The Dinosaurs That TV Forgot
Jurassic World opens for business this Friday. So although dinosaurs may be well and truly extinct outside of a rock festival theyll surely be trending worldwide once again.
Their natural habitat these days is on the big screen, where big bucks can deliver special effects that do justice to the mighty and majestic giant lizards. TV, though, has dabbled in a bit of prehistoric peril over the years. Even before computer generated imagery made photorealistic(ish) giant lizards possible on TV, small screen directors were recreating Cretaceous carnage with wires, puppets, papier-mch and anything else that came to hand.
So heres our guide to dino-TV. Weve concentrated on live action (sorry Dinosaucers, DinoSquad, Dinozaurs and about a million others starting with Dino) and dramas (sorry anything starting with Walking With). And weve ignored Barney. Just because
Why travel into the past to see dinosaurs when a temporal anomaly can bring dinosaurs to you? Primeval taught us something about dinosaurs we never knew before: they love shiny things. Clearly they do. Thats why whenever an sparkly anomaly appeared in their prehistoric landscape their first instinct was to run right into the blimmin thing.
Oddly, they would often emerge in a near deserted Docklands on a dreary Sunday morning. Then Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) and his motley team of scientists, security grunts and pop stars would track them down and try to herd them back into the anomaly before it closed. To its credit, the show did well to stretch its inherently limited monster-of-the-week format in a decent show. It also rarely stinted on dinos. While some other shows mentioned here would ration appearances of their monsters, Primeval knew who its stars were. Often the FX were very impressive too from massive monsters like the mammoth and the Gigantosaurus to smaller guys including a whole bunch of insects and even a prehistoric dodo!
Primeval: New World (2012-2013)
There was a Canadian spin-off of Primeval too. Same formula, different team, bigger mountains. It featured a guest appearance from the UK shows Connor Temple to confirm it existed in the same continuity but sadly he didnt stick around. Sadly, because he was the most interesting character in the pilot episode by far. The Canadian team were a charisma-free bunch. Humdrum plotting, an overwrought arc plot and creatures that felt overly familiar from the original show all meant that the show was cancelled after just one season. It had its moments and some good FX but it lacked the spark of the UK series.
Terra Nova (2011)
For all its faults Primeval: New World was vastly more entertaining than the lavish, overblown, Spielberg-produced Oviraptorosaur* Terra Nova (which, coincidentally, is Latin for New World). The show, which featured pioneers from an overpopulated future travelling back in time to colonise the prehistoric period, rapidly gained the nickname Spot The Dinosaur; the writers seemed to think that viewers would be more interested in the dull dramas of the half-baked human cast than the dinosaurs. Some episodes were so dino-lite it was like they were facing extinction all over again. The show was reportedly one of the most expensive TV dramas ever made but the money certainly wasnt being spent on the prehistoric creatures. (* Thats a prehistoric turkey, fact fans)
Disney and Hallmark produced both a four-part mini-series and a short-lived TV series based on James Gurneys lavishly-illustrated books about a lost island where intelligent dinosaurs and humans live and work side-by-side. Sadly neither of the live action versions captured or even attempted to capture the wonderful, almost steam-punk aesthetic of Gurneys work, opting for a more disappointingly prosaic generic middle-ages-inspired look instead. The plots were passable enough action/adventure fare, but the shows lacked the sheer majesty of the books. Plenty of dinosaurs on offer, though.
Land Of The Lost (1974-1976)
Land Of The Lost meant nothing in the UK until the 2009 Will Ferrell film. Actually, since that film was a monumental flop, it meant pretty much nothing afterwards too. But in the US Land Of The Lost is a bona fide cult phenomenon, endlessly repeated in syndication. Its a classic stranded family scenario, only this time the family the Marshalls find themselves in a parallel fantasy world of dinosaurs and intelligent lizard creatures.
The series was the brainchild of kids TV-producing hit factory duo Sid and Marty Krofft, best known for the surreal HR Pufnstuf. A lot of respected science fiction writers and scripters contributed to show, including Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad and Tribble creator David Gerrold. The dinosaurs (which included a T-rex named Grumpy and a Brontosaurus called Dopey) were achieved with a mix of puppets and stop-motion, which was costly and time-consuming and meant that a lot of footage was re-used on a regular basis.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1999-2002)
Around the turn of the millennium US TV was churning out a whole bunch cheapncheerful action adventure series based on public domain properties such as The New Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Adventures Of Sinbad, The Legendary Journeys Of Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess and this series. It was based on Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 ripping yarn about a team of explorers headed by Professor Challenger finding a prehistoric plateau full of fanciful and fearsome creatures.
It was resolutely lowbrow, formulaic fluff, making more use of scantily clad women than dinosaurs to lure in a juvenile audience. The dinos were CG and increasingly scarce as the seasons went on.
The Lost World (2001)
A more prestigious stab at a live action version of The Lost World came in the form of this mini-series with Bob Hoskins well-cast as Professor Challenger. Its a surprisingly faithful adaptation, full of rip-roaring adventure and fine CGI dinosaurs (courtesy of the team behind the mockumentary series Walking With Dinosaurs). Its main problem is that its overlong and padded. Sadly the padding mostly involves some not very exciting ape-men whereas more dinosaurs would have been good.
This was The Flintstones with a twist. The twist being it was actually funny.
Actually the real twist was that the family at the heart of this sitcom were all dinosaurs. The series was made by the Jim Henson Creature Workshop and the dinosaurs were created using various techniques learnt fro years of working on The Muppets, Sesame Street, Dark Crystal and Labyrinth: costumes, puppets, animatronics. As usual with Henson projects, it was all to easy to forget about the felt and latex and just enjoy these wonderful characters.
For a sitcom, though, it had a bizarrely bleak final episode, with all the dinosaurs shivering as the Ice Age that will kill them all off starts to bite; an Ice Age they triggered themselves in their eco-ignorance.
Dino Dan (2009-2011)
10-year-old paleontologist-in-training Dan Henderson has one big advantage when it comes to indulging his prehistoric passion dinosaurs roam his neighbourhood. This Canadian/American kids series has an educational element to it as Dan learns all about dino-behaviour. Whats never quite clear is if the incredibly colourful dinosaurs he sees are real or not. His dog seems to know theyre there too so maybe theyre not just in his imagination, but they never seem to leave behind much evidence of their existence like dino dung in the rose beds or mass hysteria.
"People think dinosaurs are extinct, ponders Dinosapiens lead character Lauren Slayrton, but what if theyre wrong?" Well, people, you are wrong, at least according to this CBBC show. Dinosaurs evolved into intelligent creatures and Lauren and her scientist mum who just happen to live in a dinosaur-themed summer camp are the first humans to make contact with them. For some bizarre reason all the CG dinos look like theyve been achieved using stop motion.
Prehistoric Park (2006)
We havent included the documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs or any of its multitude of spins-off (Chased By Dinosaurs, Sea Monsters, Walking with Beasts, Walking with Monsters) in this list as were concentrating on dramas. But there was one extension of that formula that almost count. In Prehistoric Park the conceit is that naturalist uses a time machine to travel into the past to study dinosaurs and perhaps find a way to prevent their extinction. Has he never heard of the butterfly effect?
Doctor Who: The Silurians (1970)
Now for a few shows that have featured guest appearances from dinosaurs in specific episodes. Lets kick off with good old Doctor Who which, as you can well guess, has featured prehistoric action a number of times over its 52-year run. In his second adventure, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) encounters the Silurians (who should really have been called Eocenes but thats a whole other feature). They are a reptilian race from the time of the dinosaurs who were Earths prime intelligent species before humanity. They put themselves into voluntary subterranean hibernation when global disaster threatened then a technical glitch meant they overslept by a few thousand millennium. Now finally awakening they use an unidentifiable dinosaur as a giant guard dog. Unidentifiable because the puppet used in the episode is so poorly made (The novelisation says its a T-rex and lets face it, T-rexes are in no position to sue for defamation of character.)
Doctor Who: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs (1974)
Later in the Third Doctors era he encountered a whole bunch of dinosaurs when a bunch of evil eco-nut scientist started dabbling with time. Suddenly London was invaded by stegosauruses, T-rexes and flying reptiles. Some of the model sets are great; some of the puppet dinosaurs arent too bad when theyre not required to actually do anything. But as soon as they move, or are badly composited into the live action images, it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. You cant fault the shows ambition, though. Just its budget.
Doctor Who "The Mark Of The Rani (1985)
The fifth Doctor became partially responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs using a Cyberman bomb in Earthshock but no actual prehistoric beasts appeared (apart from in fossil form). He then spent a story in the Pleistocene era (or somewhen close) without spotting any thunder liards. Better watch out for the odd brontosaurus, he tells his companions but clearly the budget wasnt going to stretch to that back in 1982.
So the next actual dino-sighting in Who was in the Sixth Doctor story Mark Of The Rani when the Doctor discovers a baby T-rex in a glass tube aboard the Ranis TARDIS. It later escapes, grows (unconvincingly) and terrorises the Rani in her own time machine. It looks for all the world like a large rubber toy dinosaur. And wobbles like one too.
Doctor Who: The Wedding Of River Song (2011)
It wouldnt be until the Eleventh Doctor that the errant Time Lord would again encounter dinosaurs but they returned big time. Eleven could hardly move without rubbing against reptilian shoulders. Oddly, though, despite the fact he met the Silurians again there were no dinosaur guard dogs this time. Instead the first dino-sighting in his era was in the alternate time-line of Big Bang when we could see bodies of dinosaurs found frozen in ice, exhibited in the National Museum.
The first live dinos in an Eleventh Doctor story appeared in yet another alternate time line in The Wedding Of River Song. Time has become stuck and all Earth eras converge, meaning that some species of pterosaur can be seen flying through the skies of London.
Doctor Who: Dinosaurs On A Spaceship (2012)
Soon after that the Eleventh Doctor encountered a spaceship full of dinosaurs including pterosaurs in the engine room! (Its a very big engine room that has its own micro-climate). The Doctor ends up riding a triceratops while Amy tries to avoid waking a baby T-rex. Its all wonderfully silly and a hell of a lot of fun.
Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)
The Twelfth Doctors era starts with a T-rex swallowing the TARDIS and then being taken on a journey through time to Victorian London. At which point we also learn that the Doctor can talk dinosaur or, at least, thats what he claims.
Sticking with Whoniverse, the Doctors pals at Torchwood (Cardiff division) kept a pet pterodactyl at the Hub. It was perfectly house trained and loved to eat dark chocolate and a specially created barbecue sauce. Said barbecue sauce could be smeared on enemies lets say, a cyberwoman for example to encourage the pterodactyl to dive bomb on her.
Red Dwarf Pete (1999)
Pete is actually a sparrow. But this is Red Dwarf, and so with the wave of a time wand (no, honestly, thats what its called a time wand) he instantly evolves into a Tyrannosaurus Rex which goes on a rampage. Listers response is to feed it curry but Pete isnt impressed and it gives him the almighty squits. Not good for the crew members trying to capture him at the time.
Sliders In Dino Veritas (1996)
Sliders was a show in which the main cast travelled to parallel version of present day Earth where there was always some significant difference from our reality. In "In Dino Veritas" the arrive in a reality where San Francisco is a massive dinosaur reserve. Which sounds exactly as exciting as the episode isnt. The ropey CG dinosaurs make blink and youll miss them cameos, while the main cast sit in caves nattering endlessly.
Star Trek: Voyager Distant Origin (1997)
There have been surprisingly few dinosaurs in the Trek franchise considering its love of time travel shenanigans. In the Enterprise episode Storm Front Part II theres a glimpse of a T-rex-type dino when Captain Archer restores a damaged timeline. Then in Voyagers Distant Origin we meet the Voth, a race who the Voyager crew ascertain using the holodeck are distant descendants of a dinosaur called the hadrosaur.