The Primeval Design

Posted in Audio by - February 14, 2021
The Primeval Design

Released February 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To conclude the tenth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, the Doctor takes Leela to 1830 Dorset to visit the noted paleontologist Mary Anning in Helen Goldwyn’s ‘The Primeval Design.’ Just as quickly as they arrive, however, the two find themselves squarely in dangerous territory when a body is found that has been attacked by some animal far larger than anything native to the area and a new discovery in the midst of a professional and societal rivalry just may be far more important and subversive than ever imagined.

Over the years, Doctor Who has shed a light on many historical figures whose importance has never been forgotten but whose names may not necessarily headline historical discussions, and Mary Anning receives wonderful exploration here as a brilliant woman who is so restricted by her gender at this particular time. She is passionate, dedicated, and desperate to achieve the recognition she deserves and that her male counterparts receive, and Lucy Briggs-Owen imbues an infectious enthusiasm and wonder to this famed figure that makes it incredibly easy to understand why she has persisted with her chosen profession despite the hardships society has artificially placed upon her and why she is able to remain grounded and to maintain such an open and accepting mind as everything she thought she knew about the natural order of the world and its past is thrown into flux. Even when not compared to the high-handedness and entitlement of rival Dr Richard Numan whom Ian Conningham so ably plays, Anning is a true testament to the human race at any point in time, and the depth afforded her by a slower pace allows her to develop into a truly three-dimensional person who could easily fill the role of companion should the Doctor ever ask her.

Yet despite the strong characterization that Anning receives, the overall pacing of ‘The Primeval Design’ does lag in several paces. This is an audio range that has primarily been filled with snappier two-parters, and although the expanded and more traditional four-part mould allows for worlds, times, and people to be developed much more dynamically, here it doesn’t quite seem like there is enough material to fill the allotted time. Nonetheless, the secondary plotline that Leela anchors of a young couple expecting and welcoming their newborn child to the world is a fitting diversion that itself houses plenty of great character moments, and Louise Jameson- as always- gives an incredible performance that brings out the very best of Leela’s more compassionate and action-oriented sides. Likewise, Tom Baker gives a commanding performance throughout as the Doctor, steadily guiding the slowly-building and subtle tension while also audaciously taking charge when needed. Yet even with hints and revelations pointing to an inevitable alien involvement that does somewhat take away from the mystique that an Earthly threat could have posed, the conglomerative and resultingly enormous final threat that would be so befitting of the Russell T Davies era on television feels sorely out of place in this more deliberative tale no matter how effectively it ultimately serves to resolve the plot. It does seem that Goldwyn tried to purposefully insert a few grandiose moments to break up the thought-provoking conversations and deliberations, and while they all add a certain amount of fun to proceedings, the end effect when taking the story as a whole is somewhat jarring. Still, ‘The Primeval Design’ offers a fantastic exploration of Mary Anning and has plenty to recommend for fans of this era while ending this latest series on a highly memorable note.

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