Richard Hammond builds a planet - or at least a new career
Top Gear co-presenter seeks a new lease of life with accessible science show
IF THE EARTH had been reduced to a smoking ruin and our future depended on building a new planet, I wouldn’t turn for help to the short one from Top Gear – particularly as Top Gear would be a likely cause of whatever environmental or diplomatic apocalypse rendered our current home uninhabitable.
Nevertheless, that’s who got the job. In Richard Hammond Builds a Planet (BBC1), the presenter was tasked with constructing a replacement Earth from scratch. It was an ambitious goal, and without a little help from CGI he might not have succeeded.
In fact, the special effects were the weakest part of the programme. Hammond standing on an obviously fake platform, watching an obviously fake planet spinning in front of him, didn’t add a great deal to what was otherwise an informative and entertaining hour.
The planet-building conceit was really an excuse for a series of experiments. So we went up in Nasa’s ‘Vomit Comet’ – a plane that climbs and plunges to replicate zero-gravity – to see how electrostatic forces brought together the building blocks of our planet. And then down the world’s deepest mine shaft to see the role played by gravity.
Each exercise was gleefully dramatic. In one, a squad of marksmen fired machine-guns at a metal plate to demonstrate the heating effect of meteor strikes on a young planet; in another, Hammond and the team created molten lava from iron, magnesium and silicon, and let it spill out over the ground.
If that all sounds a bit Top Gearish, it’s probably no accident. The motoring juggernaut must now be nearing the end of road. Its stunts, once fresh and inventive, are increasingly contrived and its matey shtick is wearing thin.
That leaves its presenters looking for new gigs, and while Jeremy Clarkson has built an industry around being Jeremy Clarkson and James May has carved a niche by tinkering blokishly with machines, their colleague has yet to find his niche.
This kind of accessible science show might just work for him, especially if he can tone down the residual Top Gear gurning.
Next week, not content with his newly minted planet, Hammond sets out to construct a universe - and to build on the foundations of his new career. ·