Horizon: Mars – A Traveller’s Guide review: BBC documentary is a hit-and-miss affair
It’s a shame nothing in the ensuing hour of telly quite hit the same standard but then, a traveller’s guide to a place no one has yet travelled to was always going to be a hit-and-miss affair.
After the killer beginning, the voiceover went on to pretend that the programme we were watching was a guide, aimed directly at that person, alive today, somewhere in the world, who was destined to set foot on the red planet.
When you factor in population statistics, the probability is that the person who will one day set foot on Mars is a Mandarin-speaking baby.
They would have been in bed when Horizon was on and even if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have understood much of their guide. If that’s an irritating point to make, it’s because last night’s programme kept irritating us with the daft pretence of addressing itself to some future astronaut.
I wouldn’t have minded if it had been teatime and I’d been watching it with my nine-year-old who might, but in all probability won’t, be the first person on Mars.
It’s clear that whoever makes it, in the end, will rely on a body of knowledge hundreds of times larger than what Armstrong and Aldrin knew about the moon they landed on in 1969.
Thanks to a number of successful unmanned missions, the list entitled “What we know about Mars” grows longer each week and this, essentially, was what the programme took us through.
If landing humans on Mars is still a distant goal, it’s one we’re preparing for, not just waffling about and last night’s documentary showed us some of the work that’s going on. Amid the volcanoes of Hawaii, they’re testing spacesuits that can withstand the radiation and extreme temperatures while letting the first settlers move about.
They are also doing some work on communications backpacks, which look similar to the first mobile phones, and ways to make conversations with Earth meaningful when there will be a 22-minute time lag.
They forgot to mention one thing in all the fascinating detail of course. If all this preparation works out, being the first person on Mars will actually be no big deal, or no bigger deal than going to Milan for a city break. My father swears he knocked a student off his bicycle when he took his driving test.
This test took place in the early Sixties in the university town of Cambridge and, so he says, the examiner had such a dim view of students that he passed my father anyway.
Whether that’s fact or fable, you had to feel for the candidates on 100 Year Old Driving School (ITV), who’d been motoring around for decades before someone told them they were doing it wrong.
When we met Mr Manners, 102, he was about to take a voluntary assessment as part of a nationwide scheme run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Traffic accidents, in his view, were unlikely to befall anyone older than 70 because by that age they’d be excellent at driving. His examiner took a rather different view.
Perhaps as an ex-military man, Mr Manners had taken to heart a saying from the war. There are old pilots and bold pilots but no old, bold pilots.