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8/01/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Primeval

(BBC America, Saturday, Aug. 9, 9 p.m.)

BBC America’s latest bid for an action-adventure (Robin Hood) or sci-fi (Doctor Who) hit is a little bit Torchwood, a little bit Jurassic Park and overall a ton of fun.

Like Jurassic Park, it involves humans interacting with dinosaurs. Like Doctor Who, it involves time travel.

Like Torchwood it involves a team of adventurers who specialize in dealing with invading creatures, although these aren’t aliens, they’re earthlings from 250 million years in the past. (There’s also physical attraction among some of the team members, but, at least in the first two episodes, nothing like the gender-bending goings-on at Torchwood.)

Primeval’s dinosaurs get here through time-and-space “anomalies” that appear first in an English wood called the Forest of Dean. The first two we see are a ferocious, rampaging T-Rex kind of beast, and a lap-sized winged lizard who squawks cutely and befriends a small boy and a zookeeper (Abby Maitland, played by Hannah Spearritt).

When an image of the scary beast turns up in a tabloid newspaper, “evolutionary zoologist” Nick Cutter (played by Douglas Henshall, with a thick Scottish accent) and his lab technician, Stephen Hart (James Murray), who’s a skilled hunter, investigate, drawn in by Connor Temple (Andrew Lee-Potts), a brilliant but flaky student at Cutter’s university.

Cutter is instantly interested because his estranged wife, Helen (Juliet Aubrey) disappeared from the forest eight years ago under murky circumstances.

The three men join up with Abby (who’s good with lizards) on the scene, and also hook up with Claudia Brown (Lucy Brown), a government official who’d prefer the whole dinosaur thing was a fake. But it’s not.

Brown also has some instant chemistry with Cutter. Which will prove an issue as the stories increasingly involve Nick and Helen Cutter. Nick is convinced (with some evidence) that Helen is alive and aware of the anomaly.

In the second episode, the team confronts nasty giant creatures in the London underground, and will face other beasties as time goes on. Also on the periphery is Brown’s bad-guy bureaucratic boss at the Ministry of Science and Technology, James Lester (Ben Miller), who clashes repeatedly with Cutter.

The special effects are first-rate — not only the creatures but the ancient world beyond the crystalling anomalies. The dialogue crackles. The overall production is glossy, starting from the opening image of a shopping cart blown through a streetlamp-lit supermarket parking lot. Danger and humor abounds. The buzz is that it improves throughout the run of 13 episodes, which ends Nov. 1.

 

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