The third installment of this fascinating documentary series sees Professor Brian Cox alternating between suntanned and sunburnt, in a dashing variety of windbreakers, as he travels the globe to explain the force of gravity.
Always one for a grand visual metaphor, Cox opens the show astride a snowy mountain top, enthusing about the gravitational pull that binds planets and solar systems together, shaping their form. Soon he’s rocketing off in an anti-gravity airplane to whizz about in mid-air, as the plane plummets from 30,000 feet. Laughing manaically whilst bumping his head on the padded walls, and kicking his legs like an airborne merman, he’s having more fun than anyone’s ever had outside Disneyland – and we’re only ten minutes in.
As Cox explains the intricate ways that gravity affects life on Earth, he goes on another fieldtrip, this time to a gravity-simulator. Climbing into a weird pod (covered in stickers suspiciously similar to the ones on my teenage guitar case) which starts to spin, the Prof is subjected to the varying gravity levels and, ergo, varying face-melt levels, of other planets. Venus’s gravity makes it hard for him to lift his hand, while Jupiter’s has him struggling to heave his arms into the air, and an exo-planet with intense gravitational pull reduces him to a shrivvelled, dribbling man-slug. It’s probably what Berlusconi would look like if someone sucked all the botox out of him through a straw.
Cox is in the business of blowing minds, and this episode is never lacking those what-the-f**k moments that have made the series so brilliant. He reveals that the Milky Way and the nearby (give or take a few million lightyears) Andromeda galaxy are locked in a “gravitational embrace”, that will see the two collide in 300 billion years. Later on he endeavors to explain Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in a clear, incredulous way, explaining that all of space and time is a fabric into which we, the Earth, the Universe itself, are falling. He even presents us with evidence of a black hole within our galaxy, an entity that is so dense that it has the power to stop time and swallow light. How about that for an OMG, Peaches Geldof.
Spectacular graphics, plenty of dramatic helicam shots over the Earth’s most beautiful landscapes, and Cox’s all-pervading enthusiasm combine to make Wonders Of The Universe endlessly engaging. Even if you spent more time snorting sherbet, texting and making blu-tac animals then paying attention in science lessons, you will find your mind splattered across the back wall. And, if you’re anything like me, your heart somewhat stolen by a 43-year-old professor with a penchant for protective outdoor clothing.