I’VE NEVER knowingly watched a podcast; so the prospect of a whole three-part “podcast-style” documentary filled me with great anticipation. Would this be my road-to-Damascus moment of enlightenment, my stepping over the threshold into the contemporary world of knowledge and education, bringing me finally into line with the rest of humankind?
Alas, on the evidence of the first episode of BBC4’s H2O: The molecule that made us (Wednesdays), I retreat back into the library’s vellum tomes with relief. The American journalist Kelly Ann McEvers presented a sequence of bite-sized snapshots, highlighting first this and then that remarkable fact about water — but each too brief to explore the significance of what we were seeing, and not giving the scientists adequate room to develop their arguments, or allowing the implications to sink in, before we were off across the world to the next thing.
This brevity was all the more regrettable because what was on show was wonderful and important, and many of the findings were brand new. One segment considered the remarkable phenomenon of — significantly, for us — resurrection plants, of which some 125 species are known. These can survive, apparently quite dead, for decades, then spring back to life when given a drop of water; some seeds can germinate after 30,000 years of suspended animation.
Water, first appearing 4.3 billion years ago, is the link between the living and non-living worlds. We are currently making startling and rapid discoveries about, for example, our earth’s systems of “rivers in the sky”: ocean-crossing streams of clouds which create a worldwide cradle of growth — discovering it, that is, just at the moment when our incontinence finally brings the whole system crashing into the dust. It looks fantastic, and offers inspiration for an endless stream of addresses, sermons — or podcasts, perhaps?
As we draw up our plans to launch the 10,000 new churches — or is it 20,000? I forget (News, 16 July) — surely we can draw inspiration from a BBC4 series, Missions (Wednesdays, July-August, now on iPlayer). Unfortunately, this is not the how-successfully-to-evangelise primer for which we long, but series two of the French sci-fi about exploring Mars. It is stylish and addictive escapism, playing around with the grandest philosophical conundrums (it is French) — free will, predestination, what constitutes a person — and the classics (references to the Iliad abound). It is doom-laden, portentous, and entirely without humour; but at least they don’t hand out tracts or set up an Alpha course.
Parkinson at 50 (BBC1, Saturday) was a retrospective of all the decades of celebrity interviews conducted by Barnsley’s finest son. He shared his skills: the importance of making physical relationship through eye contact, of finding a spark of sympathy. Movingly, his favourite of all turned out be none of the film stars, sports personalities, or comedians, but Jacob Bronowski, quoting Oliver Cromwell as he surveyed the desolate sight of Auschwitz’s obscenities.