Earth: Power of the Planet, BBC2

by | Nov 20, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A mostly fascinating exhumation of the potent forces that shape the planet, and how they are symbiotically spun together. It was only marred by some astonishingly out of place rudimentary geological sermonising.

What was good about it?

• Geology is, on the whole, pretty dull, so Iain Stewart and the production team must be hugely lauded for making it border on the hypnotic at times with swirling, colourful graphics of the “churning” magma beneath the Earth’s surface and choice locations to illustrate the mighty destructive properties of volcanoes, while also detailing their crucial role to the inception of life on Earth, and it’s continued existence.

• Iain Stewart himself is Captain Kirk to Sir David Attenborough’s more circumspect, empirical Spock. While Spock may be peering into the crevices of geological turmoil and arching an eyebrow to the camera to subtlety signify the magnitude of what we are all witnessing, Stewart in the guise of Kirk will valiantly abseil down into the crater of a volcano, stagger through an Alpine blizzard or quietly seduce the hot, feisty lava as it inches its way down a mountain.

• The insights into the way the Earth’s core and mantle manoeuvred about were utterly mesmerising. Beneath Iceland a ‘plume’ of hot magma keeps the country warm, and it was illustrated by what looked like a subterranean whirlwind.

• Iain then voyaged down a deep gouge that scars the Icelandic landscape, explaining how it was the meeting point of the North American and European continental plates. We’re not sure he added anything to it by going diving in it, though.

• The illustration of how all the continents were packed together in one continent, Pangea, rather like those zombies coagulated together in a weeping mass of fawning effluence hailing the X-Factor judges on some hotel balcony. Even better was the fast-forwarding of this scenario millions of years into the future with all the continents squashed back together again.

• The enlightening history of how the Earth had become a ‘snowball’ devoid of almost all life and looking at an eternity of inertia until, like Superman, volcanoes started to erupt pouring carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere and eventually heating up the planet again. This also kick-started life again as Jade Goody-like single-celled amoeba were usurped in favour of far more complex creatures.

• The cycle of life that takes place on Earth as billions of sea-dwelling plankton absorb the carbon dioxide the volcanoes pump out during eruptions. On dying, the plankton drift down to the seabed and eventually become rock, locking away the carbon dioxide. However, ultimately the plankton remains are forced so far down they slip into the mantle and in due course find their way back to the surface through volcanic eruptions in the form of carbon dioxide.

What was bad about it?

• Much of the time, Stewart breathlessly imparts his knowledge and experience to the viewer with all the impassioned fervour of the very best natural history presenters such as Attenborough. But at other times, perhaps because of inexperience, he can come across as an apprentice Alan Titchmarsh, explaining basic primary school geology as if he’s letting you in on the secret of eternal life.

• We first got suspicious of this when he said he was in “Ethiopia, Eastern Africa” as if he went to signposting classes in US Mini-Series Director School. We know where Ethiopia, and we imagine so did the audience as those folk who don’t would have been watching I’m A Celebrity…, unless they were in the park sniffing glue.

• He also said, “The core of our planet… is as hot as the surface of our Sun!” as if this was a revelation of Biblical proportions when in fact it sits snugly in the compartment of general knowledge. And: “I think it’s fair to say that most of us go about our daily lives completely unaware that our planet is incredibly hot!” While we can appreciate Iain is trying to set in context the mystery and wonder of the Earth, framing it with ludicrously presumptuous nonsense isn’t the best way to effect this.

• But his lack of faith in the general knowledge stretched beyond international boundaries as, while swimming in geothermic-heated pool in Iceland, he confided: “The people here might not be so relaxed if they knew exactly how the water gets heated. Right beneath is a seething mass of red-hot molten rock!” We’d wager that Icelandic school kids get taught basic geology about their own homeland.

• While he also said a very early period in Earth’s history was “the Hadean period, named after Hades, the kingdom of Hell.” Hades was, in Greek mythology, the destination of all the dead souls, whether damned or not, unlike the Christian Hell, which catered for the Peter Andres of this world.

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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