Forces of Nature

Brian Cox

Love him or hate him, Brian Cox – with all of his mellowed out vocal notes and his soft cushy speech – undoubtedly knows his stuff and understands how to present it in an interesting and engaging way. That’s exactly what you’re getting with BBC 1’s latest series as the Oldham-based professor returns to national television with his captivating “Forces of Nature” series – an informative and largely easy to follow series of documentaries which revolve around the basic principles which form and give life to the known universe.

The first episode of the series, focusing solely around form and shape, kicks the series off in strong style, exploring shape as, essentially, the building block behind the planets, matter and every individual mechanism, construct and life form in existence. Cox presents the episode through a series of real life representations of the shape theme, using the adaptations involved with shape in the lives of honeybees and manatees – to name but a few of the professor’s examples – to illustrate the diversity to which form is exploited.

The visuals used in the programme evoke a real sense of awe, likening the very real topics and theories of the programme with a beauty more akin to something of fiction or fantasy which is only emphasised further by a delicate backing soundtrack reminiscent of the cinematic intimacy one would expect to find in a Hollywood romance. Cox repeatedly uses imagery of crystalline snowflakes and other intricately formed structures in nature before deriving them to what he names the common “most efficient” shape; the hexagon, expanding upon the idea that every shape or form in existence is built up from a lattice of it soon after.

Cox cleverly presents the show in an engaging, “user friendly” way – by which I mean not flooding the show with scientific or mathematical jargon – but also keeps it informative and most importantly interesting for both science minded and more casual viewers.  The topics Cox talks about are relatable; close enough to everyday life but in exotic enough scenarios to keep the show from being mundane. Despite this all, the programme does require a certain level of engagement as it features very little of what I would call eye catching action, opting more for a calm and collected, methodical approach.

The second episode in the series adopted quite a different approach – to put it metaphorically if the first episode was a classical symphony it would follow that this episode would be rock and roll. Cox drops the viewer straight into the action with a gripping ascent into the earth’s stratosphere piloting a “euro fighter typhoon” (put simply one of the most high tech military aircraft on the planet), racing the earth’s rotation in a bid to “reverse the passage of the day.”

Cox presents the premise behind the episode as being focused around the theory and impact of space- time as well as exploring earth’s journey through space.  The show presents its core values with consistency despite contrasting its episodes by taking the second entry in the series in a different direction, keeping the appeal fresh. The latest instalment adopted a slightly more invigorating choice of content with the inclusion of more action based elements such as summer storms and fantastical visuals which would arguably feel more at home in an episode of Dr Who.  As a result of this, the episode is made far easier to watch for the casual viewer as it demands far less attention or viewer engagement that its predecessor.

In short then, Professor Brian Cox’s new programme “Forces of Nature” has a strong two opening weeks, fielding an interesting and enthusing visual display while keeping a classy, informative presentation and roster of themes to appeal to both the casual viewer and a more academic minded viewership.

Forces of Nature:The world in a snowflake runs on BBC I player until August 3rd, While the second episode, Somewhere in space time runs until August 10th.