Last night's Darwin bicentennial special on the BBC by Sir David Attenborough was every bit as good as we all knew it would be. You know where you stand with Sir David: a landmark television event is almost a given. We shouldn't take such things for granted, but we do.
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life was wonderful, one-hour documentary in which Sir David brilliantly summarised Darwin's theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection. But it was also a deeply personal programme, in which Sir David took us to his childhood geological haunts near Leicester, reminisced about learning to categorise fossils at Cambridge University, showed us his own copy of the sixth edition of On the Origin of Species bought second-hand when he was 18 years old, and drew on archive footage from his classic nature series. He even got to sit in Darwin's study in Down House. As the greatest science communicator since (and possibly including) Darwin, he had every right to be there.
You might argue that Darwin's great theory is worthy of a 52-week series of documentaries—and you would be right—but the one-hour format worked brilliantly: Sir David explained Darwin's thinking, and the modern-day evidence that supports it in a single sitting. The viewer was able to see the whole picture, and understand the whole argument, without getting bogged down in details.
But the real reason we didn't need a 52-week series of documentaries to explain Darwin's great theory is that we have already had more than 50 years' worth of wonderful documentary series courtesy of Sir David—every single one of which has celebrated nature's grandeur as explained by Charles Darwin.
Darwin famously claimed that On the Origin of Species had been one long argument; Sir David Attenborough's half-century body of work has been one long celebration of Darwin's wonderful theory. By anyone's standards, it is a magnificent achievement.