The Hartnell Historical is a name given to stories that involves a historic setting with no science fiction elements other than the TARDIS and companions. Examples of this include The Aztecs, The Romans and the missing epic Marco Polo. Primeval is unique in that it takes the formula for a Hartnell Historical and sets it on another planet. The planet is Nyssa’s home of Traken, last seen destroyed in The Keeper of Traken and the time period is the primeval times before there was a Keeper and the Source. The story tells of how the first Keeper became the first Keeper after an invasion of Traken from their god, Kwundaar, but it isn’t just the Doctor and Nyssa arriving on the planet. No, the Doctor arrives on Traken because Nyssa collapsing and having headaches through Four to Doomsday and Kinda, is actually a result of exposure to evil as Traken is a pure world and the Doctor takes her back so she can be cured. Over the course of this story the Doctor ends up working for Kwundaar so he can try and save Nyssa’s life in a race against the clock all while trying to defeat Kwundaar.
Peter Davison as the Doctor steals the show as he should, with a performance of the worried man trying to save his friend. His judgment becomes clouded as he knows he could lose Nyssa if he goes to Traken as they are a very religious people in their early days. Kwundaar plays the literal devil here as the Doctor may be giving up everything to save his friend. It’s subtly hinted at that he doesn’t want to lose Nyssa because it’s so close to the death of Adric and Tegan suddenly leaving. The thought of another loss is enough to break him finally much like the First Doctor near the end of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve. Kwundaar being the devil is perfect with the portrayal by Stephen Greif. Greif has one of those deep voices not much different from the voice of Gabriel Woolf which is perfect on audio. It’s deep enough to send chills down your spine as he speaks every line with a very clear diction that could have gone badly towards the wooden end of the acting spectrum.
The characters in Kwundaar’s army and on Traken are compliments of each other as they serve the purpose to ask the question of what is good and what is evil? Yes the answer is that the people on Traken are the overall good ones and those in the army are the overall evil ones, but both sides aren’t completely pure in their distinction. The Trakenites are ready to throw off the Doctor and Nyssa off the planet because they are aliens and could corrupt them, even if it kills Nyssa. They also have the death penalty so they are killing people which under what seems to be Parkin’s morality, and very similar to my own, is wrong. The army on the other hand of course think they’re doing the right thing when they aren’t, yet some of them are sympathetic. Many of them come from lower income families who they need to support and they find Traken to be the selfish ones for not helping them out when they are in a time of need.
While most of the characters are very complex and fleshed out as they are both in a group, Nyssa is the weakest in terms of characterization. She is pushed out of the story for a lot of the runtime as she has to be, but when she actually gets to be put into the plot she doesn’t do much. It doesn’t help that Sarah Sutton seems very disinterested in the material presented in front of her, which is a problem as she has to be the focus of the story.
To summarize, Primeval is a really enjoyable story with some great ideas and characters that tries to craft a story with Nyssa at the center being the first of its kind, but it falls very flat especially compared to some of the other Nyssa stories. 83/100