Shiny Shelf

Space Odyssey: A Voyage to the Planets

By Eddie Robson on 10 November 2004

This programme is, I presume, rooted in scientific fact. Certainly the manner in which it presents itself, as though it were a documentary about a six-year space mission, encourages this, and it carries the backing of scientific advisors. Its timeframe is non-specific – there are no attempts to predict future fashions or world events – it’s just a depiction of how such a mission might go ahead.

Frankly, I don’t really care if it’s realistic or not, because it’s cool anyway. I can easily imagine how exciting this would have been if I’d watched it when I was ten years old: I’d have taped it, and by the following afternoon I would have watched it at least three more times. It’s not far off the kind of thing I’d expected we’d be doing by now, but which is generally regarded as not worth investing in. The unhealthy political one-upmanship which gave us the space race has gone, and the idea that these things can be funded just out of interest in what’s out there has been proved sadly unrealistic. Nonetheless, it remains cool.

Writer/director Joe Ahearne is currently at work on the new series of ‘Doctor Who’, and you can bet that the CG models developed for this will see some re-use on that show. The future of British sci-fi looks a little brighter now that the BBC has demonstrated (to itself, if nobody else) that it can produce something which doesn’t look rubbish and embarrassing next to expensive movies. The blending of real locations with backdrops and CG shots is all achieved smoothly to create impressions of other planets.

It’s not exactly a thrill-a-minute stuff, although a space mission of this nature probably wouldn’t be. It also wouldn’t be covered in this way – as it would be by far the biggest space mission ever attempted by mankind, it would merit some kind of ongoing fly-on-the-wall documentary over the six years rather than a couple of hours on BBC1 – but this can be forgiven, as the format serves the subject matter well. After the shallowness of ‘British Isles’ and ‘Time Machine’, it’s good to see a series which tells you things you actually want to know, and after endless series with cheap historical reconstructions, it’s great to see a series that doesn’t just use dramatisation as a lazy expositional device.

Whilst ‘Space Odyssey’ is not the finest example of drama-doc I’ve ever seen, for all the reasons above it is something to celebrate. And kids should love it. In fact, why is it on at nine o’clock?

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By Eddie Robson

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