been, and their clothes appeared to be in excellent condition for the period of time that they spent there. I liked Abby's cut there, and even Connor's hair and beard, but both appeared to be too...coiffed, imo. I liked the fact that the two seem to have an almost married relationship while in the Cretaceous, but throughout the episode I kept thinking to myself they aren't a very happy couple. I was rather surprised to see that Abby was the one who had given up hope of ever getting back home, and that it was Connor who was the strong one in this regard. To me, this seems to have something to do with Connor's desire to continue Nick Cutter's work at some point, and Abby's feelings of helplessness. The coincidence of finding Helen's anomaly device in the raptor nest was all right, since we knew the device was there after she dropped it while dealing with the pterosaurs in Series 3, Episode 10, and it struck me that was the only way that Connor and Abby were ever going to be able to get home. But that said, I can't see either Connor or Abby actually having survived the Cretaceous, especially with having established the ground base where they did (given Connor's belief that the anomaly would return), as dinosaurs would have homed in on that place ages ago.
The return of Connor and Abby to the present, followed by the spinosaurus, was well handled, and the heartfelt greetings between them and Becker (in Becker's own inimitable fashion) was realistic and all. The way in which the characters dealt with the spinosaurus left me feeling somewhat curious about one thing. Until I see a DVD replay of the final scene with the creature in the arena, I'm not convinced that Connor didn't have the device activated before it fell from his hand, and just coincidentally got swallowed by the spinosaurus and then "anomaly"-ed out. Maliciousness or accident? I'm still not sure. I also noticed that the music in the arena when Abby activated the light-and-sound system was some techno-grunge music, and not the S Club 7 stuff that I had heard it was supposed to be. (I remember this from an interview with Hannah Spearritt from somewhere.) Guess there were some copyright issues between the UK and North America in this regard, resulting in the dubbing in of different music, which didn't jive with the light effects.
The lost-in-time characters' return to the ARC seemed somehow anti-climactic, but it was great to see that Lester does have feelings for the two, and that he actually missed Connor and Abby. I wasn't all that thrilled with Connor's seemingly geeky adulation of Philip Burton, but the scene was an excellent one as we got to learn more about Burton, even if there wasn't any shows of character for the latter. I was somewhat surprised by the firing of Abby and Connor from the ARC, but actually understood the who military experience requirements that have now been installed, given the sheer number of deaths and disappearances the ARC teams have had prior to this. Surprised this step wasn't taken earlier, to be honest. I fully expect them to be brought back into the ARC fold at some point, but just hope this doesn't happen too much further along in Series 4.
Overall, the first new episode of Primeval in almost two years was pretty good, giving us some of the dinosaur action that viewers have come to love. I thought the introduction of the three new characters - Matt, Jess, and Burton - was handled as well as it could be, but there were more questions raised about the three, particularly Matt and Burton, that I hope the series addresses sooner rather than later. There wasn't a lot of character development, to be sure, in this episode, but there couldn't be, not when the story had to handle the return of Connor and Abby as well as dealing with the spinosaurus. Overall, it was a decent episode, that was marred with some moments where my sense of being unable to believe some of the events was just taxed to the limit.
That said, the episode has potential for the future. But that's always true of Primeval. Whether it lives up to the promise is another matter altogether.
So, that's my review of Series 4, Episode 1. Comments and thoughts always welcome. :)