Last Night's TV: Polar Bear: Inside Nature's Giants Special/Channel 4
Dance! The Most Incredible Thing about Contemporary Dance/BBC4

How's this for a fact? Polar bears are so fat that even if they don't eat for eight whole months they'll still be fine. They're practically supermodels! Or this: their penises have bones in them. Huge ones. Giant white pieces of calcium.

Even by its own high standards – and they are high – last night's Inside Nature's Giants was spectacular. The start of a new series, it saw the team booted out of their usual dark laboratory and into the startling, round-the-clock light of Greenland. The idea was to find a polar bear (or several) on whom to do their usual cut-and-delve. The thing is, they can't just go to a zoo because, this time, they're looking at something more than just anatomy. Recent reports of species abnormality have led scientists to believe that pollutants are contaminating the Arctic waters. So, together with a group of Danish scientists, Mark Evans et al want to know what the problem is. And they can't just find a dead bear lying around: not only are polar bears extremely difficult to spot (on which more later) but they are highly prized as hunting bounty by the local community. Though the quotas are strictly regulated, polar bear hunting is still permitted as a traditional subsistence practice.

Speaking of which: imagine living in Greenland! I can tell you this much: you wouldn't get your five-a-day. It costs £10 for a head of broccoli, so foreign a delicacy is it considered (leeks are relatively cheap; just £3 a pop). Chocolate seems to be the must-eat food, a sure-fire way of keeping warm. Before that, it was polar bear meat. Back when the first settlers arrived on the north-east coast of the island, long before imported veg and global warming, there were plenty of bears to hunt. They ate the meat and wore the skin: a trip to the local museum (Greenland's must-see tourist attraction) revealed an old outfit made of bear fur and sealskin, a kind of all-encompassing busby.

At any rate, all of this means that getting hold of a bear carcass was a tricky balancing act. Though they're offering a reward in return – and promising to salvage all edible meat – it's a disruption of local traditions, which hinge on sharing out the meat at the place of death. Still, eventually they get their prize, a youngish male, complete with giant penis-bone, brought in by the region's youngest hunter. And so begins the dissection: a giant bloody operation on the icy table of the Arctic.

First, the fur. No wonder it makes good gloves. So well equipped is it at insulation that bears are almost impossible to spot using infra-red technology: they lose next to no heat. Looking inside one is like looking inside one of Gillian McKeith's patients. They are what they eat. And, a lot of the time, they eat just that: fat. They kill seals for their blubber and leave the rest, and they are, as the good "doctor" would no doubt tell you, a cholesterol disaster waiting to happen. Except not, because they have a super-bear-sized gall bladder full of brine to sort it all out. Everything about them is ideal for their environment, from their tiny, warmth-retaining ears (quite literally, the opposite of the elephant's giant flaps) to their funny-shaped heads.

It's thought that they evolved from a group of brown bears when the ice age left them stranded in Siberia. Instead of your archetypal teddy-bear skull, a sleek, streamlined helmet evolved to help them fish for seals. As usual, Richard Dawkins is on hand to explain it all: the clever little processes that make nature work. And that bone. "I have a little theory about this," he giggled, a schoolboy trying out a dirty joke. Plenty of mammals have bones down there – humans are the odd ones out. The thing is, boys, maintaining an erection when you've got a giant bit of skeleton to hold it up is hardly an impressive sexual feat. It's possible, he thinks, that menfolk have evolved away from it in an attempt to impress the ladies. Classic case of getting us wrong.

The bad news is that there is, it seems, something wrong with the water. A second bear inspection – this time of a fully grown female – revealed a series of reproductive disorders that point to that. Whether their findings will make much difference remains to be seen, though the scientists, at least, are confident. "This is stuff that affects government policy," said one. Which is the least convincing argument I've ever heard.

Having watched Dance! The Most Incredible Thing about Contemporary Dance, I find myself wondering what, in fact, is the most incredible thing about contemporary dance. It's a surprising development, since I've never wanted to know before, but – what can you do – suddenly, it's consuming my consciousness. Is it the splits? The jumps? Or is it the fact that someone thought it a wise idea to make an entire programme about the Most Incredible Thing About Contemporary Dance? Because that's pretty incredible.

The conductor Charles Hazlewood has been given the unenviable task of discovering said phenomenon; he seemed rather most disposed to enjoy it than I was. He interviewed lots of experts, lots of choreographers, even did a bit of dance himself, but none of it seemed particularly incredible. Except the moves, which are impressive. But that's just dance, isn't it? We knew that already.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?