Terra Nova

Originally written for TV Pixie


It’s 2149 and all of humanity is threatened with extinction due to their being horrible, polluting warmongers with an addiction to tablet PCs and iPods.
The solution? Close down every branch of Dixons? Clean up our act?

Don’t be silly: that’s never going to happen. No, let’s send people back in time. 85 million years back, in fact, to found a new civilization in uncharted territory: one that conveniently happens to contain exciting dinosaurs with big teeth that look rather thrilling on screen.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Terra Nova. The time travel in question is achieved via a handy, recently discovered rift in the space-time continuum (where would TV and film writers be without them?) that happens to drop people in a handily survivable era of Earth rather than, say, the Hadean eon when the planet was a sea of magma with a rock vapour atmosphere.

“But wait!”, I hear you cry. “What about cause and effect? If they go back in time, won’t they end up having it off with their own mothers like Marty McFly nearly did in Back to the Future?”

Aha: the writers have very handily got round that by having the space time thingummywhatsit link to a different ‘time stream’, presumably in a slightly alternate Universe: one that doesn’t have your mother in it, or any butterflies you shouldn’t step on. They’re so clever!

All of this crucial information is exposed in very pointed and obvious dialogue between the show’s main characters: an annoyingly good-looking family consisting of a skilled Doctorwife, a bad-boy Cophusband with a troubled past (but of course), a bratty son with father issues (‘you left us for two years!’), a teenaged ‘nerd’ daughter and a teeth-grittingly winsome five year-old who ends up feeding the dinosaurs in episode one – and not in the gory way you might hope.

But for all that the characters are walking cliché: so annoying you feel as if you’re watching a group of Hooray Henrys go on their ‘gap yaah’, not to mention the fact that the setting is Flintstones-ridiculous (I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of the characters had brought out a pelican cement mixer). Oh, and the incidental music is so brash you feel as if you’re stuck in a lift at a budget hotel…

Despite all of that, somehow, after about an hour and a half, Terra Nova started to suck me in.

Part of it is the rather sumptuous location: Australian rainforest with a generous helping of CGI. The well-rendered dinosaurs are another draw, although they’re a bit too computerized for my liking. The looming brachiosaurs had none of the nuance and realism of the ones in Jurassic Park, which came out (warning, you’re about to feel old) nearly two DECADES ago.

Obviously Terra Nova doesn’t have JP’s $64 million budget – that’s a trillionty pounds in today’s money – but it does have Stephen Spielberg as a producer: and at $4 million per episode Terra Nova isn’t coming in cheap.

OK, perhaps it’s not fair to nitpick. The dinos aren’t half bad, but the problem is they’re having to make up for a lot.

For example, two episodes in and we’re already starting to see the familiar tropes that troop out when you have a ‘creative team’ working on a series. There’s an unwillingness to be particularly daring or new when you’re spending $4,000,000 a pop – particularly amongst executives. There’s the aforementioned rebellious teenager: the ‘baddies’ in the form of a breakaway sect from the main camp (Sixers) who ride around in Mad Max style battlecars with guns on top. Not to mention the mysterious ‘Lost’-style writing and technological glyphs carved into a waterfall; I half expected to see a polar bear wander past in the background.

Of course, those conventions are conventional because, well, they work. To an extent anyway. The mysteries suck you in; the lush setting pleases the eye, the dinosaurs look – well – cool. It helps that by the end of the second episode the slightly cartoonish Centerparcs-meets-Jurassic-Park feel starts to wear off, helped on its way by a rather visceral fight between a load of carnivorous dinosaurs and some preppy teens: it’s Dawson’s Creek meets Predator.

It seems likely that Terra Nova’s leader is hiding quite a few things from the settlers, that he somehow wants to ‘control the past to control the future’ (although how is that possible if they’re in a separate ‘time stream’?) and that his estranged son is responsible for the weird scrawls and equations on the waterfall. Hmmm, intriguing.

They’ll have to work quite hard to make us care about dull, chisel jawed ex cop Jim Shannon and his 2.4 children, but it seems the mysteries (and the dinos) are intriguing enough to make viewers come back for more. For now.


About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

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