While everyone else was having fun watching ‘The Voice’ Saturday night, I was learning about fossils. Well someone had to. They don’t make these programmes for fun you know.
Fortunately for me, this was the start of a two-part series which, if you didn’t catch it the first time round, is being shown again on BBC4. Ah, David Attenborough. Is there anything in this universe more wonderful than a series courtesy of this lovely old thing? He should have his own channel where his work is endlessly repeated like ‘Friends’. We love his reassuring voice, his witty narration and the way he shows us things we didn’t know existed. I think I’d like David Attenborough’s voice to be the last thing I ever hear, ‘Come towards the light, everything will be OK’. I certainly hope that while the BBC are sending him on these expeditions, they are simultaneously working out how to ensure he never dies. I noticed last night that he was walking with a bit of a limp. Gulp.
In ‘First Life’ David told us that he had travelled ‘around the world and back in time’ to make the programme. Nice work if you can get it. The standard camera shot when he says something is either of him crouching (which he’s a bit old for now) but increasingly it’s of him standing on a cliff, filmed from a helicopter. ‘Dave, we’re flying round again OK? Just keep standing there’.
‘First Life’ is a bit less exciting than the usual Attenborough documentary, mainly as all the creatures he describes have been dead for 3 billion years. And actually, they weren’t that great even when they were alive,. A slug, with one tubular leg. A piece of leaf. But nevertheless, it was an evolutionary start. Sort of like ‘Pop Idol’ ten years ago, as compared to ‘The Voice’. We’ve definitely improved.
With help of loads of paleontologists (I absolutely challenge you not to think about ‘Friends’), we saw how single cell organisms, without much going for them, became multi-cellular ‘Charnia’. A plant-like proto-animal, immobile, surviving mostly in the dark and on just bits of dissolved carbon. This made me feel nostalgic for my student days.
In Australia’s barrier reef, we learnt that sponges are alive. Did you know that? Wow, I think I’ve got some major apologising to do in the bathroom. To reduce a sponge to its individual cells, the paleontologists forced it through a sieve using a syringe, which apparently ‘seems brutal but is of no consequence the sponge’. OK, I’ve never done anything that bad.
Nothing gives you perspective like a documentary about fossils. Feeling a bit anxious? Think you might have screwed up at work? Concerned that you’ve piled on a few pounds over Christmas? Well this rock is 3 billion years old and this slug mashed into it, survived in the dark, at the bottom of the sea, by hoovering up bits of dust, so get a bloody grip. Life is sweet.
Creatures that look like bits of old chewing gum were never going to send your Saturday night into orbit, but it was still Attenborough. The teaser for episode two was, ‘there were about to be some animals’… OK Dave, I’ll give you one more chance.
Catch the second part of David Attenborough’s First Life on Saturday at 7pm on BBC4 – or if your Saturday is otherwise occupied, repeats are shown Wednesdays at 10pm on BBC4
First published by TVGuide.co.uk