David Thompson


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September 28, 2007


Dan Collins

Good stuff, David.


Yes. One of the best BBC shows. Jim Meacock's Mahlerian trumpet & horn theme tune is superb. It manages to be serious, majestic, wondrous and exciting all at the same time.

Some years later the Beeb did a series presented by Sam Neil called "Space", which was terrible. Neil came over like a smug Play School presenter, the science was dumbed down, the score formulaic chillout textures. It brought home just how brilliant The Planets was.

There's a certain type of documentary the Beeb does better than anyone else - the Attenborough nature docs, for instance. Randomly turn on a Discovery or History channel show and you'll see how badly these things are usually done.

Anyone seen the new Palin travelogue round Eastern Europe?



Episodes 3 and 4 have also materialised online, on the Voyager mission and the Moon. Both are very well made and at times quite moving. And Meacock’s themes for Saturn and Neptune are particularly good. I’m still tickled by the coincidental alignment of the outer planets at the very moment Voyager’s ‘grand tour’ mission was remotely conceivable and, as a result of that alignment, just about technically possible. Watching the series again, it’s striking just how often serendipity plays a role.

There are also those wonderfully symbolic shots (I think in episode one) where telescopes have been fitted to what look like anti-aircraft guns in order to track the first prototype rocket launches. There’s one wonderful piece of footage, filmed through one of those telescopes, where we follow a crude rocket upwards until – coincidentally – it passes the distant moon. You can almost picture the light bulb flicking on. “Hey, guys…”

The Planets series stands out almost as an anomaly when you consider the lowbrow tendency of most BBC science programming. Horizon, for instance, has gone from being the flagship science programme to being practically gutted of ‘difficult’ content. As far as I can make out, it’s now a very low priority and is apparently scheduled at random.



The unmanned Voyager missions were arguably more of an achievement than the manned moon missions, even if they didn't catch the world's attention so much.

I find some of these scientists to be such wonderful personalities - Hal Levinson, David Grinspoon - also the ex-soviet scientists of the Venera missions...

I remember Patrick Moore explaining Venus on a "Sky At Night". If you somehow landed on the planet's surface, he explained, you'd be crushed by the atmospheric pressure (92 times that on Earth), roasted by the high surface temperature (500 Centigrade), corroded by the sulphuric acid clouds, and then tossed around by 300 Km-per-hour winds! It sounded so hellish it was actually funny.


Yes, Farouk El-Baz (aka “The King”) deserves his own show. And, yes, the Voyager mission is arguably NASA’s greatest achievement to date. It was such a remarkable combination of improbability, serendipity and seat-of-the-pants technology. That’s one of the series’ great strengths – underlining just how extraordinary those efforts actually were. The very edge of what was possible, and indeed still is. It’s also interesting to note how the original, rather shaky, Voyager footage of the planetary approaches is so much more arresting than the CG recreations.

Not bad for hairless monkeys.


IMHO the whole manned space program was a massive mis-allocation of capital.



Don’t hold out on us. Here’s NASA’s budget. What do you have in mind?

Matt M

We could've used the money to create a monkey-octopus hybrid. Just think of the possibilities.


Ah, so Matt’s the tentacle porn enthusiast. I should have guessed.


Oh, it’s no use looking all shocked.

Matt M

Actually, I've always had a slight phobia about giant squid and octopi. Not sure why I picked that up. But the thought of swimming in the sea and those long tentacles unfurling in the depths beneath you... uuurgh.

The monkey-octopus hybrid stems more from a desire to see it swinging through the trees. Tell me you you wouldn't pay money to see that.

Although this is almost as fun:



> Don’t hold out on us. Here’s NASA’s budget. What do you have in mind?

Split out the manned bit and hand it back to taxpayers.


“The thought of swimming in the sea and those long, one might say sensuous, tentacles unfurling in the depths beneath you…”

I rest my case. Filthy.

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is, however, hilarious.


Eventually the Sun is going to fry Earth, so our descendants will have to live in space and/or on other planets if life is to continue. Plus there's the principle of not putting all our human eggs in one basket. Once people live on more than just the one planet we can't be eradicated with a single comet collision or gamma ray burst.

Has anyone read Ward & Brownlee's "The Life & Death Of Planet Earth"? They reckon on current projections we only have half a billion years until Earth's CO2 levels fall too low for photosynthesis, & all the plants die.

They also have this suggestion for gradually moving the Earth further away from the Sun, by trapping a comet in a permanent fly-by between Earth and Jupiter. Each trip it will nudge us a little bit further from the Sun - until we crash into Mars!

Matt M

If I recall my '60s Science Fiction correctly - and I believe I do - it's possible to alter the course of the planet through the simultaneous detonation of atomic bombs.


Not only would this solve the issue of global warming (by moving us away from the sun) but it'd also use up our current supply of nuclear weapons.



What could possibly go wrong…?


Matt M

From that Wikipedia article:

"...the scenario presented in the film is now considered highly improbable."


Planning for events in 4 billion years time (Sol goes red giant) seems a little premature to say the least. Perhaps the people who earned the money might have some more useful uses for the money? After all, compounding growth in the economy will make a huge difference to our ability to actually explore space properly when the right time comes.


"Perhaps the people who earned the money might have some more useful uses for the money?"

The taxpayers of Ferdinand and Isabella probably felt the same about the money they gave to Columbus for his pie-in-the-sky expedition. How was that supposed to benefit the Spanish economy exactly?



Did it? Spain now seems slightly bankrupt.


Come on, Anti Citizen - surely you can't be so completely negative towards the whole "Age Of Discovery" which Columbus's voyage inaugurated. It made European civilization dominant, gave us potatoes, tobacco, chocolate and cocaine, and ultimately N-Sync, Gangsta Rap and Desperate Housewives. Just think what we'll bring back from Mars when we colonize that! I can't wait...



It's like starting to colonise the U.S. When you haven't worked out how to float yet. No matter how much you invest in stone monolith boats it just won't float.

Say you let people invest in FORESTRY for their houses, then you might find the bizzare concept of a "wooden" boat industry springing up....

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