For anyone who missed the BBC’s dramatised three-hour tour of our solar system when it was screened by the ABC earlier this year, the price of this DVD is a modest levy indeed for a small slice of television history.
The two-part presentation travels with the crew of the Pegasus to Venus and Mars, through the Sun’s outer atmosphere and the asteroid belt to the gas giants and beyond.
We join the multinational crew sometime in the relatively near future as they enter the final stages of their training to spend six years aboard their 1.3km-long craft. The first port of call, 41 days into the voyage, is Venus and here the human drama begins. As well as taking soil samples and positioning transmitters, the crew is expected to investigate the fate of an old Russian probe. Their lander, Orpheus, touches down barely 200 metres from the craft, but almost from the moment the crew member leaves the lander to investigate the remains, he is in trouble. Simulations on Earth have seriously underestimated the difficulty of walking even short distances in the thick, high-pressure Venusian atmosphere, and the 400m round-trip to the old spacecraft seems impossible. Meanwhile, the corrosive gases swirling around the surface of the planet begin to damage their equipment.
And so it goes on. Each port of call has its breathtaking scenery and its problems – storms on Mars, a hair-raising run through the asteroid belt, uncomfortable passages through the Sun’s outer atmosphere and the rings of Saturn.
This is great fun and about as plausible as we have any right to expect, given that our sophistry in depicting alien climes on screen far exceeds our ability to reach them.
It’s also low-key. There’s no George Washington standing in the prow of the ship, his chin thrust forward, as it crosses the Delaware; no James T.
Kirk boldly splitting infinitives where no man has gone before.
In other words, the tone never threatens to dominate the subject matter. The user’s guidebook to the solar system is not yet written but, until it is, this will do very nicely.