Earth from Space, episode 1, review: the astonishing money shots of life from on high

Jasper Rees
'The power to take the breath away': Earth from Space - 2

In the parallel universe in which I get listed in Who’s Who, my hobby will be set down as “staring out of aeroplane windows”. (From the air, obviously.)

The gift of flight has given humanity a bird’s-eye view of the world which never ceases to astonish. Earth from Space (BBC One) tapped into that wonder with the help of satellite photography that, freakily, can zoom in on an elephant in Kenya.

The result was an hour of television – with three more to come – that was long on awe. Images of the San Andreas Fault or the island city Venice swimming like a fish in its lagoon have the power to take the breath away.

These are the money shots that earn the series a title which is only slightly misleading. The light-bulb idea is to marry these lofty pictures with film shot from drones or on the ground, which make closer observations of animal life spotted from on high. 

It sort of worked. The most implausible discovery seen from  the stratosphere was of new colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica, whose guano show up a treat on a satellite zoom. A camera crew visited to watch these deposits staining the ice. So what if Dynasties recently profiled emperors.

Similar stories about hippos creating waterways in the Okavango Delta or a seal pup in Lake Baikal, Siberia, also fulfilled the brief. Shorter snippets had less scientific thought behind them and more of a page-turning coffee-table vibe: a case of wow, look at that, and that, and that!   

There was a slightly soporific soundtrack, and Chiwetel Ejiofor on narrator duty had the thankless job of not sounding as much like God as Sir You Know Who. The episode concluded with a stunning display of mass kung fu in China – forget the Great Wall being visible from space; this parade of human choreography discreetly argued that the future is not only hot and wet, but also Chinese. Meanwhile, there was no sign of  the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster.