James Walton

BBC wildlife documentaries are just a chance to tell us all off

Plus: the idiosyncratic comedy-drama Guilt doesn’t follow the usual TV formulas

Older readers may remember a time when landmark BBC wildlife documentary series were joyous celebrations of the miraculous fecundity of the planet we’re lucky enough to find ourselves living on. Well, not any longer. In our more censorious age, they’ve become another chance to essentially tell us all off.

So it was that Seven Worlds, One Planet (BBC1, Sunday) began with Sir David Attenborough presenting the usual highlights package of the wonders to come, with each episode focusing on a different continent. But then he put on his special serious voice to add the dark warning that ‘This may be the most critical moment for life on Earth since the continents formed.’ (Quite a long time, I think you’ll agree.)

Still, as introductions go, this one can’t be accused of being deceptive — because pretty much every scene from then on was interspersed with similar prophecies of the apocalypse to come.

Of course, pretty much every scene was also unforgettable (except for a nagging sense that we might have seen something very like it in a previous Attenborough series, but forgotten). In this first episode, set in the Antarctic, bull elephant seals duly smashed into each other to dramatic music, baby penguins toddled around to comic music and seal pups shivered on the ice to sad music. There was a particularly astonishing underwater battle between a huge jellyfish and a group of tiny sea anemones (spoiler alert: the anemones won). Yet, whenever our spirits threatened to rise at the magic of it all, Attenborough was soon on hand to depress them again with a reminder that ‘the wildlife here faces an uncertain future’ or that the survival technique we’d just witnessed ‘is becoming harder because of climate change’.

By the end, the effect was to make such reminders feel like the (fairly high) price of admission for being allowed to see what we saw.

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