Last night's viewing - Freddie Mercury: the Great Pretender – an Imagine Special, BBC1; Order and Disorder with Jim Al-Khalili BBC4

There is no disputing Freddie Mercury's greatness, or the charisma of his performances and how far the on-stage flamboyances diverged from the shy, RP-accented man he was out of the fan-filled stadiums. What is at contention here is whether we needed another Freddie Mercury documentary, so soon after BBC2's Queen documentary last year.

For some of us, it doesn't seem all that long ago that his death was announced, in November 1991, 24 hours after Mercury confirmed that he had Aids, upon which followed various TV homages that reflected on the dualities in his life, his so-called "secret" homosexuality, his HIV and of course his supreme talent for music. Alan Yentob's Imagine series promised to take us in a different direction with Freddie Mercury: the Great Pretender, though even the title seemed a touch tired. This would, apparently, show us the real man, and one who was itching to forge a solo career. We'd see new and rarely seen footage. We would, in all of this, presumably learn something new. Did we? We may have done but, overall, it felt rather more like a trip down rock memory lane than an hour of revelation or revisionism.

This isn't to say that Mercury's presence wasn't absorbing. He was an enthralling performer. Here he was again in all his pavonine glory, a camped-up, balletic "macho man", singing " I Want to Break Free" wearing fake breasts. He was a rock star who was able to mesmerise his audience with his big, thrilling presence as confidently as a magician casting a spell. It was also touching to be reminded of his off-stage vulnerability, in the one-to-one interviews in which he spoke about life and – heartbreakingly – about love ("The more I open up, the more I get hurt").

But the déjà vu in it all was so pronounced that it felt more like a repeat than a new documentary. One over-familiar "talking head", Paul Gambaccini, didn't exactly help, having just drawn breath from his reflections on The Beatles in a BBC documentary last week.

We were taken on a brief tour of Mercury's early years, which were got through a little too routinely (cue piano music for childhood photographs and brief musings on how his itinerant family life in Zanzibar and India left him unsettled). Then we trod more familiar ground over his special relationship with an early girlfriend, Mary Austin. Brian May and Roger Taylor were there, talking about their incredulity at his terminal diagnosis and his musical virtuosity. Thankfully, there was some unexpected material – Mercury recorded with Michael Jackson and liked to bring his pet lama into the studio, and an interview with Spanish opera singer and collaborator Montserrat Caballé revealed that he stopped kissing her on the cheek when he found out he was HIV-positive. These were surprising moments, but not enough to sustain the freshness of the hour.

Jim Al-Khalili took us through the rules of thermo-dynamics in Order and Disorder, with accompanying images that were so big and vivid that, at times, they resembled the wacky, molten-earth bits from The Tree of Life. Aside from these interludes – as bizarre here as they were in Terrence Malick's film – this was a stimulating hour that made science sound very close to metaphysics. The upshot of it all was that all energy was destined to degrade and atrophy. In layman's terms, it sounded like a theory of mortality, on a universal scale. There is a finite amount of energy in the universe, and while humans have learned to harness its "flow", our challenge now is to unlock more concentrated forms through hydrogen atoms. There is where Al-Khalili lost me, but it didn't seem to matter. Great rousing statements kept me afloat, such as, "The universe shares the same fate as a cup of tea", and "science is all about seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what no one else has thought."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London