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Succeeds triumphantly in what it sets out to do
on 22 March 2011
This collection combines the five programmes of the "Wonders of the Solar System" BBC television series in 2010 with the more recent four programmes of "Wonders of the Universe".
"Wonders of the Solar System" is not an attempt to match a series such as "The Planets" in its coverage of the solar system. Instead it features a limited collection of facts and objects ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. One programme is devoted to the sun, with the emphasis on the visual treats afforded by a solar eclipse and the aurora borealis. One programme is devoted to atmospheres - particularly those of the Earth, Mars and the moon Titan - and another explains why some planets and moons have geological activity and others are "dead" worlds. Yet another programme explains the formation of the solar system and the final one looks at the existence of life. During these programmes Cox identified seven specific "wonders" - the sun, the rings of Saturn, the influence of a small moon on the rings, Titan (because of liquid on its surface), Io (because of geological activity), Europa (because there appears to be water beneath the surface), and finally the existence of human beings - against all the odds.
What makes it out of the ordinary is the wonderful CGI, exceptional astronomical photos, exotic locations on Earth, and the infectious enthusiasm of the presenter Brian Cox. And all these qualities re-appear in "Wonders of the Universe". This series was not without its critics. It has been claimed it has little serious science. This is true, but it misses the point. Professor Cox rightly described the series as a "cinematic experience". As for the science, there may not be much depth but the topics covered are very well done and explained very clearly. Everybody watching these DVDs, whether a child or a pensioner, will finish with some understanding of topics ranging from the life and death of the universe and the formation of the elements, to gravity and light. Just as important it is likely to have inspired enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. For that we must thank Brian Cox. The impact he has made with both "Wonders" series can be gauged by the fact he is being called by many "the David Attenborough of astrophysics". High praise indeed.
"Wonders of the Universe" did generate controversy when the first episode was shown. There were numerous complaints that the music was too loud, particularly when Brian Cox was talking. The producers accepted the criticism and reduced the volume for all four programmes in the series when the presenter was speaking. This was welcomed by not only those who dislike the amount of background music in shops and TV programmes, but also by the 8 million people in Britain with a hearing impairment sufficient for them to find difficulty in distinguishing easily between two different and simultaneous noises.
"Wonders" succeeds in doing what it sets out to do and succeeds triumphantly.