TV-Review: Human Universe Episode 1

Brian Cox had already tackled the Wonders of the Solar System, the Universe and Life in his previous three brilliant BBC documentaries and this year he has been filming his fourth series, focusing on human evolution. Made by the same great team that worked previously with Brian Cox, Human Universe walks firmly in the footsteps of its predecessors and the first episode, broadcast on Tuesday by BBC2, has already been amazing. This will be the first of a series of short reviews of each episode which I hope to continue in the next weeks.

Episode 1 – Apeman – Spaceman

Chronicling the path of humanity from the earliest apemen to humans living in space, Brian Cox starts in Russia’s Star City – they didn’t let him travel to the space station, but he did have a go in the neutral buoyancy lab under water in full spacesuit attire! The series quickly movies on to where it all began in Ethiopia, where humanity first evolved. From definitely human-like, but still not fully intelligent baboons, Brian Cox shows where the first humanoids branched off in the tree of evolution with the first signs of intelligence found in the creation of tools and weapons. The seafaring tribes in Ethiopia’s Lake Ziway and the Gulf of Aden serve as an example of human adaptability to use their environment for survival, but the impact on the environment on human evolution is also revealed in the Great Rift Valley, where natural disasters on a great scale always happened in concurrence with an increase in brain size of early hominids.

Next, Brian Cox travels to Jordan and visits the ancient city of Petra to show how collaboration has led humanity to develop agriculture, trading and city-building. This ultimately lead to the written language and the beginnings of early science, all linked to curiosity and the thirst for knowledge paired with the will to survive even in the harshest environments. The episode is then capped off with something very special – Brian Cox was able to travel to Kasachstan to witness the return of Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky from the International Space Station in March 2014. Seeing him almost speechlessy standing not far away from the Soyuz capsule, freshly returned from space, is a great finale for this inagural episode.

While Human Universe has a less grandiose and more down-to-earth feel than Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey, Brian Cox certainly has the same infectious enthusiasm as Neil deGrasse Tyson and the different approach to the production with less CGI and more traditional, hands-on filmmaking make this an equally wonderful series, which may even get better in the next four episodes. Episode 1 is being repeated on Sunday on BBC2 at 7pm British time, the next episode will be shown next Tuesday at 9pm on BBC2 with the same Sunday repeat. You can also watch the series on the BBC’s iPlayer, but only when you are in England. The series will also be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 10th in the UK and an accompanying book has already been published.

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