A Perfect Planet review – another can’t-miss David Attenborough series

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: January 4, 2021 (Last updated: February 9, 2024)
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A Perfect Planet review - another can't-miss David Attenborough series


A Perfect Planet is a lot like all of Sir David Attenborough’s natural history documentaries, which means it’s can’t-miss television.

There are so many David Attenborough documentaries that keeping track of them is almost impossible – but it’s impossible to get sick of them. That’s largely down to how endlessly fascinating the natural world is, sure, but it’s also because Attenborough’s both a wonderful naturalist, always able to find a just-fresh-enough slant for a new program, and a magnificent orator, always able to find the right words – or be content with none, if necessary. Attenborough’s various adventures have become appointment viewing because the British public finds comfort in the spare gravitas of the old bugger’s voice, even while, as in Netflix’s recent A Life On Our Planet, he’s using it to warn us of an impending human-engineered climate catastrophe.

A Perfect Planet, all five parts of which are now available on BBC iPlayer, won’t be anything new to fans of Attenborough’s previous work, which means it’s basically unmissable natural history television by definition. Angling towards the all-powerful forces of nature that have shaped the Earth into its current composition and enabled all life upon is a fresh-feeling slant, but it amounts to much the same thing – awe-inspiring photography and lean narration that, taken together, somehow take a subject that would be indescribably dry in a textbook and make it beautiful, captivating, and powerful.

To be honest, I thought I could live my life not learning another thing about mineral-rich grasses or ash-rich waters. I thought I’d seen enough footage of bears swiping salmon, and speedy hyenas chasing down plains animals. (Hyenas, by the way, are unrelated to both dogs and cats, which is probably why Scar tried to mug them off so badly in The Lion King.) As it turns out, though, you can’t have too much of a good thing. The baked-in drama and tragedy of the natural world are such that these stories are riveting every time, especially when Attenborough is narrating them since he’s such an old hand at this kind of thing that he knows just how to spin it for maximum drama without coming across as artificial.

Like other such shows, A Perfect Planet took a long time to make – four years in this case, and in this genre, particularly, you can always tell. The footage isn’t just gorgeous but threaded with an incredulous “how did they do that?” quality, so it’s perhaps just as well that the “how” is part of the package. I’ll never get sick of the time, dedication, and ingenuity that goes into making these things, and the fact that advances in technology have more or less kept pace with each new project means there’s always a sense of them leveling-up.

The essential, sobering message remains the same, though – this is a beautiful thing, this fleck of rock in the middle of an uncaring galaxy that we all call home, and we’re destroying it through our own selfishness and hubris. If humanity, as Attenborough claims, is a new kind of super-volcano, hopefully, we all get a bit more switched on before it erupts.

BBC, TV Reviews
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