Why Blue Planet II has made the na­tion’s jaws drop

The Sunday Telegraph - - Arts -

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

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