Waking The Baby Mammoth Review: Go Back To Sleep

December 3, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

2.5Mammoth300 WAKING THE BABY MAMMOTH: Friday 4th December, Channel 4, 9pm ALERT ME

If I believed everything I saw in the cinema, I’d think that dinosaurs co-existed with humans and that all woolly mammoths had sabre-toothed tigers for mates and spoke with celebrity voices.

That’s why documentaries exist, to put us back on the straight and narrow and to tell us that if animals lived together, they’d probably be trying to kill each other.

Lyuba is an almost perfectly preserved baby mammoth found in Russia’s Arctic Circle in 2007 by nomadic tribesmen. At around one month old, she’s about the size of a small dog. With such a significant find researchers from all over the world descend like scientific vultures in the hope that they’ll be able to learn more than ever about how these hairy hulks lived, 40,000 years ago.

After transporting the specimen to a lab in Japan, a series of highly specialised tests are performed and the researchers begin to theorise about how she met her demise. When it’s not immediately clear from the carcass, two of the researchers decide to visit the site where she was found in Siberia and begin to dig in the permafrost for any clues.

The conclusions at which they arrive are interesting; it’s just a shame that the methodology isn’t.

A documentary like this needs to engage the viewer. That’s something that every Attenborough-fronted documentary has managed to achieve – all of his programmes are instantly accessible and positively brimming with his infectious enthusiasm.

Scientific research is frequently painstaking and takes a long time, but that aspect of it doesn’t make good TV. There are only so many statements like “my goodness, look at the desiccation fractures on the crown? that you can take before your shoes begin to look more interesting. Imagine watching Grand Designs and then having to watch them screw all the scaffolding together.

There’s a little attempt to inject some life into the proceedings by a CGI baby mammoth created for the show, which is shown prancing about in various locations and interacting with the researchers, but there’s very little for it to do.

That Lyuba is a significant discovery is not in any doubt. She’s easily the most important find of her kind and should be celebrated by the scientific community. But in a documentary clocking in at an hour and a half and lacking anything for the average audience member to get their teeth into, you might be less than enthusiastic about its shaggy conclusion.

Coral Levett says:

Such a scientific find should be celebrated with enthusiasm and passion, and done so in such a way that everyone from young to old should have their spark for the discovery fostered… But no, I fear not… and for that reason alone it is such a waste. I for one would like to learn more about such an awesome unearthing, but am not convinced that I’m going to be watching this one to find out. Thanks for the review Jez.