WHILE not exactly fulfilling its implied promise of supplying the crucial missing chapters of the book of Genesis, Brian Cox: Seven days on Mars (seven days — geddit?) (BBC2, 17 June) offered significant challenges and perspective to any worthwhile doctrine of creation.
Professor Cox’s excitement at NASA’s achievement of designing and landing a Mars rover and, from a distance of 200 million miles, directing it as it currently navigates and explores the surface of the red planet is entirely justified. It is trundling across — top speed: ten hours to cover one mile — the Jezero crater, which was, we know, 3.8 billion years ago a vast sea. The real-time target of seven days was chosen because the rover should then have reached its former delta, the likeliest concentration of evidence of organic life.
On earth, water is a sure sign of life; if this is also true of Mars, then we have to acknowledge that life began not just on our planet, but throughout the universe, answering decisively for Professor Cox the question whether we are alone in the cosmos. There was something perversely encouraging in the fact that, despite the infinite technological genius and resource available, things, as with the constant disappointments of parish life, didn’t go according to plan, and the target wasn’t reached; rethinking, and a brave face, were required to present it as a success.
But, even if Martian water is demonstrated never to have generated the building blocks of primitive life, the quickening pace of space exploration makes it more and more certain that such life must exist elsewhere. Knowing that we are the children of an infinite omnipotent Creator means that Christians never for a moment consider that we are alone; but the day may fast be approaching when we must prepare to meet quite unsuspected distant cousins, and realise that our family tree looks rather larger than the one presented in the books of Moses.
The Outlaws (second series, BBC1, Sunday evenings) presents a moral and social universe far more complex and disturbing than initially apparent. This Bristol-based crime drama is billed as a comedy, and it contains very funny situations and characters. But its overarching plot has deep underlying seriousness, and a remarkable ability to pull the ethical rug from under your feet: just when we think that we can place securely this or that person into the appropriate pigeonhole, a new revelation about their back story or motivation causes us to rethink absolutely. It is dynamic, challenging, and rather moving.
The sketch show Ellie and Natasia (BBC3, Tuesdays from 21 June) has one basic gag: the absurdities of social-media culture. Crass ignorance and lack of even basic self-awareness are unmercifully lampooned. Are today’s young women really like this? I’m sorry to say that it is very rude indeed.