There’s no denying that Sir David Attenborough is one of a kind – a totally irreplaceable broadcaster.
However, the BBC has, indeed, had his successor lined up for over 35 years!
Sir David, who recently celebrated his 97th birthday, is now back on our screens with Prehistoric Planet 2.
The second series of the astonishing dinosaur programme is fuelled by wads of the Apple TV+’s cash, packed with ultra-realistic representations of the Velociraptors, Triceratops and giant Pterosaurs that roamed Earth 66 million years ago.
Apparently undaunted by the barriers between art and science, its makers have created another breathtaking visual world of long-gone deserts, rivers, and frozen forests.
Meanwhile, Sir David remains on top form, collaborating with co-producer Mike Gunton for the umpteenth time.
Gunton – who is creative director of the BBC’s Natural History Unit (NHU) – has filmed many documentaries with Sir David.
Their relationship began with the BBC’s 1990 series The Trials of Life.
‘David is a very entertaining, funny, joyful person to be around,’ he said to RadioTimes.com.
‘He’s got a phenomenal sense of humour and sees the absurd in so much.’
And fans of the wildlife expert needn’t fret, because Gunton has assured there are more projects with Sir David in hand.
‘When I arrived at the BBC, the head of department said, “It’s lovely to know this project is underway, and it’s really important because this is David’s last series. We now need to be thinking about who’s going to take over from him.”
‘That was in 1987.’
He added: ‘If I had a pound for every time somebody said, “This is probably going to be David’s last series,” I’d be a very rich man.’
So clearly he has no plans to slow down anytime soon!
Gunton describes Prehistoric Planet 2 as both ‘bonkers’ and ‘beautiful’, with one ravishing scene in particular standing out where a line of Isisaurus walk through the lava fields of the fiery Deccan volcanic plateau, a landscape that is portrayed with shimmering beauty.
‘We are making a new sort of genre,’ he said. ‘Time-travelling natural history.’
Together with a huge budget – Apple is keeping secret how much it cost to make – that ambition is facilitated by the expertise of the NHU and British CGI experts the Moving Picture Company (MPC).
Previously responsible for the talking animals in the live-action versions of The Lion King and The Jungle Book, MPC is marshalled once more by Gunton’s co-producer, Hollywood director Jon Favreau.
But at its heart remains the unending curiosity of Sir David who is still excited by the possibilities of technology.
‘The extraordinary expertise that there is in Hollywood and the NHU enables you to get answers to questions,’ he added. ‘But also, to propose questions which you never even thought of.’
A suited but tieless Sir David introduces each episode from a book-lined study littered with dinosaur fossils, setting up the scenes that will quickly take viewers from couch to Cretaceous.
Then, in a coda after the action, he explains the science of what we have just been watching.
‘I think they [the codas] are very, very important,’ says Sir David.
‘Otherwise you might think to yourself, “Did they just make that up?” It shows it’s the last thing that they’re doing. There are more people working on dinosaurs now than there ever have been since they were first discovered. So there are a lot of people who know quite a lot more about the subject, who are willing to pounce on you if you haven’t got your facts right. It’s a very important element in my book that, after your minds have been blown by those wonders, you can say, “Yes, and we can prove that they’re true”.’
Gunton listens to Sir David in awe, praising how utterly compelling he is in his latest outing.
‘He’s still the great voice,’ he said.
‘He looks and sounds 30 years younger. He’s so on it. He still loves performing, loves being in front of the camera.
‘What I think he liked about doing those science explainers is, it’s almost going back to what he originally loved doing.
‘Of course, he’s fantastic when the bears are running past him. But his absolute genius is saying, “Let me tell you how important, exciting and interesting this object is”.’
Watch Prehistoric Planet 2 now on Apple TV+.
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