Brian Cox: the chosen one


The overlord of natural history is not immortal. Graduating towards the veiled archway of retirement (hopefully not imminent), last week David Attenborough said that “If I had a torch I would pass it on to Brian Cox.” But can a professional particle physicist who had a short-lived career as a popstar – plus a couple of hit BBC series – cut it as the chosen one?

Open scene on Cox’s latest show, Wonders of Life. Zoom in to Brian looking mystically into the middle distance. Sunset. Starry sky. Strato-cumulus clouds. Sunrise illuminating Brian, stood centre-screen gesticulating into thin air while explicating how visual systems work. Cut to an orangutan casually loitering in the background, the OBE is now armed with an iPad to flick through over three billion letters of orangutan genetic code. I want to learn about our planet, Brian, I do. I just want less shots of you trying to upstage an octopus, even if it is of the ‘common’ variety, while doing it.

Cox is almost fifteen years older than when Attenborough worked on his first natural history series, The Pattern of Animals, as a producer in 1953. 60 years of progress goes some way to explain all the animated graphics and symbols fading in and out. It’s as if Benedict Sherlock Cumberbatch has forsaken metropolis for mountains and become a little delirious with wonderment from the altitude. Long words ending in –ism can be expected; details about mating rituals and perennial migrations, not so much. And however simple it seems at the time, nodding vacantly along under Brian’s disarmingly mesmerising chokehold in no way equates to truly comprehending the concept behind…something.

Maybe I’m reluctant to accept the Coxmeister because of the timing. Wonders of Life has just begun, but this week Africa has come to an end. We haven’t been treated to such high drama by African wildlife since Simba threw Scar over the edge of Pride Rock. Africa has had it all: an ‘orphaned’ elephant; ants that can outstrip Usain Bolt; shoebills. Brian Cox brings a different, yet equally valid, sort of education to the BBC: reams of figures, casual Blue Peter-style experiments, and the incalculably vast expanse of the immensely immeasurable infinite unknown. But I’m still not convinced that myriad shots of the shaggy-haired physicist will ever match Sir A’s beloved dulcet tones.

And after his first ever tweets this week, the proclamation of a successor is clearly part of David’s cunning plan to reign supreme in the national treasure stakes. Clearly.