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Educational and dramatic series about the earth's inner secrets
on 5 December 2007
This is a series of five hour-long documentaries, hosted by vigorous vulcanologist Dr Iain Stewart, who examines how the Earth works and how it has developed over 4.6 billion years.
Stewart starts with the effect that volcanos have had on the planet, then its atmosphere (storms and so on), then the effect of ice (which also covers the melting of the glaciers), then water (the action of the oceans and their all important currents), and finally the earth's place in the universe and how it's been shaped by extra terrestrial events.
Each programme is packed with dramatic filming, plenty of detailed geological / meteorological information, and masses of enthusiasm from Stewart who scampers across the landscape, doing his best to bring a sense of drama and majesty to these (literally) earth shattering (and forming) events. For instance, did you know that earth once had a twin planet, and the destruction of that planet went a long way towards making Earth inhabitable?
The series makes for enjoyable viewing, and explains in reasonable depth the forces at play and how they have affected human evolution and geography. The looming presence of the current world situation is inescapable -- which makes the episode about glaciers especially relevant. But each programme contains a few gems, like scuba diving between two continents, or going inside a glaciers to watch it grinding away at the bedrock, or exploring a six-foot tall pocket of salt crystals.
Stewart is one of the new breed of TV documentary presenter -- he's on screen almost all the time, and the action follows him exploring different scenarios. This can get a bit wearing so you might want to space out how you watch the episodes (especially as his accent slithers from Scottish to strangely mid-Atlantic now and then!). But Stewart's understanding of the science lifts the series overall -- it is so much better to watch an expert presenter who understands their subject, than to be lectured by a celebrity who can barely get to grips with the script...
Even so, it does get a bit rich to be reminded that climate change is upon us, when the presenter (however well informed) has spent the past 50 minutes galloping from one side of the world to the other and back! In the oceans programme, for example, the film grew went to South America to record a spectacular tidal bore and thus demonstrate the effect that the moon has on our planet's tides. Well, the River Severn may not have been quite so dramatic, but it is rather more on our doorstep...
Minor grumbles aside, this is a well researched documentary series which displays the secrets and majesty of the planet in an entertaining style. It keeps the viewer interested all the way through, and avoids repeating itself or trailing the next item over and over. It's well edited, informative and occasionally unexpected. The final epsiode, which considers how rare complex life may be in the universe, is a little chilling (and Stewart uses his favourite word; 'catastrophe' only 15 times too often), and inevitably hammers home the message that we are changing the planet at a startling speed, but it also reinforces the fact that in geological terms the earth will always recover. In time. It's only mankind's future that is at risk.
Five hours viewing for 15 quid isn't a bad price, either.