Around this time last year, ‘Planet Earth II’ arrived on our screens and blew us all away with its gripping documentation of the natural world, including those terrifying lizard-hunting snakes that still haunt my dreams to this day. In 2017 it was time for another of the BBC Natural History Unit’s landmark series to make a welcome return to TV schedules and give us all a bit of much needed escapism. The Blue Planet II thus made its debut last week and reminded us all once again how the BBC has turned this sort of show into a fine art.
There’s been plenty of great TV released this year across various formats, but this series, which took four years to film and involved over 100 expeditions in countries across the globe, is up there with the funniest comedies and the most gripping dramas. It’s no surprise to learn that it has rapidly become the most-watched TV show of 2017 thus far
The series is now just two episodes old and also provided an abundance of insightful, fascinating and genuinely moving footage, all captured in glorious and stunning HD. Maybe it’s just my memory playing tricks on me, but it seems even more breath-taking and filled with revelatory facts than even its esteemed predecessor.
The series premiere featured dolphins using coral as medicine, a tusk fish using tools and a trevellay fish leaping out of the water to catch a small bird, to name just three of its many amazing moments. Let’s let some of those statements sink in for a moment. A fish used tools! A fish launched itself out of the water and caught itself a bird! The natural world never ceases to amaze and the Blue Planet II team somehow manages to be there to capture it happening.
The episode also featured false killer whales and dolphins buddying up to form a giant super-pod that went off on the hunt together and seemingly showed signs of inter-species bonding that could be interpreted as friendship. If you weren’t uplifted by this moment then frankly you have a heart of stone.
Shortly after of course, the darker side of the show emerged and we braced ourselves for the deserved pangs of guilt that quite rightly follow when we see shots of melting ice-caps. This led to a glimpse of a group of walrus-mothers trying their hardest to keep their tired pups alive with rapidly dwindling ice on which to do so. It’s incredible to watch and also serves as a timely reminder of the environmental impact human beings have on the wider world.
Meanwhile, this week’s episode focused on the deep ocean and manged the unlikely feat of matching the debut in terms of wow-factor. We saw a sixgill shark that can survive only eating once a year, a fish with feet and a cannibalistic squid. The real stunner though was the revelation of not only an underwater volcano, but an underwater lake too. My tiny mind was blown.
The episode also included footage from the Mariana Trench, almost 11km down from the earth’s surface, showing the sheer scope and scale of what the show is achieving. At one point it started discussing the possible location of where human life might of began and it barely stood out as a particularly special moment, that’s how consistently enthralling the show was.
A personal highlight of mine is always the behind-the-scenes making-of sections that close out each episode. These are another treat in their own right, providing a fascinating insight into the gruelling and demanding process involved in capturing the footage for the show. The dedication and nerve of those involved never ceases to amaze, and “surfer cameramen” has to be one of the all-time great job titles.
Alongside it all, Sir David Attenborough’s comforting and masterful tones still provide the perfect accompaniment to this glorious piece of TV, while the addition of Hans Zimmer’s soaring score is just the cherry on the documentary cake.
Blue Planet II is proving to be must-watch TV and will undoubtedly be in the reckoning for the year’s finest shows. If you’ve not been watching thus far, get on iPlayer and be prepared to be amazed.