Review: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, BBC One, Sunday 1 February, 9pm

David Attenborough on The Andrew Marr Show 1st Feb 2009

Following review by Sian Meades TV Scoop

Evolution is not a theory; evolution is the truth. A huge statement from David Attenborough in Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. One that's given him a handful of complaints from creationists. This show was always going to spark controversy, but it was good enough to stand up to it and made a compelling argument.

Of all of the Attenborough shows I've seen, this one was the best by miles. Sir David Attenborough has a natural ease that makes watching him a pleasure. The idea of evolution, put forth by Charles Darwin, isn't always that simple, but Attenborough makes understanding the theory a breeze. He makes science accessible. And that's why his shows are so good.
Celebrating 150 years since Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Attenborough talked not only about Darwin's life, and where his ideas originated, but also how they affect us, and what this means for the animals we recognise today. It was admirable in its simplicity.

I had no idea that someone else had come up with the same theory as Darwin. He actually had to go 'head to head' with another scientist to decide who came up with the theory of natural selection first. Darwin had 25 years of evidence to back up his claims, but despite him winning the case, at this time, no one cared. This was a time when religion ruled over science and most people didn't believe Darwin's theory. Even Attenborough talked of professors of his time who refused to believe that the continents were once one huge super continent. These are great academics who didn't believe the theory in its entirety. There are still people who don't believe this.

There was no one better to present this show. Watching Attenborough quite humbly talk about Darwin and his theories, and tell the audience stories of his childhood and what he learnt then was magical. He has a sixth edition of On the Origin of Species. Darwin has clearly played a huge part in his life and work. To most of us, David Attenborough is as important to our understanding of the natural world as Darwin is, watching him talk about why Darwin was so important was inspiring. The show was an impressive mix of wildlife and history covering the idea that over millions of years, a breed of animal could evolve into its own species to suit its environment. I didn't take my eyes off the telly for the whole hour.

Some people might not believe in evolution, or indeed, Darwin's theory of natural selection, but Attenborough pulls this together with a modern twist and makes a compelling argument. The end scenes, explaining how birds turned into land based animals seemed a little too easy - computerised and glossy. But the rest of the show had built up to this point - it was believably that simple. What's most amazing, is that Darwin was convinced of this theory over 150 years ago. He was one of the most important minds in science and this fabulous show was a fitting tribute to a remarkable man.
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