Catastrophe Indeed

November 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews


Tony Robinson fronts this new documentary series from C4 about the formation of Earth in his usual breathless, sincere way, but for once it doesn’t seem charming. The main failing of Catastrophe is the way in which it reminds the viewer of Friday afternoon physics lessons with the young teacher putting his feet up to mark a few books whilst the class settle their heads on the desks for the hour. Catastrophe’s computer generated impressions of enormous planetary collisions are pretty, and the program’s as clear as could be expected, working along sensible chronological lines, but there’s an overwhelming sense of education – the attention wanders and we start to resent Robinson despite all his efforts to help us.

The adverts for Catastrophe were sensational, and I was looking forward to a program where planets acted more like enormous waterbombs full of lava than big balls of rock floating round in circles, and I suppose with such expectations I could only be let down. But to such an extent? I wasn’t left in awe by Catastrophe, but instead feeling that I’d really rather like to go for a swim.

The problem is that as big and exciting as the ideas may be, the process of forming these theories and collecting the evidence to support them is not at all interesting for the layman. The fact of the matter is that fossilised coral is not particularly photogenic and has very little to say for itself. Worse still, the sorts of people who spend most of their time looking at it are rarely well-equipped to explain their findings to your average Channel 4 viewer (god knows how it would fare on Dave).

The only conclusion I can come to is that it’s not the program makers’ fault. It’s not that this is a bad documentary – Tony Robinson does his gnome-like, charming best and the imagery is fantastic – but rather that the subject is not, despite all its inherent drama, interesting as most of it happened unimaginably long ago and to rocks. One can hardly empathise.

By Chris Harding

Chris Harding is a hunchbacked, inky-fingered upstart writing machine, wallowing in his own smug sense of self-satisfaction. He sleeps two hours a night, preferring to stand naked on his balcony and bellow obscenities at the moon.

Jill Scambler says:

I was extremely intersed to watch Catastrophe: Birth of a Planet last night and I would very much like to biuy two books of the series if I can. I do hope this will be possible. Could you please let me know if I can and also where and etc. Thank you in anticipatio.
Jill Scambler

Some Person says:

For someone who spends his nights naked in front of the moon, I’m surprised you took a populist approach to criticising this documentary. I thought it was very well explained and thoroughly enjoyed the 3d sequences of planets crashing into each other.