Brian Cox is a talented man. Not only has he managed to harness astro-physics and make one of the most watchable pieces of television since Alan Sugar asked Baggs into the boardroom, but he’s also succeeded in explaining how – and even more impressively, why – the universe will end, using a sandcastle. “Nothing ever lasts forever..” he says. But the people’s professor isn’t talking about a holiday or a band or even Bruce Forsyth’s career. He’s talking about every piece of matter that has ever existed in the entire space -time continuum.
The beauty of this opening episode of Wonders of the Universe isn’t its ambition or its sweeping scale, its the the way that Cox tells these complex stories in a way that leaves us not just with a sense of wonder – but the feeling that we actually understand something about our existence that we didn’t before. The second law of Thermo-Dynamics is probably an intricate piece of work, yet I now think I could take a rather crude version of it and explain to someone why decay and entropy mean that everything in the universe will ultimately cease to be, much like a sandcastle in the desert. They don’t know it yet, but the people who share my Monday morning commute are in for a real treat..
Following last year’s ludicrously popular Wonders of the Solar System, it was inevitable that Cox would return to our screens for another outing and in this time his subject matter is even more grandiose. Yet despite a more abstract angle (this first episode covers Time – next week’s covers where we came from..) he still manages to find an array of terrestrial settings to brilliantly convey the most convoluted theories.
A series of tanker wrecks on some apocolyptic beach serve as fine illustrations for the last remaining stars of some far-flung future and he uses a deserted mining town in Namibia to show how time will eventually reduce everything to space-dust. It would be a bit depressing if there weren’t so many awesome little curios to enjoy. Mixed in with all this fine allegorical imagery are some satisfying cosmic graphics and more brain-melting facts than you can shake a telescope at. All of them are marvelously quotable (indeed a transcript of them would probably be far more interesting than any review..) but I’ve decided to limit myself to one per episode. Tonight’s highlight was Cox’s way of explaining how long we’ll have to wait before everything grinds to a halt and all matter evaporates away to be carried off into the void. “If I were to start counting using one atom to represent a single year, then there wouldn’t be enough atoms in the entire universe to get anywhere near that amount of time..” Mental.