Review: Galapagos


In the UK: Fridays, 9pm, BBC2. Repeated Saturdays, 6.40pm on BBC2.

In the US: National Geographic at some point

God, I’m getting old. Friday night and what am I doing? Watching a nature documentary. Sigh.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a very good documentary. Even if it weren’t about the Galapagos Islands, which I’ve be curious about for ages (even before Master and Commander whet my appetite even further), I’d have probably tuned in just to watch. It’s like The Blue Planet: you’ve just got to, haven’t you?

Still, and I suspect this was the real point of it, it made me wish I’d got high def TV.

This is the first of several episodes and was merely by way of introduction to the wacky world of the Galapagos, a little chain of islands off the west coast of South America that developed its own ecosystems and unique forms of life thanks to its isolation from the mainland. So weird are the islands’ fauna, they helped, among other things, to help shape Darwin’s views on evolution and natural selection (finch controversy aside).

The Galapagos government are fiercely protective of the islands, so film crews rarely get a chance to do their work. Clearly the Beeb and National Geographic, the two producers of the series, are trustworthy names, since they’ve been given unprecedented access to the islands. And they’ve definitely made the most of it.

Just like The Blue Planet, you just sit there, wondering how the hell they managed to get the shots they did. The marine iguana, the sealions, the albatrosses, even the giant tortoises: they might as well have been sitting on your living room carpet, fixing you with a beady stare, everything was so vivid and close. Even the satellite photography was incredible. It might even have been CGI, I just couldn’t tell.

Again, nature documentary or subtle propaganda for HD?

On the minus side, I can’t say the narration was fantastic. Compared with David Attenborough, who could have read out the various beasts’ genomes and still made it sound interesting, this particular narrator (I couldn’t find her name listed in the credits) really didn’t seem to give a monkey’s. Maybe she thought it was easy money and she didn’t have to bother.

Whatever her problem was, it didn’t matter too much because I was too busy watching the animals to care most of the time. Still, it would have been interesting to have taken something away from the programme other than an abiding memory of albatrosses dancing.

While the pictures cover over any cracks in the narration, I don’t think this will necessarily qualify as one of those classic documentaries like Life on Earth that forever change the nature of television. It’s good, but not that good. If you’re not a nature lover, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this very much. Even if you are, there’s nothing quite as alluring as a whale or lion to draw you in. But if you’re curious about the Galapagos Islands, about evolution or just want to see some freaky animals, Galapagos could be just the thing you need on a Friday night.

There’s worrying, huh?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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