Tag Archives: Time Travel

Primeval – Series 3, Episode 9 – Review, Spoilers

Well, New Zealand are out of the World Twenty20, so it’s time to review this episode of Primeval I overlooked. (OK, I intentionally overlooked it the first time around.)

Synopsis

We open with a peaceful, pastoral countryside, suddenly disrupted by horrifying freaks of nature: A camp full of young people with ATVs. But there’s more than just modern horrors in the woods, there’s also embolotherium. A prehistoric rhino-like creature. In fact, there’s a whole heard of them and they don’t half make a mess of a guy on an ATV.

Meanwhile, Danny Quinn is following up on the mysterious woman from the future who was captured by Christine Johnson’s military. Despite Lester’s warnings, Quinn breaks into Johnson’s facility after he sees the woman being held captive inside.

Under interrogation, the mystery woman reveals that, in the future, everyone is dead. Killed by the predators, but she doesn’t know where they came from. She also reveals that anomalies are rips in time, and that they are “everywhere”, but that some of them are invisible. She indicates that she knows how to find them, but she must talk to the people at the ARC. She is also in possession of a device which she refuses to explain.

Danny breaks her out.

At the campsite, the rest of the team go through the typical plot complications trying to get the embolotherium back through the anomaly, which closes before all of them are through.

Danny arrives with the mystery woman just as a stampede causes the embolotherium to thunder towards the unsuspecting campers. Just as all looks lost, the mystery woman uses the device to open an anomaly right in front of the camp and sends the herd through.

Dumbstruck, Danny takes her to the ARC, but not before stealing her notebook and giving it to Sarah to decode. The mystery woman, in turn, steals a gun.

Johnson hasn’t been taking Danny’s intrusion sitting down, and is at the ARC serving Lester with a warrant for Quinn’s arrest and the surrender of the artifact.

Danny arrives and is arrested, but then the mystery woman reveals that she is Helen Cutter using future disguise technology. She explains that she had to kill Nick Cutter to save the world, but that it didn’t work, and so she has to make sure it works next time. She kidnaps Johnson, takes the artifact and heads back to Johnson’s headquarters and her private anomaly.

She tells Johnson that she specifically is the civil servant that caused the entire destruction of the world by the predators, and she takes her through the anomaly, where she’s killed by a future predator. Helen also closes off Johnson’s anomaly after she’s dead.

Danny Quinn vows to chase Helen to the ends of time to stop her.

Analysis

I purposely didn’t write this one up because there’s so little to recommend this episode.

The episode adds a new piece to the equation: That there are lots of anomalies everywhere, but that they are somehow invisible/inaccessible. The device Helen has seems to be able to locate and open them. Also, for the first time, there’s some indication that Conner’s anomaly detectors experience some form of crude interference when near a closed anomaly. There’s never been any mention of this before and they’ve been standing next to several closed anomalies in the past. Even still, when the interference is introduced into the show, it’s not very clear what it is or why it is important. It’s not used or mentioned again.

It’s somewhat interesting that, when Helen killed Cutter in an earlier episode, she blamed the ARC for the release of the predators and the destruction of the world. In this episode she blames Christine Johnson. Is she just guessing? If she was right, did she create a new kind of time paradox by taking Christine into a future that she created and killing her there before she could create that very same future? Is Helen just bat-shit crazy?

Perhaps it will all make sense in the next and final episode? (Don’t hold your breath.)

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.

Primeval – A Tale of Three Cliffhangers

Cliffhangers. The bane of modern television and the province of hack writers.

Oh sure, cliffhangers have been around for a long time, they go back at least as far as the Saturday-afternoon movie series of the 30s. Cleverly designed stories intended to get the kids back each week to spend their hard-earned cash.

Did it go back further? Did cliffhanger vaudeville shows exist? What about live theatre? DId Shakespeare ever write a cliffhanger?

When is a cliffhanger an important plot device rather than a cheat to the audience that forces them to return to get the rest of the story?

Even if you didn’t pay money, you’ve invested your time. At what point were you cheated out of your time by the writer stopping in the middle of a story and saying, “See ya’ later!”?

Rarely did this used to happen in “real” movies. The first I can recall, The Empire Strikes Back, was a horrible cheat. The story had no resolution at all and was nothing more than a setup for the third and final movie. Given the choice, I would have preferred to wait and watch both at the same time, rather than waiting years between them.

TV series began this sort of thing sometime back in the 80’s (As I recall, anyway). Presumably as a means to get viewers to write the networks and demand their show be renewed. Cliffhanger? Artistic statement or cynical attempt to manipulate the public?

As you may have ascertained, I’m of dual-mind on the subject. When I know, in advance and with my own agreement that a story is a cliffhanger, I have no problem with it. When there’s a four-part Doctor Who, I know parts one, two and three are going to end of a (sometimes horribly lame) cliffhanger, but I also know the story will completed and the end of part four and that my investment of time will be rewarded. (Horns of Nimon, notwithstanding.)

So, let’s look at Primeval. I gather that Primeval is taking a week off and next week will be back with the series’ finale. I also gather that DVDs of the third series are already “in the wild” and you only need do a few minutes research on the net and you’ll know what happens next week. For the sake of disclosure, I might through this discourse reveal spoilers about the finale, as it’s been spoiled for me.

Let’s start at the beginning with series one.

Anomalies started forming, strange creatures were getting through. Paleontologist Nick Cutter accidentally (or through the intervention of his missing wife) gets drawn into the story. Also, Stephen his assistant, Conner a student and Abby a zoo worker are drawn in. They get bound up by the Official Secrets act and start working with Lester and Claudia Brown. In the first episode, with an anomaly open to the Permian, Cutter goes through and finds a dead human skeleton and a camera. When the pictures are developed, they are of his missing wife, Helen.

We have a mystery – several actually. What are the anomalies? Who is the dead person? What does Helen know?

Through the series, we learn nothing about the anomalies. They are, as best we can tell, freak natural events with no rhyme or pattern. We do learn, slowly, that Helen knows something about them and that she has some connection with Stephen.

We learn that there are “junction points” of anomalies, where multiple anomalies exist, which Helen seems to be able to navigate.

Finally, a terrifying future predator comes through the Permian anomaly (apparently another anomaly exists in the Permian which leads to the future.) Cutter, along with Helen and military backup take some orphaned (Cutter thinks) baby future predators through the anomaly in an attempt to find the future anomaly, but they escape in the Permian.

Cutter realizes, too late, that this second Permian anomaly isn’t exactly the same as before. It now leads to an earlier point in the Permian. One of the team is killed (leaving the human skeleton that Cutter found previously (in the past’s future) and Cutter also takes the photos of Helen that they retrieved from the camera.

Escaping with lives, Helen and Cutter return to the present, not realizing that baby predators were left behind.

In the present, Helen reveals that she plans to continue exploring the anomalies and drops the bombshell on Cutter that she had an affair with his trusted friend and confidant, Stephen, then escapes into the closing anomaly.

Only then does Cutter learn that Claudia Brown has ceased to exist and no one remembers her except himself. End of series one.

Let’s look at that cliffhanger a little in regards to the context of the series.

There were really two mysteries in the first series. One was the anomalies themselves and nothing really was learned about them at all. They started for no apparent reason, appeared with no apparent pattern, and had no apparent one-to-one relationship between time and space. They were presented as almost a force of nature – one that is not understood, but cannot be avoided. It’s the mystery that is not to be solved. Perhaps it has no solution.

But there was a mystery or two that could be solved: Who was the dead body, and what was Helen doing having her picture taken in the Permian? These mysteries were cleared up. The writers gave us the answers that they had been promising. The cliffhanger, with Claudia Brown being going and time being changed was new, unexpected and a teaser. I can’t say I liked it, but it was a surprise new mystery.

In the second series, once again, we’re presented with a series of mysteries. The anomalies continue in pretty much the same fashion, albeit with the added factor of Conner’s anomaly detector telling them where they are.

In the second series, we wonder who is the traitor at the ARC? When we learn it is Leak, we wonder what’s he up to? Will Stephen be fooled by Helen? Will he betray his friends? How dumb can Conner be about his girlfriend? Who is the mysterious “Cleaner” who dies in the first episode but shows up again and again?

By the end of the series, all these questions have been answered, with the possible exception of the identity of the Cleaner. At least we are informed at the end that he is not one indestructible person, but an army of identical individuals. There’s not much of a cliffhanger in series two. It’s more Helen pointing out that time can be changed and that, perhaps, she’ll be bringing Stephen back. No cliffhanger is really needed, because after the first series started airing, Primeval was guaranteed two more series production.

Now we come to the third series. Ratings have been steadily declining, but the series is still popular. Ad revenue is down, but the cost of the show is high. The fate of Primeval is uncertain.

This year we start to learn something about the anomalies. They’re been around forever. (Well, obvious really, since know they go back at least as far as the Silurian.) More than that, they’ve been around throughout human history, undetected. They can be predicted, first by Cutter’s model, then by the mysterious future ARC artifact. They can be controlled with a proper (again future ARC) device. There is another government conspiracy aiming to use the anomalies for purpose or purposes unknown. They can be captured and moved using magnetism. They can be locked down. They have something to do with a mysterious government project from before the second world war. Finally, at last, the mystery of the anomalies is beginning to unravel.

Helen’s back, and she’s got a new mystery. She has seen the future. Mankind has been destroyed by the future predators. For some reason, she blames the ARC and Nick Cutter for unleashing the predators on the world. She has a crusade to save the world and she is so fanatical she kills Cutter to prevent the future she has seen. It doesn’t work. The mysterious artifact from the future has some purpose, but what?

So how do we fare by the end of the third series? In, we learn nothing about the cause of the anomalies. Do the mysterious future devices create them or simply open and close existing one. Looking at episodes 9 and 10, it seems in episode 9 they can open one anywhere, but in 10 you have to seek them out – and they clearly can’t be opened to just any point in time and space. We learn nothing about the pre-war project, in fact, the team ignore it completely. We know nothing of Christine Johnson’s military project. They do nothing with the ability to move anomalies. We learn that, in the future, the ARC has the technology to map and to open and close anomalies, nothing more. From episode 9 to episode 10, Helen’s plan to save mankind from destruction at the hands of the future predators suddenly becomes a plan to save the big, beautiful Earth from mean old mankind instead. All she had to do was look at the future without man to realize that the world didn’t need saving, it took care of it itself. Her madness dies with her at the end of the series. So, with the exception of Helen attempting to stop… something, all the mysteries in series three are left unanswered. On top to that, they strand Danny in the Pliocene, and Abby and Conner up a tree in the Cretaceous.

This is a series’ ending designed nothing more than to irritate people into demanding another series of Primeval, but perhaps they’ve forgotten the most important thing. If you shit on your audience too often, they don’t always come back.

Just in time for Primeval

Discover magazine has posted the following Rules for Time Travelers.

Actually, it takes most of the fun out of the whole concept, but in summary they are:

0. There are no paradoxes

1. Traveling into the future is easy

2. Traveling into the past is hard – but maybe not impossible

3. Traveling through time is like traveling through space

4. Things that travel together, age together

5. Black holes are not time machines

6. If something happened, it happened

7. There is no meta-time

8. You can’t travel back to before the time machine was built

9. Unless you go to a parallel universe

10. And even then, your old universe is still there

I strongly encourage the writers of Primeval to read them…

…of course, it would be the end of the show… but that can’t be far off, anyway.