I’m thrilled to see this series doing so well - nine million viewers and counting. And so simple: Who’d have thought footage of a polar bear cub frolicking in the snow, or a group of rabid dogs ripping the neck out of a helpless impala would rack up such impressive numbers?
But in these days of increasingly lazy programme making, of tired formats and rehashed tripe, here, finally, is a show that evidently required a modicum of graft. Planet Earth (BBC1, 9pm Sundays) was five years in the making. The cameraman featured in this week’s instalment spent months freezing his nuts off on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border before he got the merest sighting of his quarry. When did Brucie, Parky and all those other autocue jockeys show such dedication to their art?
Producers on the Davina McCall show take note: The bar has been raised. Simply getting no-mark luvvies to sit on a sofa and chat about their latest DVD will no longer cut it, but if your trailer shows Graham Norton plunging down a sheer cliff face with a hungry snow leopard in hot pursuit, I might be persuaded to tune in.
Obviously narrator David Attenborough has ditched the khaki trousers these days, but he is entitled to his autumn in the edit suite – after all, he is about 97 now. The voice, though: That honeyed rasp that marries enthusiasm and authority so effortlessly maintains its gravitas.
This is entertainment in its rawest form, the one programme on TV at the moment that fills me with genuine awe. No tinkering, no gimmicks (stonking photographic gadgetry aside), yet it generates more Ooohs and Aaahs and Wows than a lifetime of World’s Scariest Police Chases, CCTV peep shows and Jamie sodding Theakston smarming his way to another obscene paycheck by narrating the latest fly-on-the-wall Ibiza flesh-fest.
And yet there is a depressing finality about it. Planet Earth has been billed as Attenborough’s last hurrah – the end of an era - and there is very much the conundrum of “what do we do now? How do we top this?”
I fear I know the answer. I can only pray the networks have the grace to let Sir David shuffle off this mortal coil with dignity before subjecting us all to the next phase of natural history TV…
Sir David: Soon to be spinning in his grave
Trinny and Susannah spend months integrating with a group of cutely inquisitive rodents, studying behavioural patterns and establishing trust, before ruining everything by forcing the furry little fuckers into wearing push-up bras and garish trousersuits. Highlights include our haughty hostesses tutting rudely and making confidence-sapping remarks about their subjects’ saggy teets and stumpy arms. There is a touching moment as a previously reticent female discovers empowerment in the form of a bright pink blouse and matching feather boa, and then tragedy, as she boldly cat-walks the outfit for the benefit of her whooping tribe and is promptly picked off by a nearby hyena. “I thought the pink was a trifle daring,” Trinny muses later.
A flock of Canada Geese are joined in their treacherous quest for sunnier climes by a clutch of celebrities in vintage bi-planes. Watch as Jodie Marsh, Eddie Large and Romeo from the So Solid Crew manoeuvre the creaking machines through blizzards and heavy turbulence. To simulate the dangers faced by the geese from fatigue and larger birds of prey, viewers can win the chance to take pot-shots at the celebrities with surface-to-air missiles. Hosts Ant and Dec crack infantile gags as the contestants plummet to earth in smoking fireballs. (Actually, that would be ace…)
Horny, spoiled brats compete with male Emperor Penguins for breeding ground space on the windswept pack-ice. Wide boys from Romford bristle and posture and accuse the natives of eyeing up their birds, while catty slags with ankle bracelets and Kaballah tattoos shiver disconsolately in a huddle having brought only micro-bikinis, Chlamydia and a simmering adolescent aggression with them to the set. Eventually, the neediest and sluttiest breaks off from the group and hungrily bags off with the least-acneyed boy. The girls retreat into a jealous, faux-disgusted mob, leaving the amorous wretch tearful and isolated and her erstwhile conquest swaggering inexpertly back to his awe-struck comrades. Beautiful: William Golding for the McFly generation. The penguins shuffle their feet and roll their eyes languidly. They’ve seen it all before: Abi Titmuss was here a few weeks ago shooting the sequel to Celebrity Love Island.
With Neil Morrissey.
Camcorder calamities as a Hippo goes arse over tit in a swamp; a potty-mouthed giraffe bangs his head on tree branch; and a rogue bull elephant mistakes host Neil for a potential mate and rogers him to death in front of his giggling camera-crew.
(Wish fulfilment, perhaps.)
Gibbering, blue-arsed primates hump furniture, scratch themselves inappropriately and throw excrement at one other. Viewers have complained that this jungle version has not hit the gloriously debauched highs of previous series’, but that may all change in tonight’s episode, as transsexual ape Chuckles lays into the cheap cider and does unmentionable things with a champagne bottle. Recent evictee Bertie chats candidly to Dermot O’Leary about his new-found fame presenting GMTV with Fiona Phillips.
Fascinating study of social manners. Pernickety Mrs. Antelope has a tough job instilling some discipline into her temporary lair. The cubs are a real handful and their layabout pot-bellied father does nothing to help with the housework. Mrs. Lioness has a much nicer time in her new home: Mr. Antelope is extremely eager to please and always keeps a respectful distance. The kids, too, are charming, although little Timmy gives her terrible indigestion. The participants are available for a live web-cast after the show to discuss the experience. All except little Timmy, that is.
Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson are locked away in the belly of a giant sperm whale and have to tell smutty gags which are relayed back to the studio via satellite. The loser, as selected by a viewer text vote, is ejected through the beast’s blowhole and devoured by a nearby shoal of piranhas. Light-hearted gameshow presented by Lily Savage.
Bossy Kirsty persuades a family of giant Pandas to give up their home among the bamboo-rich hillsides of Eastern China and relocate to a charming farmhouse in Weston Super Mare. With its array of period features, cosy aga and wooden floors throughout, this is surely the opportunity of a lifetime for the previously unadventurous bears who show a frustrating reluctance to start a new life abroad. Phil, meanwhile is ripped to shreds by a grizzly bear after politely suggesting it knock through the back wall of its cave to give the illusion of greater space – a vital commodity in today’s house market. With subtitles.