Alien Worlds Review
Mostly, I only have two issues with creationism. Well, three if you include creationists being, in Northern Ireland at least, associated with a certain type of Christianity that's not at all Christian in its outlook but mostly two. Less seriously, one of those issues concerns dinosaurs and having raised them with a, as we might call them in this part of the world, holy roller, I was told that there was nothing in the Bible to say that dinosaurs didn't exist. Other, as I replied, than Adam, Cain, Abraham or Jacob make no mention, or at least Moses doesn't, of them running in fear of the Velociraptors that were running wild through both the Garden of Eden and then Israel.
You might think that Eve would have mentioned it - "Eat this apple you say...but won't God - Shit! what's that huge lizard doing there?" but I accept that in the far reaches of logic, assuming it is a circular concept that eventually meets illogic, the towns of Sodom and Gomorra may well have been razed to the ground by dinosaurs, which was then interpreted as an act of God. He does move in mysterious ways indeed.
Indeed, the bigger problem that I have is that there is no mention of the possibility of life on other planets. Were there only us, surely there would be no need for a universe of an infinite size full of stars and planets too distant for us to ever visit - even now Mars represents to great a challenge for us - whilst if we're not alone in this universe but were created by God as part of His seven-day plan, you might think that this have been mentioned in one of the conversations He'd had with Noah, Abraham or Moses. Something along the lines of letting us know that He had a great many eggs in His basket. It must be difficult to realise that being God's chosen people doesn't quite extend to all of His domain.
At least on the evidence of the planets shown in Alien Worlds, we don't have a great deal to worry about. Accepting that in a universe of an infinite size and that life, above all else, wants to be, Channel 4 brought a selection of scientists together to debate what life may be like were we to discover other planets capable of supporting life. Given that we find life in the most extreme places on Earth, these scientists have let their imaginations run free but have based their assumptions on what we know of how life developed here, even to their connecting of the discoveries of alien planets with the launch of the Terrestrial Planet Finder in the coming years. Once commissioned, it is thought that scientists will discover that life-supporting planets are more plentiful than we can imagine but they focus on two in this series, each of which gets its own episode.
Aurelia (48m25s): Circling a red dwarf star is the first planet in the series, one that doesn't spin on an axis but has one hemisphere bathed in eternal sunlight whilst the other is covered in ice. The dominant species is the Stinger, an animal that, with its giant pink leaf, actually looks like a plant. These Stingers moves slowly across the planet's surface shielding other creatures on Aurelia from the harsh light of the nearby star - the 15ft-high Gulphogs, the small Mudpods and Hysteria, a sea creature that swarms as do insects and which can eat a Gulphog in minutes from the inside out. The makers of Alien Worlds even examine what might happen when Aurelia's star suddenly flares, sending out a great burst of ultraviolet radiation that is capable of killing any creature left unshielded, with one Mudpod, a particularly sickly example, caught unaware.
Blue Moon (49m00s): The second episode concerns an Earth-like mood orbiting a gas giant around a set of twin stars, whose dominant plant life, the Pagoda Trees, separate the bright atmosphere above from the dark undergrowth. Above the Pagoda Trees fly Sky Whales and Stalkers, whilst below are various scavenging plants and animals, including the Deathtraps. With a dense atmosphere and high levels of oxygen, fires can start anywhere but death can also come from anywhere, particularly when a Sky Whale is set upon by a swarm of comparatively tiny Stalkers but who have strength in numbers.
The problem with the show is that it can look to be nothing more than the various mental wanderings of a select group of scientists from, amongst other places, NASA and Cambridge University. But what they stress is that in a universe of infinite size (10^30 light years across) and with an infinite number of stars (estimated at 10^22), there will also be an almost infinite number of planets capable of supporting life. What with much life being based on the idea of convergence - this states that life will evolve to walk, swim, fly or a combination thereof and given that there are only a number of ways to do this, life on other planets won't behave entirely dissimilar to life on Earth - the assumptions that the scientists make are genuine ones and that there is a good chance that Sky Whales, Stalkers, Mudpods, Stingers and Gulphogs will all exist somewhere in this universe. Everything, then, makes a great deal of sense and although it's not much more than a great what-if, Alien Worlds is the kind of documentary that eats up an hour or two without really noticing.
Alien Worlds comes to DVD looking very much as it was shown on Channel 4 last year, albeit it with an improved sound and picture quality. There's not as much noise as there would be on a Sky or Freeview broadcast of the show but it still stops short of the quality one might expect of a film. The sound is very good, though, with the 2.0 Surround track using the rear channels effectively, with the documentary style of the show, as well as the few audio effects that are used, keeping the soundtrack clean and uncluttered.
Making Of (28m33s): Although short, this covers a good deal of background information on the show, from the moment that the various scientists first came together in a temporary building on an airstrip to the actual filming of scenes on the studio sets that have had to stand in for Aurelia and the Blue Moon until such time as a manned spacecraft actually makes it to such planets in our distant future. Staying within the half-hour mark, this doesn't make a great demand on our time but, equally, doesn't come up short on the kind of information that one might want to know, such as how does someone go about impersonating a Gulphog.
Alien Profiles: Put this into a PC or Mac and you get access to a Flash presentation of the various creatures from Aurelia and the Blue Moon along with various screenshots, videos and the ability to rotate CG views of lifeforms found there. There are also a great many facts about both planets as well as the Milky Way, with the suggestion that with both planets being in the same galaxy as Earth, they are, relative to the size of the universe, in our own back yard.
Trailer (4m01s): Coming from Channel 4 International, this isn't the kind of trailer that you'd have seen flagging this series on the terrestrial channel, more one used to promote it in international markets. As such, it's longer than what you might expect but, otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary.
Thanks to affordable CG and models, we're treated to views of Aurelia, the Blue Moon and all of the creatures who exist on them, which is intercut with interviews from the various scientists who advised the programme-makers. The CG falls well short of what you'd find in a film but it's perfectly satisfactory nonetheless, with Alien Worlds being an enjoyable pair of shows that make few demands of its audience. Whether it's the kind of show that's worth owning on DVD is another question but creationists and evolutionists may wish to keep a copy to either feel enraged at its suggestions or, in the manner of the permanently-furious Richard Dawkins, as proof of how life, above all else, will exist wherever in the universe it can.