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07/23/2001 Archived Entry: "Space One"

So the first episode of Space ended about 100 seconds ago, and I've found myself magically drawn towards my computer, compelled to write about it. What did I think of it?

I thought it was pretty good. The intro sequence showed an incredible montage of computer generated imagery and Sam Neill was suitably enigmatic and non-American sounding to kick the show off. Fittingly, the first episode was about the formation of stars and planets - there were a few good interviews but I thought the production qualities were decidedly uneven at points. On the one hand, you had some stunning CGI and on the other, you had some laughably old and grainy stock footage that was supposed to show weather on Earth or something.

And of course there are dangers with CGI. One is that you end up never actually getting to see Sam Neill - instead he's just a narrator (and that'd never do, considering how much they're paying him). The BBC neatly sidestepped this problem by splicing the CGI into a live-action Sam outside in New Zealand, which worked pretty well except they didn't use it that often, probably because it was quite difficult to do.

Another problem is that no matter how good your CGI is, it's never easy to show what the interior of a star is, so all that wonderous imagery of its sunspots and flares degenerates into some murky red gunk when the camera goes inside. It was sad to see that Space did not deviate from this grand tradition of documentaries.

But I'm being overly negative here. While Space wasn't a 'deep' programme, I think it was quite accessible to the average viewer and there were some excellent sequences. In particular, they produced a superb CGI clip which showed the coalescence of a new second generation star from clouds of gas liberated from the first ever supernovae; set to the score of the Blue Danube (the old ones are always the best ones), you got to see the clumps of matter joining together in larger and larger segments to form a star, which then produced a shockwave to blow out all the other gas loitering in its accretion disk to leave behind the larger of matter-clumps, which then went on to form planets. First class stuff.

I did think that they were quite generous in saying that panspermia was a possibility for the origin of life on Earth, considering that it's far from being an accepted theory*. Unfortunately, I realised that the only reason they mentioned panspermia was because they wanted to produce a sequence (good CGI with terrible, awful stock footage - what were they thinking?) where they could use the voiceover '...and this was the exact moment that life began on Earth.' Either that, or they didn't want to get bogged down in replicators and evolutionary theory.

It was a fairly good start, I think, especially when the formation of stars and planets aren't really that easy to describe on TV. I imagine that when they move onto more interesting stuff like black holes and Mars, it'll pick up somewhat. Well, I know it will, because they've interviewed the usual suspects of Mars scientists from the Mars Society.

*I have no problem with panspermia as a theory and of course it's not impossible for life or spore-bearing comets from other planets to get here. But when they say that 'Panspermia must have happened because life appeared on Earth too quickly,' they're not really offering an explanation because life had to start somewhere, and when you factor in the travel times for a comet going from one star to another (I don't even want to think of how long it could take - at least millions, possibly billions of years), it's not so nice. Still, intrasystem panspermia is a reasonable concept, as demonstrated by ALH84001.

...I bet none of you know what the hell I'm talking about any more, right?

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