Friday, June 19, 2009

Dinosaurs, and time travel…

Because one thing Jurassic Park lacked, was time machines. And hence, to bridge that gap, we have the British sci-fi drama, Primeval (BBC Site).

83726679lw9 Prof. Nick Cutter is a Professor of Palaeontology, who is more interested in the mysteries which cannot be explained by Darwin than conventional studies. His student, Connor Temple, tells him about a giant predator sighted near the Forest of Dean. What Connor is unaware of is that Cutter’s wife, Helen Cutter went missing 8 years ago in the same area, where she was investigating another creature sighting.

Cutter, followed by his lab assistant Stephan Hart and Connor, quickly establish that the animal is really unknown, really huge, and apparently, really bad-tempered, with muscles and talons to match. On the other hand, a reptile specialist Abby Metland is searching the forest for the origin of an entirely new gliding reptile species. And Claudia Brown, a Home Office agent is looking for Cutter to debunk the rumours of giant predator in the forest.

What they all chance upon is something they haven’t imagined: a temporal anomaly, which temporarily connects the modern day Forest to late Permian era. And while the impromptu team manages to send back the creature that came through this anomaly, that is just the beginning. And the things which will come through next are a whole lot worse.

The nature of the show almost begs comparison with the other BBC sci-fi shows: Torchwood and the touchstone of all sci-fi, Doctor Who. While it’s to each his/her own in most other areas, Primeval does score over both in terms of special effects. Although some creatures do seem to move jerkily, I am not sure whether it was the animation or the actual gait of the creature.

I can go on about the traditional team composition in the show, how you don’t need Doctor Who absence as excuse to see this, and so on. But the meat of this series to me is:

The time-travel nature of the show makes it much closer to the Doctor Who, and raises similar questions about the concept, e.g. what we the insiders call Grandfather paradox. Doctor Who solves this problem of meddling in a divine fashion1. Primeval has a more mundane, or more twisted (depending on your view) solution for this.

(Kinda, sorta, maybe Spoilers Ahead)

I once read somewhere (has to be some sci-fi story), that impact of any ordinary event on the timeline is smoothed over within 400 years2.

Which is why when some changes in the ancient past erase a character from timeline, the person reappears although with a different name, different personality, but same face. Although, it might be that they didn’t want two very similar characters in the team, and add more conventional diversity, but the logic behind the change goes a lot deeper than the traditional evil twin or “hit his head and got amnesia”3.

On the same lines, if you watch closely, any change or impact on timeline ends up in a. for a single possible timeline, “been there, done that” b. for those who believe in multiverse, the forks taken for the current reality. So, the attempts of a character to change the future make that future more plausible, and attempts to change the past are already part of the history.

Yes, once you figure it out, many “Big!” plot points are intuitive, which is why I put up the spoiler warning. But believe me, that doesn’t take away one bit from the enjoying the show.

(End of Spoilers)

Oh yeah, you would probably want to watch the series before you watch the upcoming movie.

Watching this show, many will once again wonder why British sci-fi series tend to be more intense and dramatic than their mainly action-oriented American counterparts (even counting occasional Eureka and Sanctuary).

But my question is, can we expect good science fiction shows on Indian television any time soon, or should we just give up and go back to our routine of soaps, comedy/reality and cricket?


- The Great Eagle has spoken

P.S. Previously, I wrote about "Brainiac: Science abuse", and "Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister".


1. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, has complete knowledge of proper timeline, past and future, and only intervenes in case of any deviations.

2. Or possibly 40 generations. Forgot the exact figure. Help welcome. Of course, this doesn’t count catastrophes or events such as say, premature death of all dinosaurs, or of the first Homo Sapien. We will see what happens to our timeline re: Dodo.

3. Which is another thing I like about British serials. e.g. how wonderfully changing the main actor in Doctor Who is explained, without affecting the storyline or the show.