Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey Review


Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey is a Sunday night documentary feast of the best kind. Presented by the wholesome Kate Humble, taking a break from live TV lambing and donning a charmingly fitted fleece, and the equally as hearty Dr Helen Czerski in a pink wind-breaker, occasionally sky-diving, the series follows the Earth’s voyage through space for one whole year.

Much like our planet itself, this programme is both awe-inspiring and comforting. Magnificent scientific phenomena affecting the weather and very nature of our planet are explained both by sophisticated graphics, and very simple hands-on demonstrations.

A pleasing example is the explanation of the Coriolis effect, which causes winds to bend, creating hurricanes. Czerski stands on a children’s roundabout spinning anti-clockwise, representing the Northern Hemisphere, and throws a ball, which bends to the right, demonstrating the wind. To explain the fastest point of the Earth’s spin, Humble drives at 60mph in a car, but she is technically driving at well over 1000mph, as the road is directly along the Equator.

Both presenters, in their excitable jolly hockey-sticks way (“really horribly hot!â€? and “adds to the spice of life!â€?), inject an enthusiasm into the documentary, which is what makes it so enjoyable. They are occasionally joined by similarly bright-eyed student types, who in this episode help with an experiment to send a camera to hover above the Earth’s atmosphere (essentially a shoe-box coated in aluminium foil, hanging off a balloon – “not exactly NASAâ€? giggles Czerski), and against all odds, we are presented with some astounding footage.

As Humble predicts, we remember certain aspects of this planet science from physics lessons – the water-cycle, the Earth tipped on its axis, the moon’s gravitational pull – but there are also incredible revelations in abundance.

One such discovery is of a piece of coral that is 400 million years old, which suggests that years were 410 days long, and days lasted 21 hours, in an Earth where tides would crash in 100m high. There is also a breath-taking presentation of the “circulation cellsâ€? of winds (caused by that tricksy Coriolis effect again), enmeshing our planet in an eerily glowing and fluid gauze.

There is certainly higher drama, more sophisticated dialogue and better aesthetics here than in Upstairs Downstairs over on BBC1 – the world and his wife should tune in.