Planet Earth: ‘the best TV series ever made’

Slow swimmer: The world’s 80 pygmy sloths all live on an island off the coast of Panama. © BBC

The final episode of David Attenborough’s wildly popular Planet Earth II airs on Sunday night. Is it pure entertainment, or do programmes like this make a difference to how we see the world?

Bigger, scarier, more expensive and more spectacular than ever before, Sir David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries have come roaring back onto British television screens in the last month. We have seen earth-shaking battles between Komodo dragons and a swarm of several billion locusts in Madagascar. Pervading it all have been Attenborough’s soothing tones — now arguably more recognisable to us than the voice of any former prime minister.

The drama comes to an end on Sunday night with an episode about how animals survive in the newest habitat of all: cities. And as Attenborough is now 90 years old, it could well be the great man’s last television series.

The first series of Planet Earth, which came out in 2006, was the first nature documentary to be filmed in high definition. It was also the most expensive nature documentary ever commissioned by the BBC.

Ten years on, Planet Earth II has gone even further. The show has used new technologies developed since the first series, such as ultra high definition (4K), remote recording, and drones. Every detail of a tree frog’s face or a spider monkey’s tail can now be seen more clearly than ever before.

Those filming it have gone to extreme lengths to capture nature. In order to simulate an eagle diving at 200 miles per hour, the corporation sent two professional para-gliders to the Alps to jump off mountains with cameras attached to their helmets.

Perhaps the most memorable clip came from a volcanic island in the Galapagos Islands. A baby iguana has to make its first journey towards the sea. But it is chased by a swarm of rapid racer snakes. A review of the episode in The Telegraph called the chase ‘the stuff of nightmares’.

The series has been described as the best television ever made in the history of the medium. There are also hopes that Planet Earth II will serve as a vital educational tool in the fight for conservation and for a better understanding of our fellow creatures.

Human nature

Attenborough’s programmes are great TV, but ultimately they are no more than that, say some. A short clip of a jaguar attacking a caiman is not an accurate representation of the lives of animals. It is like only watching the goals from a football match. Conservation requires years of dedication: people will watch Planet Earth II, enjoy it, and then quickly forget it.

What rubbish, say others. The great thing about Attenborough’s documentaries is that they combine entertainment and education. What better way to raise awareness of a dying species than to show them on a programme watched by over ten million people? Thanks to Attenborough millions of people are well-informed about the natural world.

You Decide

  1. Can shows like Planet Earth II make a significant difference to how humans treat nature?
  2. Why do you think David Attenborough is so popular?

Activities

  1. Come up with your own idea for a nature documentary. How would it be different from those that have gone before?
  2. Research one endangered species and give a presentation about it to your class.

Some People Say...

“We are a plague on the earth.”

David Attenborough

What do you think?

Q & A

I haven’t been watching Planet Earth II. Why does this matter?
Well you should! The final episode is on Sunday at 8pm on BBC One, and the other episodes are still on BBC iPlayer. The behaviour of animals is incredibly interesting, especially when compared with humans. And the survival of the natural world is of vital importance to us: without it we cannot survive.
How can I get more involved in conservation?
There are numerous excellent wildlife charities you can support. The best thing to do might be to start local: saving a species of British bird may not be as thrilling as saving the giant panda, but you may be able to appreciate your efforts more. If you find a subject that you feel passionately about — an animal or a place — join an organisation or donate to a charity.

Word Watch

Komodo dragons
The largest lizards in the world. They weigh nearly as much as humans and can grow to up to three metres long. They are found on a few islands in Indonesia, one of which is called Komodo.
Madagascar
The fourth largest island in the world is one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots. It is also one of the oldest islands in the world, meaning that most of the species found there are endemic — ie, they are found nowhere else.
Spider monkey’s tail
Primates in South America are unique for having prehensile tails, meaning that they can grip with their tails.
Galapagos Islands
Lying off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, like Madagascar, are known for the high number of endemic species. The islands are particularly famous for their giant tortoises.
Caiman
An animal similar to an alligator or a crocodile that is found in Central and South America.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.