Why Blue Planet II has made the nation’s jaws drop
At 8.25pm this evening, the nation will be united in fright at a new sub-aquatic monster. The bobbit worm, which can grow to a terrifying 10ft long, is a dagger-toothed, carnivorous predator. It lies in wait, buried beneath sand on the ocean floor, invisible to the fish innocently going about their piscine business.
As a horror-style soundtrack builds tension to almost unbearable levels, the bobbit suddenly pounces in a flash of jaws and thrashing flesh to devour its helpless prey. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the chest-bursting extraterrestrial in
Alien, except this creepy creature is all too real. And millions of sofa-dwellers will be mesmerised by it.
Figures revealed last week showed that the launch episode of Blue
Planet II a fortnight ago was seen by a staggering 14.1million – making it not just the UK’s most watched TV show of 2017 but putting it in the top three most-watched programmes of the past five years, behind only the 2014 World Cup final and last year’s
Great British Bake Off final. Fish, football and frangipane. What an eclectic, eccentric nation we are.
Blue Planet II isn’t merely a landmark nature series. It’s a bona fide cultural phenomenon. The sequel to the BBC’s award-winning 2001 exploration of ocean life was four years in the making. Its rapturous reception proves it was well worth the wait.
Why has it captured the popular imagination on such a scale? The BBC’s flagship wildlife series, made by its Natural History Unit and fronted by David Attenborough, have always been big – the original Blue Planet peaked at 12million viewers, as did last year’s Planet Earth II – but never this big. Blue Planet II’s ratings are the highest ever recorded for a nature show. The box set, released in a fortnight, will be a festive bestseller. For a start, let’s state the obvious:
Blue Planet II is very, very good. Jaw-droppingly, flabbergastingly so. It’s exquisitely shot, hypnotically paced and peerlessly put together. It whisks us to new worlds, replete with fresh discoveries and widescreen wonders. It has found fish with huge fangs and transparent heads. Fish that walk and change gender. It’s a monstrous carnival of curiosities. The
Star Wars cantina come to life. A parade of weird, wonderful creatures swim across our screens, set to Hans Zimmer’s lush score (which some viewers find obtrusive – one of only two persistent criticisms of the series, along with its tendency to become environmentally preachy).
But the unprecedented popularity of
Blue Planet II within the Attenborough catalogue might also be to do with the fact that the makers have upped the ante this time round. The celebrated “iguana vs snakes” chase scene from
Planet Earth II was a game-changer when it came to injecting wildlife footage with jeopardy and drama; duly,
Blue Planet II is studded with similar action-thriller-style set pieces. We’ve watched through our fingers as trevally fish leap from the sea to gobble up terns in mid-flight – and we’ve been riveted as orcas herd shoals of herring, before knocking them out with a beat of their tails and gulping them down by the dozen. Who needs Hollywood fiction when reality is this high-octane? Blue Planet II’s success is also testament to Attenborough’s revered status. Rightly, we’re appreciating this mighty broadcaster more and more. He’s now 91 and, although he shows few signs of flagging, perhaps we’re aware that we should enjoy his whispered narration and passionate knowledge while we still can.
Both Attenborough and his Natural History Unit are a source of national pride, and these type of nature epics are something that Britain is by far the best in the world at making.
If you need a justification of the licence fee, it’s down here, wearing flippers, carrying an ultra-highdefinition camera, with years of experience and the patience of a saint.
In fractious eras, we seem to crave communal experiences. Two of those three most-viewed programmes have come in the past 12 months. Bake Off recently broke Channel 4’s ratings records and Strictly Come Dancing is clocking up all-time-high figures. Autumnal Sundays are ideal scheduling, too. Blue Planet II rounds off the weekend with a welcome dose of escapism. As the weather begins to bite and nights draw in, it’s bliss to be transported to another place – be it Polynesian beaches, Antarctic ice floes or the deep blue expanse below. Tonight’s instalment dives down to the coral reefs for another stunning hour of event television.
Thankfully, there are still five episodes to go in this sub-aqua spectacular. Blue Planet II almost carries us through to Christmas, when another much-loved, white-haired old gent takes over pleasure-giving duties. Until then, let’s give thanks to Father Attenborough, the patron saint of broadcasters.
‘If you need a justification of the licence fee, it’s here, wearing flippers, carrying an ultra highdefinition camera, with the patience of a saint’
Close encounter of the deep kind: a green turtle inspects one of the Blue Planet II cameramen in Sipadan, Borneo