It’s a family drama going out on Saturday evenings, it’s got time travel, a Scots leading man and a sidekick played by a blonde pop-star-turned-actress. It’s fair to say that ITV’s Primeval has invited comparison with Doctor Who, but it’s a lazy association to make; the new show’s more of a Stargate-esque ensemble piece, with a team of experts called in by the government to deal with prehistoric monsters who’ve wandered through rips in the fabric of space-time.
Leading the task force is Douglas Henshall as Professor Nick Cutter – one of those names you only get in TV dramas – with support from James Murray as resident beefcake Stephen Hart, Hannah Spearritt as zoologist Abby Maitland and Andrew-Lee Potts as the team’s pet geek, Connor Temple. Not that he’s anything like his character, of course.
“No,” says Potts, “I’m a rock star! Why is that funny? Am I a bit geeky? I suppose maybe I am, I don’t know. I think geeks are cool – they invented the internet, y’know? I think I’ve got a little bit more social ability than Connor Temple. I’m a bit better with the ladies…”
“He’s a real innocent,” he adds, “and I think – I hope – that a lot of people would connect to him on that basis. This is the thing about Connor; it’s really nice for a writer to take a character who’s full of life and full of joy, and devastate his world. And that’s what happens in Primeval; it goes really up and down and through that, you see a lot of different sides to Connor that you wouldn’t necessarily know were there. He appears to live on the surface a lot, but I think once a lot of stuff happens to him, Professor Cutter starts to take him under his wing a bit.”
For the actors, one of the biggest challenges was learning to work with the CGI dinosaurs – represented on set by an FX guy waving a tennis ball on a stick around. “It is strange, yeah – but it’d be strange for anybody in that situation,” Potts says. “What I found was weird was when you look at a creature you don’t just look in its eyes, do you? Which is what they were giving us, and I don’t they’d thought through the whole thing; you have to take in its whole body. It was a real learning thing together, because the guys who did Walking With Dinosaurs had never done drama, they’d never worked with actors, and we’d never worked with CGI creatures. What I found most difficult was reacting to the same sort of shock levels as the person next to me – because when you’re looking at a tennis ball on a stick and you look really scared, and the person next to you looks kind of mediocre, then it might come across a bit weird…”
As well as the dinosaurs that dominate the first episode, the team get to tackle sea monsters and giant centipedes in the London Underground. “The creatures that start to come throughout during the series, every time they come through it’s at a time you least expect – and it’s a thing you don’t expect,” Potts explains. “That’s why it reminded me of Lost, in a way; because you really don’t know where it’s headed. When we shot it, we didn’t know what was happening in the last three scripts; it’s cool for us as well, we don’t know where it’s going and how it’s going to turn out.”
Oh, go on, give us a clue. “There is a cliffhanger, but there’s a cliffhanger and then a cliffhanger and then a cliffhanger. It’s really, like…” – eloquence deserts him – “aaagh. It does leave you like that. There has to be another series, it’s left so open at the end. I would hope Connor comes back, I think he probably will. But that’s not to say that all the characters make it.”