‘Wonders Of The Universe’: Episode 4 review

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“Nine billion years after it all began, in an unremarkable piece of space in the Orion spur of the Perseus arm of a galaxy called the Milky Way, a star was born that we call the Sun – a star that illuminated our embryonic solar system with light…”

In the final part of this enthralling series, Professor Brian Cox takes a final journey across the world from the Karnak Temple in Egypt to the Yoho National Park in the Rockies, demonstrating the many facets of the one thing which connects us all with the myriad wonders of the universe around us: light.

Sunlight travels around the world seven times in a click of the fingers; a light year is ten million million kilometres; and the lights in the night sky began their journey from the stars to our eyes before the human race even existed – and these are some of the easier concepts to grapple with.

Quantum fluctuations, the Big Bang theory (cosmological and evolutionary) and the wavelengths of starlight are hardly subjects with which viewers from a non-scientific background will be familiar with; and so it’s ever clearer that the show’s success in engaging with all parts of the audience lies with Brian Cox. His genuine joy for astronomy and physics, and his willingness to impart knowledge without being too baffling or too patronising, are crucial factors in making Wonders Of The Universe accessible to everyone.

Whether playing with rocks in the desert to illustrate the findings of Danish astronomer Ole Rømer, marvelling at the way light bends and reflects around the spray of Victoria Falls, or smashing the sound barrier whilst flying a jet fighter inverted full throttle at 60,000 feet (‘a doddle,’ he remarks modestly as he climbs out of the cockpit), the pianist Professor’s easy-going approach means that, unlike the first structures born at the beginning of the universe, there’s no danger of the programme collapsing beneath the weight of its own gravity. How could it, when he enthuses with such wide-eyed glee about hot, young, blue stars? It sounds like he’s talking about some kind of Smurf porn.

Of course, despite his integral presence, it’s not just the presenter who makes Wonders Of The Universe so, well, wondrous. Tribute must also be paid to director of photography Kevin White, composer Sheridan Tongue, director/producer Chris Holt and series producer James Van Der Pool for the stunning visual look of the show, the evocative incidental music and the language with which the mind-blowing data is imparted – the poetry of physics, if you will.

It is the combination of these factors, along with Brian Cox and the sheer majesty of the universe itself, which have elevated the programme way beyond the level of ordinary documentaries and into something truly special: something that deserves its own place in the heavens.

Airs at 9pm on Sunday 27th March 2011 on BBC Two.

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