Secrets of our Living Planet - TV review

Unique and often weird connections dominate the natural world, from the process of photosynthesis to the pollination of flowers by insects and bugs. And it is these integral processes which are the subject of the BBC’s latest documentary – Secrets of our Living Planet.

The nature watcher discovered 80 species in one forest
The nature watcher discovered 80 species in one forest

This programme looks into the specialised roles that create the distinct habitats that exist around the world.

Presented by nature watcher Chris Packham, the show takes viewers around the world, each week exploring a new habitat and the creatures that live within.

The first episode of four looked into ‘The Emerald Band’, a series of rainforests around the world’s equator, where a huge variety of our planet’s fauna and flora can be found.

Kicking off in Panama, Chris looks at the birds that inhabit an area of forest which has the highest record for species identified in a single day, a point that was proven in just a few hours when Chris was able to find 80 distinct bird species.

This point is used to illustrate the biodiversity that exists in the habitat and their specialisations, a theme that is integral to the whole episode. He later goes on to explore both Borneo,

Brazil and Sumatra seeing everything from pygmy elephants, to orangutans and a whole host of creepy crawlies.

The finale is a look at a very specific plant, the Brazil nut tree that relies upon a very special set of circumstances to grow. The factual element of this show is superb and every fact and figure you could imagine is presented to you in an informative and interesting way.

As with many BBC documentaries, these facts are supported by some amazing cinematography including the slowed down shots that are usually trademarks of Sir David Attenborough’s productions.

These effects with others are put to brilliant use to show the flight of humming birds and metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.

In many ways, for me the way each scene is produced is what really makes the show so good. Like many BBC documentaries before, it shirks excitement for precise execution and an eye for detail that is sometimes lost in other nature shows.

My favourite scene, however, was with the sloth, nature’s slow movers, as Chris Packham explains how the creature has developed a specific set of bacteria in their stomachs that allows them to digest toxic plants and in doing so secures them a constant source of food at the cost of speed.

What is really enjoyable about this documentary is the level of detail gone in to each connection and the feeling of newly imparted knowledge that you get from the show. It’s the kind of facts that you feel may one day be invaluable at your local pub quiz.

But where Attenborough brings that soothing voice that we have all come to love, Packham provides a bit more punch and a more youthful attitude that harks back to his days as a children’s TV presenter.

This show is typical of many other BBC documentaries, with the regular tried and tested formula that never gets old, with the subject of each episode different enough to lure you back time and time again.

I for one hope the BBC continue making these high quality interesting documentaries that fill up an otherwise quiet evening or afternoon.

Tom Mason

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