Growing up in Australia in the 1970s, it was David Attenborough's groundbreaking documentary series Life on Earth that helped to shape my awareness of the world around me. In Attenborough at 90 (above; BBC Earth, Sunday at 5.55pm and on TVB Pearl on May 17, at 9.35pm), presenter Kirsty Young shows highlights from the man's extraordinary life and career.
Attenborough, who celebrated his milestone birthday last Sunday, is perhaps best known as the writer and presenter of the BBC's nine Life series. Each series seemed to involve a new filming technique that allowed us, the viewers, to witness increasingly remarkable animal encounters from all over the world. Attenborough and the BBC developed and then brought to the television screen fast-paced advances in wildlife filming technology as well as stories of the wonder and fragility of the natural environment.
However, inspiring as he is in helping to define the wildlife documentary, I can't help but think of the slaughter of African elephants, which continues at an unsustainable level, and the destruction of marine life, which threatens the very viability of the seas. For what is the success of his work if it hasn't curbed the poaching and exploitation? The businessmen pulling the strings of the global ivory trade obviously didn't grow up in wonder at the stories and ecological achievements that Attenborough has spent his life exploring and championing.
Nevertheless, that he continues to work at 90 is a remarkable testament to a remarkable man. Thank you, Sir David.
A more Cartesian view of the natural world can be found in new 13-part series Xploration Earth 2050 (TVB Pearl, Wednesday at 9pm), the first episode of which takes us into the world not only of robotics, but robotics that go back to nature for inspiration. Yes, that's right, inspired by nature! That this point is driven home heavily during the opening minutes suggests either an admiration or disdain for the natural world that we are, actually, part of. Hence the mind-over-body Cartesian reference, and I've been wanting to use that reference for ages. Ha!
Everything we do is inspired by nature, isn't it, by the simple fact that we are, after all, one of the great apes? Well, I am, at least. So we have the groundbreaking concept that if we mimic biomechanics from "nature" we can develop wonderful robotic machines that will do away with the man on the pizza-delivery bike; instead our junk food will be delivered by a drone that looks like a canary. But wait a minute, I want my pizza delivered by a person, although not one who doesn't have the right change, or is dressed like a canary, in which case I'm definitely not opening the door. Not that they can ever find my place out here in the New Territories, anyway; so how's a canary going to find it without my pizza going cold?
What am I talking about? All I'm trying to do is review a TV programme.
I do, however, like the potential offered by robotic camera probes in diagnostic medicine. I imagine myself lying there under mild sedation while a snake-like camera thingy crawls along arteries, followed by the surgeon's diagnosis: "Mr Auld, you're eating too much pizza."