Scary creatures

22 September 2017

BBC NHU/Patrick Evans

Tribes, Predators, and me: Gordon Buchanan with Bodi herdsmen, setting traps for hyenas

Tribes, Predators, and me: Gordon Buchanan with Bodi herdsmen, setting traps for hyenas

HOW can we manage that which we most fear? One 21st-century therapy is to make a documentary film about it. In Tribes, Predators and Me (BBC2, Thursday nights), the wild­life cameraman Gordon Buchanan seeks out the creatures that give him nightmares — and dips into the lives of those who build their exist­ence around them.

Last week, he was with a family group of Mongolian herds­men, who vary their diet and provide the fur to keep them warm by hunting game with golden eagles. Hawking is a highly skilled exercise; but these men do it on horseback. Buchanan, rightly terrified of the enormous and vicious birds, was determined to master the art in a week.

This was fascinating, but the pre­vious week’s programme was more profound: here, he visited a remote Solomon Island where they catch fish alongside man-eating sharks. “Look them straight in the eye” was the helpful advice he received; but, as this sojourn progressed, he did more than overcome a phobia.

He learned that modern industri­al­­isa­­tion is causing ecological cata­strophe. Long-distance commercial over-fishing — in particular, the insatiable demand for shark fins — is depleting stocks so much that the whole system is collapsing. The presence of sharks is, in fact, a good sign: it is a signal that the coral reefs are flourishing. So he left the place wishing for more sharks, not fewer.

The big story of these films is about learning a new relationship with the natural world and our place within it. Non-indus­trial hunting may paradoxically demon­strate a far closer respect for nature than our Western total dist­ance from wildlife. A second strand is equally signi­ficant: each way of life that he briefly shares is threatened. He may be recording their final generations.

A rather more manufactured terror lies at the heart of Black Lake, BBC4’s latest Scandi-noir Saturday offering. A group of friends set up in a remote ski lodge, abandoned for 20 years after a tragedy that the locals refuse to talk about. As the fear and mystery rises, relationships begin to unravel, and skeletons tumble out of closets. In other words, it is pretty much like a PCC awayday, with added skiing.

My attention was drawn to last Tuesday’s Quacks (BBC2) by the plot­line’s promise of a bishop caught in flagrante. This did not, how­ever, deliver my expected exploration of episcopal mores: the series is a spoof on Victorian med­ical practice, and the heroism and dedi­cation normally celebrated by TV programmes is here replaced by in­­com­­petence, venality, and ana­chron­istic misunderstanding. It is thin, but has some very funny mo­­ments.

David Mitchell can easily manage two comedy series at the same time: not content with launching Back (re­­­viewed last week), he returns with a second series of Upstart Crow (BBC2, Mondays), Ben Elton’s satire on the life of Shakespeare, relishing the same diet of incompetence and venality, but deliciously sending up the revered dramatic masterpieces.

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