Monday, February 02, 2009

Attenborough on Darwin

I'd been dreaming of a programme like Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life (BBC) for much of my life: something to tie together all those magisterial series, from Life on Earth to Planet Earth. But, for a prime-time BBC1 show, this was better than I could have hoped for. It was stunning, moving stuff, Attenborough at his twinkly authoritative best (and ably abetted by Steve Jones as the show's science consultant).

The programme sketched Darwin's journey from tyro naturalist stupified by the endless forms most beautiful he encountered on his voyages (his journal's thumbnail sketch of the tree of life appended with a tentative "I think") all the way to his statue's recent usurpation of great rival Richard Owen in the Natural History Museum. There were some terrific closely argued sequences (yes, but what about the eye? What about the gaps? What about the distribution of species? Let me explain, said David, filling in those gaps that baffled even Darwin) and, finally, a wonderful animated sequence limning the milestones on the journey of life, from the pre-Cambrian explosion to the evolution of man, refuting the biblical notion of our dominion over the earth and triumphantly putting us in our rightful place, as close to to great apes as lions are to tigers (cue slo-mo footage of the big cats and the humble house cat).

There was one but one way this show could have been improved, and that would have been a discussion of parasites (I know, I know: always with the parasites). Attenborough himself has talked about how he can't believe that a benevolent God would ever have decided that creating Loa Loa, a parasitic worm that lives in the Human Eyeball causing river blindness, was a good idea. It would, perhaps, have been slightly icky viewing for a Sunday evening; but there have been some awesome sequences in previous series: the fluke pulsing psychedelically in the eye of a snail from Trials of Life lives with me still (the image, not the fluke). Sadly I can't find the clip: why no-one would upload a 20 year-old clip of a humble snail suffering a nightmarish parasitical infestation is quite beyond me.

1 comment:

Bas said...

"Attenborough himself has talked about how he can't believe that a benevolent God would ever have decided that creating Loa Loa was a good idea."

Mehh, it doesn't always have to be about refuting the Bible. How about we just focus on science and stop feeding the creationists with our energy :-)