Last year, Top Gear’s ‘Hamster’, Richard Hammond, drew criticism for his role presenting Planet Earth Live.
Billed as a kind of ‘global Springwatch’, the show was an ambitious, worldwide, live nature event, but few viewers thought Hammond was right for the job – at least, not if the many messages which flooded the Points of View website were anything to go by... In fact, one disgruntled individual even saw fit to instigate a petition to be delivered to then BBC Director-General Mark Thompson, asking for him to be removed.
It seems a tad unfair. Granted, he’s better known for tearing around the landscape in various gas-guzzling sports cars than he is for actually appreciating the countryside, but there’s no denying he’s a tremendously talented presenter.
Still, whatever their reasons, it seems Joe Public just doesn’t want to see the dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead talking about planet Earth. So in this new, one-off science show, he takes a novel approach to answering his detractors by, well, starting his own planet from scratch.
Richard’s world is a CGI simulacrum – he’s not actually terraforming an entire, physical planet (we imagine budgetary constraints as well as a lack of adequate storage proved prohibitive) – but it’s still a pretty tall order, and one which he’s not going to approach lightly.
He begins by taking a unique vantage point some two miles above the Californian desert, on a dizzying platform atop a tower that makes the world’s tallest skyscrapers seem like a modest two-up two-down semi. From there he explores the science behind our own world, before considering what processes would be involved in piecing together a similar, Earth-like planet.
The first stage is to gather raw materials, a task which uses a fleet of lorries so vast it would put Eddie Stobart to shame. These basic elements are whipped up into a cloud of dust surrounding his tower, before physics takes over and the dust begins to form into something a bit more solid – and once some freshly cooked-up rocks are added, his unusual recipe starts taking shape...
He hears from some of the foremost experts in the various scientific disciplines, including a man who’s been to the Moon, as he attempts to get to the root of that which most of us have been taking for granted for the whole of our lives: the ground we walk on, and the air we breathe.
Along the way he carries out all manner of scientific experiments, from replicating zero-gravity conditions at the edge of space, to visiting a hi-tech lab where he gains first-hand knowledge of the sun’s inner workings – by viewing one being created inside a box.
At least he should be on steadier ground with the hands-on science – Hammond also fronted Brainiac: Science Abuse on Sky for four years. Although whether he manages to blow up any caravans in the course of his explorations here remains to be seen.
RICHARD HAMMOND BUILDS A PLANET, BBC1, Sunday 9pm