Olympic Opening Ceremony, BBC1
The Genius of Charles Darwin, Channel 4
Travellers' Century, BBC4

The opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics offered a dazzling display of synchronicity, but the BBC's commentary kept us grounded

Confronted with 2,008 drummers beating a holy tattoo of light and sound, Huw Edwards knew he had to come up with something. He hadn't been sent to the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony just to look sweaty. As the drummers formed a staggering numerical display – like the LED train timetables at Euston, but made entirely of people – Edwards reached deep into the bran-tub of his brain. "That," he said, "was quite something."

Live commentary is a tough game, and over the course of the ceremony the BBC team found its stride, providing a good flow of translation, explanation and downright exultation at the alien beauty of it all – though there were a few goofs to cherish. The opening moments of the games – with fire fizzing round the rim of the stadium – was not the right time to ask former athletes to put the event in political context. (Come to think of it, is there ever a right time?)

And Sue Barker, why oh why? As a magical clock in computer generated imagery ticked off the seconds to the new Olympiad, did you really have to say: "Huw, this is a countdown Carol Vorderman would be more than impressed by."

Ah, cosy British parochialism, we clasp you like a comfort blanket in the face of the might of China's superlative opening ceremony. However will our Morris dancers compete? Even when arranged in the formation of a huge pork pie?

After the Olympic flame was lit with an aerial routine straight out of Raymond Briggs, but faster ("We're sprinting in the air") a BBC announcer cheerily told us that due to the length, breadth and scale of the Olympic opening ceremony, there was no time for the scheduled episode of Flog It. Britain suddenly felt like a very small country.

The Olympic Games gives us evolution in practice; Richard Dawkins supplies the theory. A public-service broadcasting bell seemed to ring at the beginning of The Genius of Charles Darwin as Mr Dawkins asked the class of 8pm on Channel 4 to settle down and pay attention. "I'm going to tell you about evolution," he said, emphasising every syllable of this strange new word.

Dawkins visited a school where most of the pupils looked at him pityingly and told him that, like, they believed in their own Holy Book? So, thanks for your theories but, like, no thanks? (These weren't even faith school students. They were at Park High Technology College. Maybe that's why they put the question marks on the end of their dogma?) None of this boded well for the programme. Just as You Are What You Eat is made for those who think fish fingers grow in fields, this looked dangerously as if it was going to aim at those who believe earthquakes are caused when the earth slips slightly on the back of the turtle.

But as it turned out, Dawkins pulled out an entrancing essay on evolution, keeping it simple and strong ("The race is survival. The finishing line is reproduction") with added anecdotal sweeteners. (Darwin was said to be so tone deaf he had to be nudged to stand to "God Save the Queen"). Dawkins's passion shone through gently, like light behind paper. Reverently, he showed us a mouldy, paralysed pigeon "from Darwin's own collection".

At nightfall on the plains of Kenya he delivered an extraordinary monologue on suffering. "In the minutes while I say these words, millions of animals are running in fear of their lives, whimpering in fear ... They are injured. Starving. Or feeling parasites rasping away from within. There is no central authority. There is no safety net." All the while, he was lit by sickly night-vision camera, a bit like the one at the end of The Silence of the Lambs. He knows how to ratchet up the rhetoric as well as any hellfire preacher.

Perhaps most riveting of all, though, was his meeting with a Nairobi prostitute who is biologically resistant to HIV. Evolution is so slow and our lives are so quick that it is usually invisible to us, but here she was: a marker of its glacial change, a glimpse of it in action.

Dawkins, you feel, is entirely without vanity. If only the same could be said of Benedict Allen, "gentleman explorer". He is the distractingly handsome presenter of Travellers' Century, a mini-series about three great travel writers, each instalment of which began with him resonantly intoning: "I'm Benedict Allen, and I've spent 25 years heading off alone through tundra, desert and forest ..." over shots of him looking rugged. Nevertheless, this has been an excellent series, doing its best to bring three great books to life. In last week's third and final instalment, Allen took a leisurely trail in the f`ootsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor, before revealing a wonderful scoop at the end: an interview with the author himself, now 92, filmed at his home in Greece. Posterity will be grateful.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable