The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - PETER ROSS


THERE is a temp­ta­tion when writ­ing about Blue Planet II (BBC One) to sim­ply type out the word “wow” a few hun­dred times; that, af­ter all, is pretty much what was un­spool­ing in my head as Hoku­sai waves glit­tered and twisted across the screen in ex­treme slow-mo­tion. But here goes with some­thing a lit­tle more con­sid­ered.

Film­ing for four years, the BBC’s Nat­u­ral His­tory Unit has gath­ered won­ders and horrors from the deep. In the open­ing episode, we saw fledg­ling terns snatched from the air by gi­ant trevally, abyss-mouthed fish ca­pa­ble of cal­cu­lat­ing the air­speed, al­ti­tude and tra­jec­tory of birds on the wing. A sin­gle feather spi­ralled down through the wa­ter fol­low­ing one kill; a small homage to the sev­ered leg in Jaws.

To such scenes David At­ten­bor­ough brought, as ever, a moral au­thor­ity and quasi-mys­ti­cal air. He was present al­most en­tirely in voiceover rather than on lo­ca­tion; this, no doubt, is a con­se­quence of his 91 years, yet he does not seem frail. He is a marvel, de­fi­ant, a mar­ble gi­ant who ages but does not weaken as if Eric Gill’s Pros­pero had stepped down from his niche above the en­trance to Broad­cast­ing House.

For all its beauty and vi­tal­ity, Blue Planet II was full of ele­giac sad­ness; there was an ache in its bones. A fi­nal se­quence made this ex­plicit: a wal­rus and her weary pup strug­gled to find a piece of Arc­tic sea ice of suf­fi­cient size to grant them rest. The thought oc­curred, watch­ing this, that the tech­no­log­i­callyad­vanced civil­i­sa­tion which al­lows us to record and wit­ness these an­i­mals in such de­tail is the very thing which is caus­ing their suf­fer­ing and ex­tinc­tion.

“As we un­der­stand more about the com­plex­ity of the lives of sea crea­tures,” said At­ten­bor­ough in his clos­ing nar­ra­tion, “so we be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate the fragility of their home, our blue planet.” His em­pha­sis on “our” spoke vol­umes: not pride in own­er­ship, but rather guilt – and grief – at the de­struc­tion which we, the dom­i­nant species, wreak. Hans Zim­mer’s score had its usual ma­jes­tic swell, but what we were watch­ing sug­gested a sim­pler mu­si­cal form: a blues for mother earth.

From the big blue to the big hoose, Ross Kemp Be­hind Bars: In­side Barlinnie (STV) saw the ac­tor-turned­doc­u­men­tary maker im­mersed in the Glas­gow prison. Hav­ing spent some time in there as a jour­nal­ist, I be­lieve

Barlinnie is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing – and trou­bling – places in Scot­land. It would be hard to make a dull pro­gramme about it, and this was far from dull. I’m scep­ti­cal about celebri­tyfronted doc­u­men­taries, but Kemp is an en­gag­ing pre­sen­ter, good at let­ting peo­ple talk. His con­ver­sa­tion with a mur­derer serv­ing a life sen­tence had real power. “Re­grets?” Kemp asked. The an­swer came with­out hes­i­ta­tion: “It’s aw re­gret.” In­ter­view­ing a sex of­fender im­pris­oned for view­ing im­ages of child abuse, his con­tempt was ob­vi­ous – here he seemed less a poker-faced re­porter and more a proxy for the view­ers at home who, no doubt, were equally sick­ened.

That was good telly, but I’m not sure that it ad­vanced our un­der­stand­ing of pae­dophilia, or ad­dressed the ques­tion of how pris­ons will cope with the ris­ing num­bers of sex of­fend­ers re­ceiv­ing sen­tences. Ross Kemp Be­hind Bars felt a bit box-ticky when it came to those wider so­ci­etal is­sues and the deeper ques­tion of whether prison works. But as a por­trait of the in­fa­mous Bar-L it was good pop­ulist tele­vi­sion.

Creeped Out (CBBC), which be­gan on Hal­loween, is an at­tempt at some­thing like a Twi­light Zone for tweens. The fram­ing de­vice of each 25-minute episode, a hooded blank-masked fig­ure called The Cu­ri­ous who col­lects creepy sto­ries, strains a lit­tle too hard for Nosey­bonk-lev­els of night­mareish­ness. There is, too, some­thing forced about the bolted-on moral of each story: don’t cheat; ap­pre­ci­ate your par­ents, etc. Still, it’s a de­cent stab at rais­ing a shud­der. The first episode saw Jessie strike a bar­gain with a snig­ger­ing Punch-andJudy pup­pet, Mr Black­teeth, to help rein in her em­bar­rass­ing mum and dad; un­sur­pris­ingly, it didn’t work out as she had hoped. This re­fusal to of­fer happy end­ings is one of Creeped Out’s most ad­mirable qual­i­ties. That, as they say, is the way to do it.

A word, now, about The Great Bri­tish Bake Off (Chan­nel 4). A vi­o­lent al­lergy to Noel Field­ing and con­cerns that the show might con­tain traces of his trade­mark whimsy had dis­suaded me from tun­ing in since its move from the BBC. Prue Leith’s im­pru­dent early tweet­ing of the win­ner made watch­ing the fi­nal seem even less press­ing.

But I’m glad I did, if only for Scouse Kate’s Gla­di­a­tor-in­spired spelt loaves: “That’s Max­im­ius, Dec­imus, Aure­lius, and, um, Stu­art.” I’d like her to have won, but it was So­phie who got the thumbs-up from Paul, the tent’s sil­ver Cae­sar.

Footage of a wal­rus and her pup strug­gling to find a piece of ice large enough to rest on was in­dica­tive of the strain of sad­ness run­ning through Blue Planet II

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