This spectacular five-part series, presented by Tony Robinson, investigates the history of natural disasters, from the planet's beginnings to the present, putting a new perspective on our existence – that we are the product of catastrophe.
Using the latest CGI effects and featuring scientific experts, the series reveals how the evolution of life on Earth has been shaped by lethal catastrophes that have caused mass extinctions, almost to the point of wiping out life altogether.
Programme One – Birth of the Planet:
The first programme, Birth of the Planet, is the story of Earth's difficult birth and how the formation of our moon set us on a unique course to being a planet ripe for life. Glowing peacefully in the night sky, it is difficult to imagine that the moon was actually born from one of the most violent and potentially devastating events in history.
Four and half billion years ago, in the chaos of the early solar system, a Mars-sized planet smashed into our young Earth with such force that it sent rock debris hurtling out into space. This was how the moon was formed. The first film of the Catastrophe series explores the role of the moon in creating the calm atmosphere on Earth that would eventually allow life to take hold.
Programme Two – Snowball Earth:
This week's programme delves into a world lying beneath a frozen surface. It is the greatest climate disaster ever to have hit Earth. 650 million years ago, a cataclysmic ice age sealed the entire planet beneath ice and snow, almost destroying life and practically turning the world into one huge snowball.
Snowball Earth uncovers the story behind one of the most controversial theories in science today. To investigate, the programme travels the world to follow scientists scouring southern Australia, Nevada's Death Valley and Alaskan glaciers for tantalising clues as to how our planet ran away into this doomsday scenario. The results could improve understanding of evolution and survival of life.
Snowball Earth was entombed in sheets of ice that were miles deep. Incredibly though, life somehow survived this global freeze for 15 million years. The exploration of Alaska, where life has developed strategies to survive in extreme cold and without light, reveals strategies that scientists believe may have helped life survive the rigours of snowball earth.
In the Australian outback, there are clues to another part of the story - life didn't just survive snowball Earth, it flourished. Stamped in the rugged rocks there is one of the multicellular organisms that evolved after snowball Earth. All of the animals on the planet, including us, are descended from creatures like this. It is almost impossible to imagine how life could have survived and developed in this epic ice age, but it did. And snowball Earth could be crucial to understanding the evolution of mankind itself.
Programme Three – Planet of Fire:
250 million years ago, 95% of life was wiped off the face of Earth in the biggest extinction event ever. But what was responsible?
Our planet was then a very different place. Millions of years before the era of dinosaurs, creatures such as dicynodonts and gorganopsians roamed the land, while the oceans too teemed with life. Then in almost the blink of a geological eye everything changed. Life itself was almost completely wiped out in what is known as the Permian extinction.
In this film, leading experts piece together evidence from all over the world. They believe a massive Siberian volcanic eruption to be responsible. Siberian Traps spewed lava over an area roughly the size of Europe and set off a chain of events that would have catastrophic consequences for all life on the planet.
Travelling to locations such as South Africa, California, and Iceland, the experts discover that the volcanic activity of the Siberian Traps led to the release of deadly gases from beneath the sea and rises in Earth's temperature.
This turbocharged global warming brought drought and a breakdown in the food cycle, with even the strongest animals eventually succumbing to the conditions.
Yet life found a way to survive. Small burrowing creatures called cynodonts avoided the rising temperatures by living underground. These tiny creatures eventually evolved to become mammals, paving the way for life on Earth as we know it.
Programme Four – Asteroid Strike:
Dinosaurs rose up as rulers of Earth around 230 million years ago, eventually dominating all other species and relegating mammals to the shadows. But 65 million years ago their planet was rocked by yet another massive event when, seemingly out of nowhere, the mighty dinosaurs were wiped off the face of Earth. But without this devastating catastrophe humans would not be here today.
This film explores the trail of clues that lead to what extinguished the dinosaurs and ultimately led to the evolution of humans. Cutting-edge scientists, palaeontologists and geologists investigate what could be responsible and chart the story behind the widely held theory that Earth was hit once again by a deadly asteroid.
Red Deer Valley in the spectacular Badlands of Canada shows an abundance of dinosaur fossils below a mysterious thin layer of rock. But fossils completely disappear above the layer, indicating that something huge happened very suddenly. Extra-terrestrial elements in Spanish coastal rocks provide signs that the culprit for the dinosaurs' demise may have come from outer space. But if an impact was responsible, where did it hit Earth?
This programme documents the treasure hunt of a group of the most eminent palaeontologists in the world. Eventually they are led to a giant crater in Mexico - the 'smoking gun' which they believe proves that an asteroid the size of Mount Everest slammed into Earth 65 million years ago. Filming from a helicopter over the breathtaking Meteor Crater in Arizona, a Nasa space scientist describes the immediate aftermath of the asteroid impact. The shockwave from the impact roasted many dinosaurs alive, with wildfires and unrelenting pollution plunging the world in to darkness for years afterwards.
Using simulations and expert knowledge, Asteroid Strike opens up an astonishingly detailed breakdown of what happened when the asteroid hit Earth and of the devastation it caused. By studying how certain mammals survived and evolved in the aftermath, this programme also explains why humans owe our existence to that catastrophe 65 million years ago.
Programme Five – Survival Earth:
So far, humans have been lucky not to have experienced catastrophes on a global scale, like those that have extinguished 99% of all other species. Humans have come to reside as the most powerful species on this planet, but it is easy to forget that the forces that wiped out many of our ancestors are still at work.
In this final programme, Catastrophe maps out key events over the last 75,000 years. During that time humans were subjected to a super-volcano that nearly devastated whole regions of Earth; an ensuing ice age that covered Europe with ice sheets kilometres thick, and which has been suggested thwarted the development of complex civilisation; and the cosmic catastrophe believed to have changed life forever for the early inhabitants of North America.
This programme journeys to the bottom of a cave in Ohio, to the top of an active Alaskan volcano, to the site of humanity's biggest volcanic threat and to the world's most powerful gun. It investigates devastations wreaked during the time of humans and potential catastrophes that lie in wait. Survival Earth brings to light real dangers to humanity, laying bare just how vulnerable our species really is.
This programme is not suitable for creationists or others of a unscientific persuasion as the programme is much in line with modern thinking on the creation of the universe (ie. more Richard Dawkins/Albert Einstein than the bible).