Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Claudia Brown and Pedigree Collapse

A recent comment post on this blog got me thinking about the series Primeval’s Claudia Brown.

Fans of the show will know that Claudia Brown was a character who was becoming romantically involved with Nick Cutter. The main series villain is Nick Cutter’s wife, Helen, long missing, thought dead, but actually just traveling through time.

Very soon after Claudia and Cutter expressed their feelings for each other – which Helen was aware of – Cutter travels with Helen back to the Permian period (299 – 251 MYA – at the end of the Paleozoic era) to recover a future predator and stop it from destroying history. When they return, not realizing that they’ve left baby predators alive in the past, Claudia Brown no longer exists, and no one knows who she is, except for the returning Nick and Helen Cutter. Helen then craps all over Cutter, revealing that, before she disappeared, she was having an affair with his best friend Stephen. Clearly she does this to hurt Cutter, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that a vindictive Helen, with her time-traveling knowledge, may have engineered the disappearance of Cutter’s new love interest.

But is that what happened?

I don’t think so, but then, Primeval can be so ill-conceived at times you never can tell if some intentional is so poorly executed that you can’t discern it from background noise.

Consider: Helen and Cutter enter the anomaly to the Permian, Claudia Brown exists. Helen and Cutter return, thinking they have succeeded, but not realizing they’ve left future predators behind. Claudia Brown now no longer exists. If Helen, 251+ million years in the past, was able to hatch a plot that, by leaving random agents (the predators) behind, exhibited so much fine-grain control that it could pluck one single person out of existence… well, if she could do that she was incredibly good. She might as well be trying to fire a bullet around the planet with a rifle and hitting Claudia on the 251,000,000 circuit around the planet. (Actually, it’s even more improbable than that.)

No, I think she was unaware that Claudia was gone.

Further, you might argue that Claudia may have been there when Cutter and Helen returned and she just wasn’t mentioned and wasn’t in camera shot and that it wasn’t until after she jumped back into the anomaly that Claudia disappeared. If that were the case, Cutter would have forgotten her as well as everyone else had, so that seems unlikely, too.

Let’s, for a moment, consider the likelihood of Cutter and Helen’s mistake of leaving the baby predators altering the timeline enough to erase Claudia.

With 251 million years to compound changes in the timeline, it seems that if significant changes were wrought, that the world would be a completely unrecognizable place, likely having no similarity to the world we inhabit today.

It’s all hypothetical,of course, but here’s one way to look at it. The answer may lie in a concept called Pedigree Collapse.

People have a lot of misconceptions about… well, for the want of a better term, I shall call the Mathematics of History. Most people, for example, view their history as a binary tree. I have two parents, they each have two parents, therefore I have four grandparents. Each of them had two parents, therefore I have 8 great-grandparents. The progression goes like this: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128…

Simple, you say? Obvious? Yes, and completely wrong… or at least wrong inasmuch as people tend to assume these are all distinct people. You don’t have to go back many generations to realize that your number of ancestors will rapidly approach a number greater than the total number of humans who have ever existed on this planet. How can this be? Answer: Kissing Cousins (wink wink nudge nudge say no more!) There’s a lot more of that going on than people think.

The further you go back in you ancestors the more inevitable it is that multiple people occupy multiple places on your ancestral chart.

If a single human – or, more specifically a single human being who had offspring – far enough back in time were wiped out, huge swaths would have been cut in our ancestry and it seems unlikely that any of us would be here. (And I mean here biologically. As beings made up of the same genetic material, not the ridiculous “gosh, Jenny Lewis is the same person as Claudia Brown with a different history.) Presumably a missing person on the chart would result in others filling in the holes, leading to an ever expanding web of genetic changes.

If the future predators impacted the course of life on the planet, the changes would have been massive. And, of course, this web would have been unravelling since long before humans, mammals or even dinosaurs existed. That’s an inconceivably long period of time.

It is not at all inconceivable that a disturbance back 251+ million years would completely end the world as we know it.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to go too far back in time to have any effect.

We have to consider the misconception of continuity of life on this planet. Virtually every creature that has ever existed on this planet has already died. The vast majority of species that have ever existed are extinct. That’s a whole lot of dead.

Since 251+ million years ago, there have been at least two major planetary extinction events and lots of smaller ones. Ice ages, deserts, droughts, asteroids, mountains, seas, oceans and continents have come and gone.

Over such an immense time scale, it’s very likely that the doomed future predators’ changes would be wiped clean long before they reached the Mesozoic era, let alone the Cenozoic.

Aside: There’s 3 (if I recall correctly) baby future predators, without mother, in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. They’re mammals, therefore dependent on mom for milk (assuming they haven’t been weened.) There are no other mammals in the Permian, therefore it’s doubtful they could be raised, Romulus and Remus fashion, but some other beneficent creature. It’s likely that some or all of them will be killed before adulthood. Even if all three survived, their genetic pool is too shallow to have a long-lasting colony. There’s nothing even close for them to cross-breed with. They’re doomed in short order.

The baby predators conceivably wipe out an entire species or even more than one, but if those species were already going to die out, the effect could be negligible.

No. What Nick and Helen Cutter did back in the Permian could not have lead to Claudia Brown becoming Jenny Lewis.
So what could have? Still working the premise that Helen did this on purpose, let’s see what she could have done. For starters though, let’s consider this bit of biology: A human being is produced by the combination of a single egg and a single sperm. Mom produces one unique egg per month for her adult lifespan, dad produces millions in a single toss (so to speak.) For Claudia and Jenny to be the “same person in a different reality” as the show intimates, Jenny had to be the product of the exact same sexual act as Claudia. Considering the number of sperm working towards their goal, they’re couldn’t have been even a seconds’ difference in the act. It couldn’t have been on the kitchen table instead of the bed or the nearby park bench or the back of a car because that would have changed the result of the sperm race.
Therefore we have to conclude that not only are Jenny’s parents the same, but that her conception and the events that lead up to it were identical. That means whatever changed Claudia into Jenny happened after she was conceived.
Here’s what I consider a likely scenario: Mr. and Mrs. Brown conceive a baby. Very shortly after this moment, Mr Brown is removed from the picture, by some means, and before what would have been baby Claudia is born, Mr, Lewis marries the ex-Mrs. Brown and they raise the baby entirely as their own child. Jenny would almost have to be completely ignorant of Mr. Brown’s role in her formation, as she’d likely put 2 and 2 together when told the name of Claudia Brown. (“Hey, my mother’s first husband was named Brown, too! What a coincidence!”)
We also make some assumptions about the “normal flow of time.” We naturally assume something that didn’t happen in our timeline did happen in Jenny’s. But is that our natural tendency to see normality as a still stream that gets disturbed by a pebble. What if it is the reverse?
We don’t actually know that much about Claudia, and her history was erased, so perhaps the opposite happened in her universe. Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Lewis were biologically the parents and Mr. Brown came along to do the paternal duties. She may very well have known, but never mentioned this aspect of her family background because it was largely a trivial matter to her. There’s no way to compare it to Jenny Lewis until after the timeline change, and then the only people who would know what happened, Claudia is gone, and anyone who knew her family has forgotten her.
In this later scenario, it’s even possible that Claudia Brown was orphaned and adopted. Any of a number of things that might have led Jenny to becoming Claudia in our own timeline could have happened and we can never know – unless, of course, Helen knows, and if she did she probably took that with her to her grave.
And now, the entire program, Primeval, has taken that to its grave, too.
None of that explains the creation of the ARC, although it’s possible that, with no Claudia as government liaison, the alternate reality government team behaved differently and helped create the ARC. Perhaps the evil Leek (Claudia’s replacement) somehow pushed this entirely for his own machinations.
So what have we got? If Helen engineered Claudia’s disappearance, she did something after Claudia was already conceived, which seems a completely stupid approach. The alternative is, as I suspect, that Helen was not involved and that the writers just didn’t bother to think things through, insulting the audience once more in the process.

Are they just trying to alienate me? – Primeval – Series 3, Episode 5 – Review – Spoilers

I’ll never look at athlete’s foot the same way again.

Synopsis

Rich Sir Richard has a groovy pad in the city overlooking the Thames, his subordinate can’t tell the difference between a piece of modern art and anomaly. He’s sucked into another time but not before he deposits spores he’s been infected with on the floor. The anomaly disappears, trapping him – presumably forever.

Sir Richard later touches the spores and becomes infected, heading into the busy, yet picturesque, St. Pancras train station.

Back at the ARC, Conner’s little pets have chewed a cable, deactivating the anomaly detector. Once reconnected it registers the now-closed anomaly, which the team investigates. Conner takes a sample of the spores back to the ARC. At the same time, Danny Quinn breaks into the ARC trying to join the team.

At the ARC, Conner discovers the spores are virulent and contains them in the new environmental greenhouse.

Christine Johnson arrives at the ARC, looking for the artifact. Lester denies any knowledge of it. While Lester is distracted, Christine’s people snoop around and one becomes infected with the spores. When Conner and Danny try to rescue him, it’s too late. At first they think he is dead, but then he resurrects as a walking fungus monster. Conner thinks he kills the creature with heat and Danny, now somewhat improbably trusted with the task, heads to St. Pancras with flame throwers to destroy the creature Sir Richard has become.

Conner then learns heat helps the fungus spread and that freezing cold is the answer.

Danny captures the creature and brings it back to the ARC, where they’ve laid a freezing trap.

Jenny is nearly killed by both the creature and the freezing cold, but in the end (barely) survives. So, she quits the team and Danny is put in charge.

Analysis

Just another day in the completely illogical world of Primeval.

I’m not going to ask questions like, “What kind of life cycle does this fungus creature have? What does it gain by morphing into a man-like monster? What was the monster trying to do? Was it going to do the nasty with Jenny or was it just going to explode and spore on her? What kind of environmental pressures and conditions would lead to such a fungus to evolve? How did a walking collection of fungus make noises? It seemed like very little of Sir Richard was left, did it still have lungs? Why?”

OK, I’ll ask that question. WHY? WHY? WHY?

But most of all I’ll ask, “Why are they trying to ruin the show by having Jenny leave?” They’d just got her back to being Claudia-like and now she’s gone. Does anyone else buy this whole, “I used to be Claudia Brown now I don’t know who I am” nonsense? Obviously she doesn’t get it. No, she was never Claudia Brown. She is a genetically identical person in a different timeline. She’s no more Claudia Brown than identical twins are the same person.

At least Lester is getting a few good lines. He’s going to need them, pretty soon he’s going to have to carry the show by himself.

Here’s another one that frightens me, Abby’s little brother, Jack. So, what’s his point for being in the show? You never pay money for an actor/character if you’re not going to use them. Is it just to get Conner into a new apartment, and why would they want to do that. Surely Conner’s place for living is irrelevant. Is Jack going to be the next newest team member or is he going to be be eaten by something nasty so that Abby can decide to leave the team, too? Or… oh, no, no, no… what if Abby is killed and he takes her place on the team. That’s really adding insult to injury!

Here’s a couple things to throw out just to nit pick (and to avoid really tearing into the fungus monster). Detector? Cable chewed through? No alarms are sounded and yet, somehow the recording device still worked? I guess that idea is OK if you think of the equipment like a VCR, which typically traps the signal before reaching the final destination (the TV), but that’s not typically how ad-hoc devices like the anomaly detector are thrown together, which would do primary function first (hence the name, “primary“) and recording for analysis second.

This is a perfect example of what I mentioned in my previous review. Plot-wise, they’ve buttoned themselves into a corner. Without a stupid happening like this cable incident, they know too much, too soon about the appearance of the anomalies to tell a story that requires a “stealth” invasion through an anomaly. From now on – if there is an “on” in the future – we’re going to be subjected to an unavoidable stream of technical faults, accidents and sabotage to move the plots along.

Here’s another one: What’s that environmentally-controlled greenhouse room for? I mean apart from it’s immediate, one-time, disposable need in this particular episode? Has there ever been any indication that the ARC is attempting to collect samples from the past for research? The only specimens that I’m aware of are those that have become trapped – typically, they ones that come through and get trapped are not plants.

So here’s my last thought, my last glimmer of hope for Primeval not that both Jenny and Claudia are gone. The producers have done something admirable this year, they’ve eliminated the characters slowly, rather than waiting for the season finale. That’s depressing, because their “end” comes sooner, but plot-wise, it’s more dramatic and surprising, because everybody knows that characters (and more specifically actors) leave at the end of the season, not in the middle.

But why is that? It’s because television is a structured environment, actors are hired, usually, for whole series/seasons – typically, they’re paid for it even if they’re written out early – consequently, they’re not written out early.

I said “glimmer of hope,” didn’t I? Yes, I think we can actually count on that structure to return Jenny (or perhaps even Claudia), and even Cutter and maybe even Stephen for the series finale in about 2 or 3 episodes time. It’ll be a final farewell, and it will obviously have to involve some jiggery-pokery with the timelines again – which will perhaps “fix” some of the plot traps they’ve built into this timeline – assuming the series continues.

I wonder if it is significant that Quinn and Cutter never met?

Primeval – Cut Down – Series 3, Episode 3 – Review (Spoilers)

I didn’t see that coming.

Synopsis

The story opens with Helen drilling her Clone Troopers and demonstrating that they are mindless zombies by having one kill himself.

A reporter who has been unsuccessfully on the trail of the anomaly story stakes out the ARC in the hopes of getting the biggest story of all time.

An anomaly opens in a London hospital, Cutter, Conner, Abby and Becker go to investigate. The reporter follows them.

Inside the hospital, a small anomaly has opened and a hatching of baby Diictodons have come through and are chewing through the hospital’s wiring. Posing as a doctor, the reporter nearly captures one of the creatures after he locks Cutter and Abby into an operating room with a pregnant mother and the anomaly.

Back at the ARC, Helen reveals her secret weapon. She has cloned Cutter and uses him to infiltrate the ARC and shut down its defenses. The Clone Troopers move in, plant explosives and capture the remaining members of the team.

After Abby births the baby, Becker frees Cutter and the anomaly closes, leaving two diictodons that were captured by Abby and Conner. The return to the ARC, where they are all quickly captured by Helen and her boys.

Helen reveals to Cutter her motives. The future has been destroyed and it was the ARC that bred the super predators that destroyed the world. She has decided to destroy the ARC and stop Cutter’s work to save the world. However, she thinks Cutter knows the secret of the artifact both she and Lester’s boss, Caroline Steel, were trying to retrieve from the future. Cutter feigns knowledge of the artifact to stall for time.

Back in their cell, Becker helps everyone escape and then he and Conner try to the PA system to play a faked recording of Helen’s voice. They’ve determined that she has voice control over the soldiers and plan to broadcast new orders to them.

The plan works and the soldiers stand down, Helen commands Cutter’s clone to destroy the building. The clones are not mentally the same as the original and Helen considers them to be “living machines”. While Helen escapes, Cutter tries desperately to convince his clone that he is a real person and should not give up his life. Although he cannot convince him to abandon his programming, the clone gives Cutter a chance to escape.

Everyone gets out except Helen and Cutter goes back into the burning building to save her. He finds her unconscious and hides the artifact before he wakes her up to save her. What he doesn’t expect is that Helen is as determined as ever to stop the destruction of the world and she fatally shoots Cutter and then escapes.

Conner re-enters the building to save Cutter but finds him dying. Cutter shows him the artifact and tells him he has to carry on without him. Cutter dies in Conner’s arms.

Analysis

Things are obviously changing in the series. It’s no more mystery now about the cop from the last episode – he is undoubtedly going to come join the team in Cutter’s absence. Will the ARC be rebuilt? Should it? With all the workers walking around the place, none of them seem to do anything. Will Lester’s new boss and her hidden agenda prevent them from rebuilding. Will our team become rebel good guys, hiding from the law, just like the A-Team?

I do like one thing the writer has done in the episode. Helen has been increasingly appearing to be the over-the-top diabolical crazy villain that appears to want to take over the world. If we can take things at face value, now it would appear that her agenda is to save the world. She simply differs with Cutter over our place in the grand scheme of things. Can we be agents of change in the future for good or must we face the future and accept it meekly?

Amusingly, Cutter is on the wrong side of that argument, but one wonders why Helen cares? Being that she’s seen the depth of time for herself, she must also understand that nothing can last forever – including herself, and while she might be able to change the future, she can never live long enough to guarantee that it continues to lead to a future she desires.

Still, it’s nice to see Helen slightly less one-dimensional. It’s a pity she’s obviously not read any time travel fiction, or watched Doctor Who or she’d realize that history isn’t always right. The predators won’t have been created by the ARC (although the might escape from there) they’ll be released somehow by the very artifact that she took to ARC, meaning, ultimately that she will be culpable in the downfall of man through her own actions to save it. History is probably wrong because of some ill-informed journalism by the reporter who is dogging the team now.

I’ve had my misgivings about the make-up of the team for some time, and Cutter’s death doesn’t bode well for the future. Consider the first series team, A Paleontologist (Cutter), a second Paleontologist with big game hunting experience (Stephen), a third paleontology student with some computer skills (Conner), a zoologist (Abby) and two mandarins (Lester and Claudia.) Not exactly a crack squad of experts, but at least they were there because they were Johnny-on-the-spot.

Series 2 gets difficult. Conner certainly seems to have changed his specialty, now seemingly an electronics whiz, but apart from the Claudia/Jenny fiasco, the team remains much the same. Basically unqualified to investigate temporal phenomena, despite the vast resources of the ARC, the team has added no experts in physics, for example, or any other field that might help.

Now, we’ve added Dr. Page, who, as professor of mythology is… sorry… worthless, and we’ve lost Cutter, the brains of the outfit. They’re going to bring back that cop, who, while perhaps handy in a firefight, will be worthless at figuring out anything about the anomalies.

It doesn’t bode well.

Blakes 7 – Again and Again

BBC News => Blake’s 7 poised for Sky comeback

The satellite channel has given the green light for the development of two 60-minute scripts for a “potential event series”.

Hurray for Sky!

I can only hope that it was the BBC that made the mistake about adding the “‘” intro the title and not Sky. The apostrophe may be grammatically correct, but it isn’t Blakes 7.

(I can only hope they don’t screw it up like that damn Battlestar Galactica remake-in-name-only travesty.)