I've been anxiously awaiting the third season of to turn up on DVD and now that wait is finally over. The first two seasons were released together as Volume One, and though it's slightly confusing Volume Two of the show contains the entire third season. Oddly named or not, this set of shows is even more engaging than the first volume. In this season the show expands, bringing in new characters, killing off old ones (including some in lead roles), bringing in new protagonists and exploring just what is happening with the anomalies. This show just keeps getting better with age.
The world has changed, only most people don't know it. All of a sudden, without explanation, "anomalies" have started to appear throughout England. Looking like a shiny moving circle of broken crystals, these anomalies are actually doorways into the past. Two-way doorways which allow dinosaurs and prehistoric monsters to enter our world with often deadly results.
The first of these anomalies is discovered by Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), a biologist, and one of his students, the geeky but intelligent
Cutter is especially interested in the anomaly since his wife, Helen (Juliet Aubrey), had disappeared in the area eight years ago investigating some odd sightings. Her body was never found, but maybe this is the answer to what happened to her.
As it turns out, yes she did find an anomaly and has been living in the distant past all these years. She's been studying the dinosaurs and the gateways and now knows much, much, more than anyone else about them. She's not willing to share however, and seems to have a plan of her own.
At the end of season one, Cutter is has a battle in the past where several dinosaurs and humans are killed. When he arrives back at his own time, he discovers that reality has changed. Their efforts at dinosaur hunting now have the full backing of the government but Claudia is no longer the person he knew. She's now a PR agent who has never met Cutter before. Obviously there are significant ramifications when a prehistoric beast dies when it's not supposed to.
As the show opens the team is still reeling from the death of one of their members, Stephen Hart (James Murray), at the end of season two. While Stephen is replaced by a soldier, Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield), they still feel the loss and Cutter starts to wonder if they're actually making any progress.
To further that end he starts working on a theory to predict where the next anomaly will occur, and to start he creates a three dimensional model of the past anomalies, where they appeared, and where it was that they opened in the past.
To help him with this project he recruits an Egyptologist who had a run in with some prehistoric baddies, Sarah Page (Laila Rauass). One of the problems that the team at the ARC (Anomaly research Center) faces is that the anomalies don't only lead to the prehistoric past, but they open up to the future too, one where humanity has been exterminated by vicious predators.
This show has certainly evolved over the three short seasons it has been on the air. It could have easily been a 'monster of the week' show, with the team fighting a new variety of dinosaur in each episodes but it's much more than that. The mysteries about what Helen is up to, what the competing government agency is doing and why, and just what happened to humanity really drive the show. The characters are interesting but the seasons are so short (this one only has 10 episodes) and frankly they die so quickly that the creators wisely accent the action and SF aspects of the show.
This is one of the very few series that isn't afraid to kill off main characters in order to advance the plot. Not red shirts either, but people who are integral to the story. I really like that since it really ratchets up the tension. When someone is being chased by a hungry carnivore, you never really know if they'll escape or not. And kudos for them not bringing anyone back via an alternate time line or something like that. (There is one minor character that keeps popping up and dying, but he's a lacky of the villain.)
The characters and situations that they find themselves in are so enjoyable it's easy to overlook the fact that much of the show is a bunch of hokum. There are a lot of plot holes if you stop to think about it, and the group doesn't always think things through (why isn't everyone armed whenever they go to an anomaly, especially when they are hunting for Helen near the end of the season?) Some of the events are down right stupid too (Helen's grand plan for example). There's so much action and adventure it's easy to not dwell on these minor inconsistencies and just go with the flow. But if you can overlook these events you'll find a great program.
A show like this succeeds or fails in a large part due to the special effects. Created by the same group that did the "Walk with..." series of dinosaur documentaries, the CGI creatures generally look pretty good. Sometimes the CGI doesn't mesh perfectly with the surrounding, and dinosaurs 'feel' a little bit superimposed rather than part of the set itself, but the effects work more than they don't and especially in the exterior scenes it's easy to suspend your disbelief.
The 10 episodes that make up season three come on three DVDs that are housed in a fold out book. This comes in a nice embossed slipcase. The one thing they forgot to include anywhere on the packaging, as they did with the first set,
is a list of episodes. It's rather irritating when you're not sure which disc to pop in to find the episode that comes after the last one you watched.
The stereo audio track first the show well, thought it would have been enhanced by a 5.1 mix. The show is centers the dialog on the screen, but I couldn't help imagining how much more intense some of the dinosaur scenes would have been with a full surround mix. The voices are clean and clear, though there are one or two times when it's hard to understand every word from a rapidly delivered speech due to the accents. Luckily there are optional subtitles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image isn't as crisp and tight as I would have liked, though it does pretty good. Being a recent show I was hoping the colors would have been a bit brighter and the blacks just a tad darker, but these are more nit-picky problems that any real flaw with the picture quality. There is some digital noise in a couple of scenes where the sky is predominant in the framing, and a little aliasing, but again, these are minor problems. When all is said and done this is a solid looking TV show on DVD. Just not reference quality.
There are two video extras included with this set. First off is Cutter's Odyssey an 18-minute long overview of Cutter and his adventures in the series. Actor Douglas Henshall reminisces about his tenure on the show discussing each season and mentioning his favorite episodes. This was okay but Henshall spends a bit too much time explaining his character, something that is pretty obvious if you've seen the show.
The other video bonus is Genesis of a Creature 19-minute featurette that shows how one of the show's creatures were created. This particular monster was the result of a contest, won by 16-year old Carim Nahaboo. They follow Carim around as he tours the special effects studio where the CGI effects are created and they also make a visit to the set where a scene involving his creature is films. Following Carim aound was a nice touch and made this a little different from the standard CGI effects story. The extras are wrapped up with an audio commentary for the final episode in the season.
With an every growing set of conspiracies to deal with in addition to fighting dinosaurs, this show has become a favorite of mine. It's a program that will keep you guessing with some unexpected twist and the death of major characters. If you enjoy exciting SF adventure, than this is a show to check out. Highly Recommended.