Top positive review
on 4 January 2016
There are three one-hour long episodes in this joint 2009 BBC/Open University series, written and presented by Andrew Marr.
The first, titled ‘Body & Soul’, covers a lot of ground. The first twenty minutes are devoted to Darwin himself. There is no mention of Alfred Russel Wallace, but TH Huxley does get a mention. Then we are onto the effects of Darwin’s theories – on religion, on Marx, on Nietzsche, and then we’re into World War One. As one may glean, the programme is more character than theory-led. Come the end of the episode we’re looking at equations to explain the existence of altruism, with Marr proclaiming, “This is not just science. It drives down into why we do what we do.”
The second episode asks if we are all ‘Born Equal?’ Again Marr starts his explorations with Darwin before looking at the eugenic theories of Francis Galton, and the work of economist Herbert Spencer, “whose ‘survival of the fittest’ became ‘murder of the weakest’ for the Nazis.” Marr looks also at modern genetic testing and its potential for moving into dangerous territory.
‘Life & Death’ is the title of the third episode. Again, starting with Darwin the man and his theories, the dangers explored here are of mass extinction and environmental change. Here we do cover the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, and also the warning texts of Rachel Carson and James Lovelock.
There are no talking heads in this series; just Marr. He visits not only London, Oxford, and Cambridge, but also Brazil, Turkey, the Caribbean, and follows in Darwin’s footsteps to Tierra del Fuego. In Dayton, Tennessee, he revisits the site of the famous Monkey Trial of 1925.
Marr, of course, is no scientist, but is instead a journalist, and largely a political journalist at that. Nevertheless, his training means he knows how to tell a story, and tell it well, focussing on the main issues and aware of different interpretations and opinions on theories and events. He never bores, but maintains the viewer’s interest and engagement throughout.
There are no extras on my DVD.