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  • Melanie Roussel

Whatever happened to... Terra Nova

I wouldn't be surprised if this one passed you by, but recently, I've really been missing Terra Nova recently.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that sci-fi shows are the first to get the boot. For many understandable and arbitrary reasons, they are seemingly only given half a series to prove itself and if it falls sort of some line, it's not renewed for a second series.

Terra Nova

Terra Nova aired on the Fox Network on 26th September to 19th December 2011. Now, bear with me here, because the premise is both promising and preposterous. Picture this - the Robinson family from Lost in Space... but 85 million years in the Earth's past. The Late Cretaceous period, to be exact.

The Shannon's, the Swiss family Robinson we follow, follow your usual line up. The father is a former police detective, the mother is a doctor and they have three children - one more than the dystopian laws of 2149 allowed them to have. The Earth they inhabit is overpopulated, polluted and crime-ridden. The first episode shows the family blown away by an orange the father had managed to find. In an effort to escape, the family join a programme which sends people back in time to start a new colony in the past.

There aren't that many big names in the show. The only one of real note is Jason O'Mara who plays Jim Shannon. You'll know from Life on Mars, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and is the voice actor of Batman in the DC Animated Movie Universe.

Dinosaurs

As you can imagine, a human colony in the Late Cretaceous has a fair share of struggles. The colony is littered with your expected quirky and diverse cast of characters. We have the hopelessly love-struck teenagers, an illness which causes memory loss, a rebel group known as the 'Sixers' intent on taking over the colony and even the occasional a meteorite strike. And, of course, the colonists have to contend with a lot of dangerous dinosaurs.

Now, I'll hold up my hands and say I've never known that much about dinosaurs. I know my favourite is the long-necked Diplodocus and that Velociraptors probably had feathers. I also know The Land Before Time was one of my favourite movies growing up and Littlefoot's mother's death traumatizes me even today.

I'm not the person to tell you if the dinosaurs featured in Terra Nova were accurate. A Smithsonian article described "poorly envisioned dinosaurs" so I'm guessing you shouldn't use the show in lieu of your palaeontology studies.

Cancellation on March 6, 2012

Fox cancelled the series purely on budget reasons. This was a high budget production that had made a big deal of having gone all out. I've found figures suggesting that it cost $10 million to film, with each subsequent episode budgeted at $4 million. While the reception of the series was generally good - critics being especially excited and enthusiastic by the end of the series - it hadn't achieved the viewing figures Fox wanted it to.

An interesting point made by Screen Rant is that Terra Nova was seen as 'too big for television'. It was ambitiously cinematic in a way we wouldn't associate with television until the arrival of Game of Thrones.

The fact is, I think this is just your classic problem with science fiction and fantasy shows. The first series of anything is a difficult needle to thread, but these types of stories simply need more time.

First, you've got to get people on board with the premise. And time travelling humans colonising the Late Cretaceous is a hell of a pitch. Second, create empathic characters for an audience to bond with. Third, set up the world and the challenges the characters face. And fourth, deliver stories within that world.

Verdict

I would argue that Terra Nova hit every point but still fell slightly short of the mark. The series was that most unfashionable of things - fun. Cheesy. Though the characters face the threats, there was always the slightly family-friendly air which suggested no one we cared about would be in real danger. Think Eureka versus Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. It wasn't what we were craving back in 2012 - it wasn't gritty.

I'm writing this is 2020 in the middle of a lock down and I'm honestly craving something light and fluffy with no stakes. Instead of Terra Nova, I get Tiger King.

Where can I watch?

If you're here in the UK, you can buy the series on Amazon Prime Video. If you're in the USA, it looks like you can watch it on the Fox website.

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