Cosmos: The Beginners’ Guide, BBC2

by | Aug 7, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It had the grey-suited stiffness associated with typical Open University lectures masquerading as TV programmes, but Cosmos did strive to enlighten and achieved this with its sober assessment of the possibility of life beyond Earth.

What was good about it?

• Adam Hart-Davies has one of those voices that the brain automatically listens to; whether it’s because he sounds like those few teachers at school who could communicate the joys of even the drowsiest subjects, or perhaps it’s his somewhat breathless style never alights on a syllable long enough for it to be inflected with solemnity.

• The regimented array of huge grey satellites scanning the skies for any audible hint of alien life that resembled squat sunflowers methodically tracing the path of the sun in the daylight sky.

• The admirable futility of the SETI Institute, which was set up in 1960 to scour the galaxy for radio signals from aliens. However, rather it has the dour persistence of a rather unimaginative love struck youth who will not give up courting his one true love, forlornly serenading her each night and bombarding her with flowers as in the 47 years of its existence there have only been a couple of moments “for a few hours” when anything approaching a coherent signal has been received.

• The slightly obscure, but worthy, research of Dr Charles Cockell who chisels microbes from the Devon coastline who have survived the inhospitably salty environment before packing them off into space. Once in orbit, the ‘extremophile’ bacteria are subjected to everything outer space can throw at them in the form of the sort of chilling temperatures that only Anne Robinson finds comfortable, dazzling sun rays more blinding than Simon Cowell’s smile and the additional peril of being hit by a broadcast of Richard and Judy’s toxic smarm. Should they survive that astral viper’s nest then it shows that life can exist pretty much anywhere, except in the vicinity of that shambling human dead zone David Gest.

• The ‘What will aliens look like’ took the banal approach of using creatures from films as the sterile basis for the theories. However, the analysis was undertaken by two experts in the field of biology and their ideas at least had some credibility rather than being tidal waves of wishful thinking.

What was bad about it?

• Adam showing his age and his tooth-baring reluctance to adhere to modernity with his description of San Francisco in that it was famous for, amongst other things, “earthquakes”, which is a little harsh considering there have only been two catastrophic quakes in the past century or so. It’s rather like branding London with being a hotbed for prostitute-butchering serial killers, or Newcastle as the home of a trophy-laden football team.

• The over-optimism of featuring the latest efforts by Dr Mark Sims to land on Mars where his latest robotic dogsbody can sample the soil to probe for signs of life. Dr Sims was part of the team for the national humiliation of Beagle 2 that failed to land on Mars and was the scientific equivalent of pissing in the Atlantic in the hope of turning the Arctic yellow.

• Adam’s sonorous monologue on the potential nature of aliens was diluted by a procession of the least convincing monsters from Doctor Who in the 1970s.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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