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Series / Prehistoric Park

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Extinction doesn't have to be forever...

"There is something missing from our world. The amazing animals that time has left behind. But what if we could bring them back? What if extinction... didn't have to be forever?"
Opening Intro of each episode

Prehistoric Park (2006) is a 6 episode Science Fiction Mockumentary Mini Series from ITV, created by the same company (Impossible Pictures Ltd.) that produced the famous Walking with Dinosaurs franchise, to which this show can either be seen as a Spiritual Successor or a Spin-Off. In turn, the hit Science Fiction series Primeval can be viewed as a very loose successor to Prehistoric Park.

The basic premise is simple: Real Life zoologist and adventurer Nigel Marven travels back in time to bring back various creatures from prehistoric eras, whom he and his team then place in the titular park. While episodic in nature, the series did have an overarching plot, as the issues of many animals took several episodes to resolve.

Although the show was filmed as if it told the story of a real park, it contained many obviously sci-fi inspired elements, such as the mysterious time portal, the workings of which were never explained.

The show is, in essence, similar to Discovery Channel's much less famous Dino Lab.

The video game Prehistoric Kingdom, although not directly based on the show, is something of a spiritual adaptation, with Nigel Marven as the narrator.

The work provides examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: The Deinosuchus unintentionally saves Nigel's life as he's being chased by Matilda. The Deinosuchus attacks the tyrannosaur, surprising her and slowing her down for a few precious seconds, allowing Nigel to escape.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: A more realistic example than most. Saba and Nigel are able to rescue two of the last living Smilodon in existence, an adult male and female (the female had a cub, but it died of starvation before they were able to capture it). A later subplot involves the park's vet Suzanne attempting to get the two to mate, which is of course risky because the two animals could easily kill each other.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: The typical example for a dinosaur documentary, the blast front of the asteroid impact. In this case, it's pretty obvious no one's outrunning something moving a hundred times faster than sound waves, the challenge is for Nigel to lure two young Tyrannosaurus into a time portal before the rapidly approaching ash cloud reaches them in a few moments.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • A common mistake: including the Chinese dino-bird Microraptor among the Yixian fauna when it was really from the slightly later Jiufotang Formation. That said, several other taxa of microraptorines did live at Yixian.
    • Nyctosaurus went extinct before Deinosuchus, which in turn went extinct before Albertosaurus; however, nyctosaurids as a whole were doing really fine in the Late Cretaceous, so at least the former is not inconceivable. While Albertosaurus sarcophagus was not a contemporary of Deinosuchus, the one in the show is likely meant to be Albertosaurus libratus, more commonly known as Gorgosaurus libratus.
    • The last giant terror birds died out 2 million years ago, a million years after its appearance in "Saving the Sabretooth".
    • A rather egregious example, Pulmonoscorpius and Crassigyrinus lived in the Middle Carboniferous, while Meganeura is only known from the very end Carboniferous, separated by over 25 million years. Just for comparison, that would be the equivalent of entelodonts rubbing shoulders with modern humans.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The series ends with Nigel heading back through the time portal to who knows when to capture some new prehistoric creature.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care:
    • Every enclosure in the park (with the sole exception of the bug house) is made up of flimsy, wood post fences that wouldn't even be able to hold back an elephant in real life, and yet the show portrays them as being strong enough to contain enormous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. The titanosaurs are the only animals in the show that are consistently able to knock the fences down.
    • Downplayed in regards to the bug house, which Nigel explicitly says needs to be an enclosed space to give the Carboniferous animals the proper oxygen levels. Even then, however, the building itself is mostly comprised of bricks — which, unlike stone, metal, plastic or concrete, are porous. Points for trying, at least.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: Inevitably, there some examples.
    • The show's Deinosuchus is at least a third larger than the largest known real life specimen, and appears even bigger than that in the scene where it eats a Nyctosaurus. On the flipside, the Tyrannosaurus are significantly more slender than they were in real life.
    • The Deinosuchus are referred to as crocodiles, but they're a much closer relative of caimans and alligators.
    • Terror birds were extinct by the time Smilodon entered South America, Phorusrhacos in particular died out 13 million years ago. Like Walking with Beasts, this is based a minority scientific opinion that its close relative Titanis lived until 10 thousand years ago and is the same creature. From the same episode, Toxodon are shown as hippo-like water-dwellers instead of terrestrial rhino-like animals. This was once considered true, but that theory had been discarded by the time of the series.
    • The sabre teeth of Smilodon are stated to be incisors - they are actually canines.
    • The troodonts don't have enough feathers, Ornithomimus lacks feathers altogether, and the show implies that dinosaurs were cold-blooded.
    • The Triceratops is depicted as living in huge herds like wildebeests or bison. While this is plausible for many other ceratopsid species like Centrosaurus or Styracosaurus, which are known from dense bonebeds suggestive of large herds, Triceratops was probably a much more solitary animal. Despite being one of the most common North American dinosaurs from the end of the Cretaceous, Triceratops fossils are almost all found singly or in very small groups.
    • Eurypterids are stated by Nigel to be the ancestors of scorpions, but sea scorpions were not actually close relatives of true scorpions (the eurypterids' relationship among arthropod groups is debated, but they seem to be sister taxon to arachnids), although scorpions did probably evolve from marine ancestors.
  • Artistic License – Space: When the K-Pg asteroid enters Earth's atmosphere, its arrival casts a vast creeping shadow on the landscape. However, a meteor would not cast a shadow because friction would almost instantly turn its surface molten, causing it to glow incredibly brightly. For a meteor of this size, one would not even be able to see the classic streaking comet tail because of how utterly huge and luminescent it would be; the entire sky would just be instantaneously blinding white.
  • Badass Bookworm: Downplayed with zoologist Nigel Marven. He can't actually fight off any of the dangerous prehistoric animals he encounters, but he does prove lucky enough to be able to evade them long enough to avoid getting eaten by carnivores or beaten up by antagonistic herbivores.
  • Bait-and-Switch Credits: In the opening sequence, a flock of Nyctosaurus are seen in the titular park. While Nigel does encounter the strange-looking pterosaurs on his travels, he never brings them back to the park.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The cave bear that immediately chases Nigel just after the latter enters in his refuge.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: A scorpion the size of a cat, a dragonfly with the wingspan of an eagle, and a millipede about two meters long. Notably, the Arthropleura manages to win the sympathy of the insectophobic Bob simply because it was just that big that it loses its creepy factor.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Happens several times in the last episode. Martha the mammoth saves the young elephant from Matilda the T. rex. Nigel leads Matilda away before the fight escalates. Then, just as Matilda is about to catch up with Nigel, the Deinosuchus lunges out of the water at Matilda, barely missing, giving Nigel enough time to reach safety and lock Matilda into a paddock.
  • Butt-Monkey: Head-keeper Bob often ends up the butt of the joke for a lot of things that go wrong at the park.
  • Book Ends: The first mission shown in the United States goes to the Cretaceous, as does the last. Just separated by ten million years.
  • Cain and Abel: A fight between the T. rex siblings ends with Matilda nearly killing Terrance. Nigel separates them afterward.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: The episode "Dino Birds" has Nigel and his crew travel to the Early Cretaceous of China to capture Microraptor. It's noted very early this is an extremely volcanic region, and immediately upon arrival a large volcanic mountain looms in the background. Sure enough, it ends up erupting.
  • Closest Thing We Got: With only three minutes until the blast wave from the K-T meteor impact reaches their location, Nigel needs something meaty to try and lure the infant Tyrannosaurus through the time portal. He's next seen trying to entice them with what looks like a ham sandwich. Surprisingly it works (though he does note the hatchlings could be more interested in eating him than the sandwich).
  • Cool vs. Awesome: In the series finale we have a standoff between a Tyrannosaurus and a woolly mammoth, although it's cut short before any actually fighting happens (which is also fortunate for any animal-lovers who can enjoy the spectacle without seeing either creature get hurt).
  • Cool Gate: The time portal, a glowing vortex of light formed from two technological poles placed in the ground. Through this vortex is a path to various different points in time.
  • Creepy Centipedes: Subverted with the Arthropleura. It's initially seen as menacing, as a millipede more than two metres long capable of rearing up to nearly look a man in the eye. However, it's later indicated to be a peaceful herbivore and Bob is of the opinion that it's simply so big that it loses its "creepiness" factor, because it no longer seems like a "bug" anymore.
  • The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed: In the first episode Nigel goes back 65 million years to collect two Tyrannosaurs, hours before the asteroid hits. It's true that he collects animals that are about to die anyway to avoid altering history too much, but would it have hurt to have gone at least a month before the asteroid hit?
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Discussed involving sabre-tooth cats and cheetahs. Cheetahs are built to be extremely lightweight in order to run exceptionally fast, but it means it can't defend its kills from other predators like lions or hyenas. Smilodon has the opposite problem, it's robustly built for hunting big game, but once the big game dies out, it can't catch the smaller, faster prey left over and died out.
  • Deadly Gas: One of the major threats of Early Cretaceous China are the releases of toxic gas from volcanic activity. Nigel comes across what initially appear to be a sleeping pack of Mei long, only to discover they're actually dead from carbon dioxide suffocation, and he and his crew immediately flee the area, narrowly avoiding the same fate.
  • Death of a Child: A juvenile Ornithomimus is killed by a Tyrannosaurus and a juvenile Parasaurolophus is killed by a Deinosuchus. There's also the Smilodon cub that Nigel and Saba are unable to save.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: A stampede crashes through a wall, releasing the animals as Nigel watches from the control room:
    Nigel: Bob, do you read, over? Matilda's behind you. Don't look, just run!
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: The mother Tyrannosaurus is gored by a Triceratops during a hunt. Her injury makes her easy for Nigel to track, since her stride is clearly that of a limping animal, and she is killed at the end of the episode by another Tyrannosaurus.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The K-T asteroid impact 65 million years, which hits earth with an explosive force a billion times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. A literal example too, as Nigel is forced to cover his ears from the sonic boom (noted by the narrator to have been one of the loudest noises the world has ever known) created as the asteroid enters Earth's atmosphere.
  • Eats Babies: Tyrannosaurus (or at least adult males) are shown in this series to be willing to snack on baby Tyrannosaurus that aren't directly related to them. This gets Played for Drama in that the mother of Terrence and Matilda ends up getting killed by an adult male that she fights precisely for the sake of preventing said male from eating her young.
  • Escaped Animal Rampage: In the last episode, one of the titanosaurs gets spooked and stampedes through the park, busting through several pens. The terror bird, the Elasmotherium, and the Ornithomimus getting loose are only minor nuisances, but Matilda the Tyrannosaurus getting loose is a much bigger problem. Fortunately, the incident is resolved without any fatalities, but there are numerous close calls.
  • Exact Time to Failure: In the first episode, Nigel has precisely three minutes to get the Tyrannosaurus hatchlings back to the present day before the blast wave from the Chicxulub meteor impact reaches their location.
  • Extinct Animal Park: The show's premise is built around the use of time travel to bring extinct animals — various types of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and other Ice Age megafauna, giant Carboniferous arthropods, etc. — to the present in a zoo in Africa. The episodes' stories alternate between the retrieval of new residents and the zookeepers' attempts at keeping the already-obtained ones fed, healthy, stimulated, and under control — which, given that knowledge of the behaviors and ecologies of extinct animals is by necessity speculative at best, requires a lot of trial, error, and creative thinking. Notable incidents include multiple failed attempts at building sauropod-proof enclosures, dressing up a tractor to resemble a Triceratops in order to give an adolescent male trike something to blow off steam against by fighting, and dealing with a solitary mammoth's depression by convincing a herd of elephants to take her in.
  • Feathered Fiend:
  • Fix Fic: In a sense, the premiere can be understood as the Walking with Dinosaurs crew going back in time to rescue the pair of Tyrannosaurus rex chicks that were killed by the meteor strike in the finale of that series. It also allows them to portray animals that were left out from that series and the follow up Walking with Beasts, like Triceratops and Ornithomimus in late Cretaceous North America. "A Mammoth Undertaking" features mammoths in Pleistocene Eurasia, of course, but also mammoth-hunting Homo sapiens (only Neanderthals hunted mammoths in Walking with Cavemen and Beasts), wolves and hyenas (which were alluded to in Beasts but not featured, or were reduced to a cameo), and cave bears and Elasmotherium (which didn't appear at all).
  • Fluffy the Terrible:
    • The park's T. rex twins have the truly terrifying names of... Terrence and Matilda!
    • Supplementary material suggests they named the female Smilodon Sabrina.
  • From Bad to Worse: Nigel's hope of rescuing a Tyrannosaurus family gets dashed when the female gets killed by a male in a fight over a kill... and then the sky darkens as the K-T asteroid enters the atmosphere and passes overhead.
  • Funny Phone Misunderstanding: In the fourth episode, Nigel asks Bob over the walkie-talkie to build a pen to house a giant bird, but the message ends up garbled and Bob returns with a small hanging bird cage. Nigel has to explain the bird he's going to capture is much, much bigger than that.
  • Gentle Giant Sauropod: Subverted with the titanosaurs. They're never shown as the least bit malicious and the staff deem them inoffensive enough to be allowed free roam of the park, but they can be unwittingly dangerous purely on account of their sheer size and strength (a panicked individual causes a mass breakout in the final episode by toppling every barrier in its path).
  • Giant Flyer: Pterosaurs, though these aren't technically of the giant variant. Despite this, the show didn't miss the opportunity to play out the classic scene of a sea monster lunging out of the water and dragging one down. This paleoart-trope is played straight and subverted at the same time in the Supercroc episode: the giant sea reptile is not the classic ichthyosaur/elasmosaur/mosasaur/pliosaur but the giant alligator Deinosuchus (note that this may be Truth in Television, since modern saltwater crocodiles do live in the sea as well).
  • Green Aesop: The main story of the series is Nigel time traveling so he can rescue prehistoric species on the edge of extinction in the past in order to give them a second chance at Prehistoric Park.
  • Imprinting: Bob decides to try and incubate two Ornithomimus eggs that had been knocked out of the nest. He's ultimately successful, but because he was the first living thing they saw when they hatched, they consider him their mother and follow him around like big ducklings.
  • Instant Sedation: Averted. Matilda breaks into Terrance's side of their enclosure and starts fighting her brother for the territory, and starts savagely biting him. Bob darts her with a tranquilizer, but as the narration notes, it takes time for the narcotic to take effect, giving Matilda the opportunity to nearly kill her brother before Nigel can distract her, allowing the tranquilizer to finally start working.
  • The Juggernaut: The titanosaurs. They're so big that they can easily plow down any fence in their path, which they do repeatedly when searching for food, making the job of containing them rather difficult. A single stampeding titanosaur ends up causing a mass breakout in the last episode as it tramples every fence in its path.
  • The Magic Comes Back: The whole point of the series is to showcase Nigel and his team at the titular park going back in time and bringing creatures that have sadly gone extinct into the safety of the present where they may have a second chance at life. The series shows the preliminary stages, first bringing back a handful of different animals to test the waters before establishing breeding populations.
  • Mammoths Mean Ice Age: The second episode — "A Mammoth Undertaking" — sees Nigel Marven travel back to the Ice Age to rescue its megafauna. His original intent is specifically to rescue a mammoth, and it is on these creatures, their lifestyle, their diet, their impact on their environment and the causes for their extinction that most of the segment is spent, with other animals largely restricted to very brief one-off appearances. The one exception to this is Elasmotherium, a one-horned woolly rhino the size of an elephant, that Nigel runs into by accident and also brings to the future. A later episode shows that the shaggy, tundra-adapted woolly mammoth is coping poorly to the much warmer climate of present day Prehistoric Park, and needs to be clipped to avoid overheating.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: The format of the episodes. While Nigel is millions of years in the past trying to catch a prehistoric creature, the park crews in the present are trying to put together and suitable habitat for the creatures he had captured.
  • Meaningful Name: A meta example. Theo the Triceratops was named after Nigel Marven's Real Life son.
  • Mundane Utility: Have a titanosaur you can bribe with grindstones? Have it tow your stalled truck through the time portal. After all, who needs a tow truck when you have a dinosaur?
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Deinosuchus, the giant Cretaceous crocodilian, proves a fairly dangerous and difficult creature to rescue, with Nigel and his assistants very narrowly avoiding getting chomped up in the creatures' jaws more than once.
  • No Biochemical Barriers:
    • Discussed and subverted. Nigel is stung by Pulmonoscorpio, and is worried about what the venom of such a huge scorpion could do to him. Fortunately, the venom doesn't really affect him, because it never evolved the ability to damage mammalian tissue (because mammals did not appear for roughly another hundred million years after Pulmonoscorpio died out).
    • In the episode it's discussed and double subverted regarding medication for Terrance the Tyrannosaurus. Suzanne is cautious about giving him antibiotics to treat an infected wound because she has no idea how it might negatively affect him, but she is forced to do so when she sees his wound has become septic. Fortunately, he survives the experience. Then he wakes up from the sedatives given to him much more quickly than expected and starts trashing the vet clinic.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The show features a few carnivorous species including a pair of Tyrannosaurus rex and a Deinosuchus which are portrayed as animals that are simply hunting to survive.
  • No Name Given: The titanosaurs are the only park animal not referred to by a specific name, presumably because at the time of the show's production, the Yixian Formation sauropods had not been formally described.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: While watching over the injured mammoth, Nigel notes that he can spot two possible attackers — hyenas and wolves — by the shine of their eyes. The third and most dangerous attacker has no eye shine at all — humans.
  • Not So Extinct: Nigel is so surprised to find a cave bear alive 10,000 years ago that he apologizes to the camera crewman it chased, reassuring that he thought they were extinct by then.
  • Race Against the Clock: The very first episode has Nigel and the crew travel back to only a few days before the K-Pg extinction event to capture a Tyrannosaurus rex. Although there's no physical clock, they know time is dwindling when shooting stars begin to light up the night skies, the harbingers of you know what. Nigel just barely makes it in time, managing to lure two T. rex adolescents through the time portal just seconds before the meteor's blast wipes out the entire region.
  • Raptor Attack: Although the only dromaeosaur that appears in the series is the obviously harmless Microraptor, troodontids, in the form of Mei and Troodon, appear in two episodes as major hinderances and aggressive pack-hunters all the same, and featherless on top of that.
  • Rhino Rampage: Twice Nigel finds himself narrowly avoiding getting trampled or gored by a territorial Elasmotherium, which gets subsequently sent to the park.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: One of the locales visited is the Early Cretaceous of China, likely because many major discoveries of feathered dinosaurs had emerged from the region (at the time) very recently. Taxa featured like Microraptor, Mei, and Incisivosaurus had only been described a few years prior to the show's production (Mei in particular was only described in late 2004, while the show ran in mid 2006).
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Both humans and animals are filmed interacting with puppets, animatronics, and CG models of long-extinct prehistoric animals. In particular, Martha the woolly mammoth's integration with a herd of elephants was filmed with an animatronic mammoth head in front of a real elephant herd, and the interactions were real.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • The purpose of the keepers is just to "resurrect" the coolest animals, something made quite clear immediately when the very first animal picked is Tyrannosaurus rex. One of the most remembered scenes is, obviously, the two most iconic prehistoric giants (T. rex and the woolly mammoth) fighting each other. This time It Makes Sense in Context.
    • A woolly mammoth that was recovered from near the time of its extinction, but was somehow coexisting with a cave bear which was extinct way before mammoths. However, this is lampshaded by Nigel who says to the cameraman "I'm sorry, I believed cave bears were already extinct... this is an exciting discovery!"
  • Savage Wolves: In the same episode as the cave bear incident, when Nigel tries to keep the weakened mammoth Martha alive, a pack of wolves turn up out of freaking nowhere in the night, with green eyes of doom, shouting and barking, hoping to kill her. Nigel chases them away.
  • Scary Scorpions: Pulmonoscorpius, when first introduced, is played for suspense in how very swift it is to act to defend itself with its large claws and intimidating stinger tail.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: One way of looking at the relationship between head keeper Bob and the titanosaurs. It probably is not an exaggeration to say that they cause half of his stress, even if they are generally not dangerous.
  • Spanner in the Works: Occasionally, Nigel's attempts to capture an animal are hampered by other wildlife getting in the way.
    • His expedition is capture Microraptor is quickly sabotaged by Mei, which raid the backpacks for the food inside them, and then a trap is trampled by a pair of fighting Incisivosaurus.
    • His initial attempt to net a Meganeura is ruined when he's attacked by the predatory amphibian Crassigyrinus lurking in the swamp water, giving him a nasty bite wound on his leg. Although even when he's not interrupted, he has very little luck with the net either way.
    • The meat meant to lure the Deinosuchus is repeatedly stolen by Troodon, forcing Nigel to use himself as bait, and even worse, one of them manages to sneak back to the present day and ends up unintentionally causing a mass breakout.
  • Temper-Ceratops: Played realistically. The first animal brought back is a sub-adult male Triceratops. He's soon getting aggressive in his pen, and Bob figures out it's because he's becoming sexually mature. He modifies a tractor into an armoured fighting vehicle and helps the dinosaur work off some steam with some jousting matches.
  • That's No Moon: While transporting the Carboniferous mega-arthropods back to camp, Nigel trips over what appears to be a fallen log. It's actually an Arthropleura resting beneath the leaf litter. Nigel then makes it his mission to rescue the gigantic millipede from the incoming forest fire.
  • Too Unhappy to Be Hungry: Martha the mammoth loses her appetite after she's brought to the park. The zookeepers first assume they're feeding her the wrong kind of plants, but then they realize she's sad because she's a herd animal kept in solitary confinement. They introduce her to a herd of African elephants, which brings her appetite back.
  • To Serve Man: The T. rex immediately choose to chase Nigel just after seeing him, despite all the Ornithomimus available in that moment... (to be fair, Nigel would've been easier to catch than an Ornithomimus, although a Tyrannosaurus probably wouldn't know that and, in any case, he wouldn't have provided as substantial a meal.)
  • Time Travel: This is how the prehistoric animals are obtained. It's done with a pair of poles that create a portal between them; the animal is then lured into the portal, or carried if it's small enough or knocked out.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nigel has a whole team and base camp with him back in the Cretaceous, but we only see his last-minute rescue of the T. rex chicks. We can only assume everyone else got back safely off-camera.