Wonders of the Universe is a four-part television miniseries produced in 2011 by BBC, Discovery Channel and Science Channel and hosted by physicist Professor Brian Cox. It followed on from the successful series, Wonders of the Solar System, which aired in 2010.
WOTU has four episodes, each one hour long, with a cool name and a focus on a particular aspect of the universe.
The first episode, Destiny, talks about the time course of our universe: its origins, and its ultimate fate, and compels us to try to compare the eye-blink of a human lifespan to the epic timescale of cosmic events.
In Stardust, the second episode, Professor Cox discusses the elements of the universe and how they are formed through nuclear fusion in stars. This one’s more of a high-school chemistry lesson.
The third episode, Falling, is a contemplation of the effects of gravity across the universe.
The last episode, Messengers, addresses how the speed of light allows us to get information about the universe past and present, but also the limits to that information.
You’re probably thinking that, at one hour each, these episodes are lo-o-ong. And they are. They felt long, to me, and I often had to break my viewing up into twenty or thirty minute blocks, simply because I would become distracted or sleepy. The visuals/animations are quite breathtaking and beautiful, but the pacing is definitely a bit on the slower side. Cox as host is impassioned and excited, but the delivery of information is slow, in bite-sized morsels, and made to be quite easily accessible to the layperson.
If you remember most of high school chemistry/physics, and have a passing interest in astronomy, you’ll probably know most of the content of the documentary already. There was definitely some old material in there that had me yawning, but there were also a lot of facts that I didn’t know, which made it worth watching. I found episodes 3 and 4 most interesting.
The strategy of Wonders is to take the viewer to various exotic and obscure locations around Earth and draw analogies to phenomena in space, which is a pleasant journey. You get to tour Earth and space, all from the lazy comfort of your couch!
I’ve not seen Brian Cox host a show before, and I can’t decide whether I liked him or not. It took me a while to get used to his permanently smiling face, but his boyish delight in science definitely added to the appeal of the show.
Recommended if you want an aesthetically-appealing, not overly complex introduction to some of the major scientific concepts of our universe.