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Documentary reviews

Dino Docs: Prehistoric Park

In 2006, my grandfather recorded Prehistoric Park on VCR. I still watch it to this day. A review of my favourite docuseries, BBC’s Prehistoric Park.

Life is simultaneously strange and somewhat boring given the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost every public institution has been temporarily shut down, creating a massive gap in the entertainment aspect of our lives. During these difficult times, I have chosen to make the most out of this situation by binging movies and television series pertaining to my favorite topic: Prehistory! In my newest series of articles, I will be re-watching these forms of media and writing articles reviewing key aspects of each documentary. To kick this off, I chose my favorite piece of dinosaur media in existence: the legendary BBC series Prehistoric Park.

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What’s it about?

Prehistoric Park follows a simple but very current premise: British zoologist Nigel Marven travels to prehistory to rescue ancient animal species that are about to go extinct. Over the course of six episodes, Nigel travels throughout the earth’s history, rescuing amazing species ranging from two juvenile Tyrannosaurus’, to the giant dragonfly Meganeura and even a woolly mammoth, and several other species.

Is it Good?

Yes! In its brief run, Prehistoric Park managed to become a truly remarkable series; an accurate, interesting, and most importantly, highly enjoyable program that appeals to people of all ages. I was 4 years old when I watched Prehistoric Park for the first time, and it made me want to go back in time and rescue dinosaurs too. To this day, I still watch the series once a month, with each viewing being just as appealing as the last.

Is it Scientifically Accurate?

Relatively: Aside from a few species appearing in places and times they should not (take the Terror bird who appears a million years after their apparent extinction), the science which informs the show was accurate with its 2006 release date. With spot-on depictions of the ancient world, interesting and accurate facts on ancient life, and cool representations of animal behaviors, Prehistoric Park remains accurate to this day. The sole scientific issue I can recall is of Toxodon behaviour, details so minute they truly do not affect the watchability of Prehistoric Park.

Underrated Aspect?

The beauty of Prehistoric Park is that it doesn’t necessarily focus exclusively on extinct creatures, but rather, does a spectacular job discussing how these marvelous animals went extinct and the conservation methods of endangered species, both living and extinct. When we see the skeletons of long dead animals, we question of “how did this animal go extinct?”. Prehistoric Park does a terrific job of answering this question for each of the species shown in the series. In addition, the show discusses how people in the 21st century can help endangered species, as well as demonstrating actual tactics used by gamekeepers to preserve the lives of endangered species, both of which aren’t usually discussed in paleontological documentaries. This is an important message given climate change and its impact on all living creatures.

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Essential Moment?

Episode 6, Mammoth vs T-Rex: In the concluding episode, one of the Tyrannosaurus Rex’s wreaks havoc across the park. That is until the parks Woolly Mammoth, Martha, intervenes. While I don’t want to spoil the outcome, I will say the confrontation is a brilliant culmination of the series to that point, and an awesome standoff between two very different legends of prehistory.

Honorable Mention: Bringing the Titanosaurs through the time portal, episode 3.

Essential Episode:

Episode 2, A Mammoth Undertaking: While this episode isn’t the most action packed or intense, it is the most emotional episode in the show, as it depicts just how depressing life was for the last Mammoths on earth. The episode does a brilliant job of showing accurate social behaviors on behalf of not only the mammoths, but also the Woolly Rhino and cave bear as well. Finally, the animations of the ice age mammals are the best the show has to offer.

Honorable Mention: Episode 6, Supercroc.

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Is the Cast Engaging?

Yes! The three (human) leads of the show, Nigel Marven, head keeper Bob (Rod Arthur) and head vet Suzanne (Suzanne McNabb) are all highly engaged throughout the show. All three give awesome performances that make you feel like the animals are present; they are engaging, enthusiastic, compassionate and highly knowledgeable. In turn, the viewer is engaged and really feels like they are part of the action. Additionally, the positive and energetic nature of Nigel and Bob truly make Prehistoric Park one of the most unique dinosaur/prehistory documentaries available.

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Best Animal?

Martha the Mammoth: Over the course of the show, Martha the Mammoth goes through a lot. She loses her family, almost is eaten, almost dies of loneliness, joins a tribe, and then confronts a T-Rex, all within 5 episodes. Not only does she get a lot of screen time (and dare I say character development), but she is highly relatable; after all, nobody truly wants to be alone in the world, do we?

Honorable Mention: The Titanosaur Herd. The bain of head keeper Bob’s existence.

What has Aged the Worst?

Featherless Abominations: At the time of production, three key species were featured in the show; Mei Long, Troodon (now Stenonychosaurus) and Ornithomimus. At the time, they were thought to have been featherless, and as such were depicted with scales. Now they are all known to have had feathers, and as such, the scaly, reptilian versions of them seem strange.

Anything Else to Add?

Soundtrack: The soundtrack of prehistoric park is awesome. Composed by Daniel Pemberton, who has done work for films such as the recent Birds of Prey film and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the soundtrack is truly powerful, adding intensity and emotion to each scene. If I had to pick a favorite song, it would have to be Saving the World, a song that builds a sense of wonder and excitement within itself.

Prehistoric Park is truly a marvellous series combining accurate science, good animations, a wonderful soundtrack and standout performances to make it one of the best prehistoric documentaries ever. The only downside of the series is that it is only 6 episodes; If a second season ever does come to pass, I’m sure that I will be one of the first to watch it. Having said this, I would fully recommend Prehistoric Park to any paleontology fanatics, young and old alike.

Stay safe through these difficult times, and remember to wash your hands and practise social distancing!

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