Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link, BBC1

by | May 31, 2009 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It might well be that Ida is the link that bonds mankind and lemurs 47 million years ago, but this programme cut all links between our eyes and cerebral activity, and often felt as if it had been on our screens for 47 million years through its focus on the dull story of how the fossil was snared and then filling out the sparse story of Ida with monotonous speculation.

What was good about it?

• Sir David Attenborough was, as ever, an excellent narrator, injecting each chapter with the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become his trademark. But sadly, there were occasions when it sounded as if he was a passing doctor forlornly breathing oxygen into the lungs of an already collapsed cold-dead pensioner, ignoring the stale nicotine fumes and sour mint of the denture cream to bring them round.

• The notion of Ida herself was beguiling as it brought the history of mankind into sharper focus, elucidating how Ida differed from the lemur branch of the monkey evolutionary tree that had only recently split.

• Also, the guesswork of Ida met her end seemed well-researched; explaining how she was probably overcome by noxious fumes while drinking beside a lake, falling in and then drowning to be excavated millions of years later. Though we can’t help feeling she probably would have preferred to have enjoyed a richer life than a projected existence of helping her almost infinitely distant descendants map their family tree.

What was bad about it?

• “Our research will be like an asteroid hitting the Earth!” said a German palaeontologist unaware that while important and fascinating it wouldn’t be quite as spectacular as that.

• The story of how Ida’s remains came into the hands of Dr Jorg Hurum was like the laborious plot of an American TV movie populated by actors who used to be in LA Law, a bit of skulduggery, a hint of altruism and a nice, round million dollar price tag we’re surprised he didn’t reveal he’d bought it from Dr Evil.

• The focus was biased towards the, apart from Dr Hurum, uncharismatic team conducting the research – this isn’t a criticism of scientists, their job is far more important than to add superficial bells and whistles to exclamatory programmes such as this, but when they’re endlessly speculating about a fossil, it does become boring.

• Because it was a single animal rather than a broader look at the fauna from the Eocene period, it restricted the flight into illuminating the viewers with a vibrant picture of life from that era.

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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