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British Sci-Fi Gets ‘Primeval’

By John Latchem | Posted: 31 Oct 2008

BBC Video is stepping up efforts to expand its science-fiction profile beyond “Doctor Who.”

Earlier this year, the studio, which distributes through Warner Home Video, released the British cult comedy TV series “Spaced” in a new boxed set for American audiences. While not strictly sci-fi, the show uses pop-culture references to target the main sci-fi demographic.

Nov. 4, BBC Video releases Primeval Vol. 1, which collects the first two seasons of the British show about a group of scientists tracking dinosaurs that have been brought from the past to the present.

“As a whole, the United Kingdom the past five years has tried to update the output of sci-fi and fantasy it produces,” said Burton Cromer, SVP of consumer products for BBC Worldwide. “Science-fiction is a great category for DVD.”

“Primeval” was created by Tim Haines and Adrian Hodges. Haines previously created the hit “Walking With …” faux-documentary series that fictionally re-creates extinct species to film them as wildlife videos.

In Britain, “Primeval” was actually created by BBC rival ITV, but airs in the United States on BBC America and is one of the stateside channel’s most popular shows, Cromer said.

However, BBC’s core sci-fi franchise remains “Doctor Who” and its spin-offs, “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures.”

Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series streets Nov. 18, along with a companion DVD, the animated adventure Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest, which features the voice talent of the stars from the live-action version.

The new “Doctor Who” series, which began in 2005, is a revival of the classic 1963-89 series of the same name. The classic series spans hundreds of episodes, the home video rights to which are controlled by BBC, which some exceptions.

A 1996 TV movie was jointly produced by Fox and BBC and is tied up by rights issues, Cromer said. And several of the earlier episodes were lost when the original tapes were re-used. Archiving television material was not a priority of most studios in the 1960s. But many episodes have been recovered over the years through affiliate stations or fan collections, and others have been re-created using original audio and new animation.

The style of the production is also differed from current standards. The British model, Cromer said, often let creators make as many episodes as they wanted, and stop when they grew tired of the project. Most early “Doctor Who” episodes were half-hour adventures and produced in blocks to create lengthy serialized storylines.

Cromer said BBC Video has access to 130 complete “Doctor Who” serials, and so far has released 80 of them on DVD.

The current incarnation of “Doctor Who,” as well as “Torchwood,” is an hour-long series that offers some serialized storylines, but for the most part is produced using the American TV model, with a certain number of episodes per season. “Sarah Jane” is produced in the half-hour format.

While “Doctor Who” is an institution in England, and was always a cult hit in the United States, the new incarnations of the franchise have helped grow its stateside fan base. Cromer said that sales of DVDs of classic “Who” episodes jumped 50% when the revival series began.

“Doctor Who,” “Torchwood” and “Sarah Jane Adventures” also let producers target three distinct audiences. “Doctor Who” has always been considered a family friendly show in Britain, even if the core audience skews older in the United States, Cromer said. “Sarah Jane” is designed to be more kid-friendly, while “Torchwood” is clearly meant for mature audiences. The latter show is marked by harsher language and edgier sexual content, including same-sex trysts for every main cast member.

“‘Torchwood’ definitely broadens the audience,” Cromer said. “Especially among women and gays.”

The third season of “Torchwood,” due to air early in 2009, will follow a more traditional British production model in that the creators will produce only five episodes to tell a single serialized story.

“This is a great time for British sci-fi,” Cromer said.


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