CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on TV: Sir David and his dinosaurs take TV wizardry into a new league

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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Sir David and his dinosaurs take TV wizardry into a new league

Prehistoric Planet


Silent Witness


When Sir David Attenborough first saw the tyrannosaurs and triceratops of Prehistoric Planet, he marvelled: ‘It’s like watching them through binoculars.’

This five-part Apple TV+ series, with a new episode every day this week, superimposes animated digital dinosaurs onto real-world landscapes. The driving force behind the show is a big beast from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, Mike Gunton — producer of major wildlife documentaries such as Planet Earth II and Dynasties.

His influence not only secured Sir David as the narrator, but persuaded LA producer Jon Favreau to bring a team of Hollywood computer graphics wizards.

The results are astounding. In a vivid recreation of the world 66 million years ago, baby T. Rexes hunt turtles on the coastline of a vanished ocean.

Alex Bull walks past Tyrannosaurus rex footprints that have been recreated in the sand to launch Prehistoric Planet

Alex Bull walks past Tyrannosaurus rex footprints that have been recreated in the sand to launch Prehistoric Planet

Pterosaur hatchlings throw themselves from a cliff on their first flight, only to be snapped up by sabre-billed predators. Those familiar Attenborough tones help quell our disbelief as we see monster lizards diving to hunt on coral reefs or ammonites erupting in neon courtship displays underwater.

Apple refuses to divulge the show’s budget but only a tech company with the financial resources of a medium-sized nation could achieve this. It’s TV in a new league.

Another technical by-product is more alarming. I rarely attend gala screenings, since TV is best viewed at home, but I did go to the Prehistoric Planet launch.

Escape kit of the night: 

Interrogated on Hunted (C4), a Brummie bloke called Anil was inventing silly lies to confuse the pursuers. His fugitive cousin Amarinder was easy to spot, he said — carrying an air rifle and a mousetrap ‘to catch his dinner’. Then he collapsed into giggles. 

In a packed auditorium, journalists were told that every seat was miked up, so that everything we said could be heard — and we wouldn’t have to shout when we asked questions. We were also assured we didn’t need to take notes. A full transcript would be provided later.

I’ve been doing this too long to trust such promises. During an interval, I remarked quietly to my neighbour that writing shorthand in a dark cinema was almost impossible.

Five minutes later, the master of ceremonies made an announcement. It had come to the organisers’ notice that journalists might be recording the launch. This was forbidden. If any audio from the event appeared on the internet, he said, ‘people will be hunted down like dogs and slain’. I don’t mind the humorous threat, but the implied possibility of electronic eavesdropping on journalists at a media event is slightly chilling. The full transcript never arrived, by the way, and my shorthand was illegible.

In another 66 million years, Silent Witness (BBC1) will still be going. The oldest crime show on TV celebrated its 25th series with the return of its first star, Amanda Burton as Prof Sam Ryan.

She was on the scene as the health secretary (Emma Beattie) was assassinated by a sniper. Suspicion fell on terrorist anti-vaxxers, determined to prevent the introduction of a ‘health passport’. Our forensic sleuths, Dr Nikki and Jack (Emilia Fox and David Caves), indulged in earnest discussions on the rights and wrongs of data protection. But they’re distracted: after years of professional flirting, they plunged into bed, in a hotel room in Liverpool.

That looks grim for Jack. Dr Nikki’s boyfriends never survive long, and Jack is already complaining of headaches. It’ll take more than a health passport to save him.

But who will emerge the victor between Nikki and Prof Sam? They have already clashed in the autopsy room, over one of the goriest dissections ever staged. This could be a bloodbath in all sorts of ways.



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