Monday night saw the première of Bang Goes The Theory, the BBC’s new flagship science show in the vein of Tomorrow’s World. I’ve been anticipating the first episode for some time now, wondering whether it would be any good.
Sitting down to watch, my first impressions can be summarised in two words: “oh dear”. The CBeebies style intro and open-plan set immediatly made me think of Blue Peter, and a four minute section on dodging CCTV cameras left me wondering whether we’d get any science at all.
Eventually they got to the point: new technology has been developed to identify people on CCTV from the way they walk. Two of the presenters, Liz and Dallas, demonstrated the capabilities of the system, but when Dallas decided to do a John Cleese-style silly walk in an effort to fool the system, we weren’t told whether he succeeded or not. “Oh that’s really annoying, we had to cut that bit out,” he said back in the studio. Yes, it was really annoying!
I was ready to give up at this point, but the next section hooked my interest. Cribbing from both Top Gear and Mythbusters, presenter and special effects guy Jem introduced us to the vortex cannon. This contraption forms a concentrated ring of air that can travel long distances, and with the addition of explosive gas it can pack quite a punch. Pretty cool stuff:
Other segments included an interview with geneticist Craig Venter, who is attempting to create artificial life. I cringed when they used the word “Frankenstein” in what seemed like a persistent effort to introduce “controversy”. There was also a rather nice science-as-street-magic from Dr Yan Wong, Bang Goes The Theory’s genuine scientist. He demonstrated how to cook an egg using a paper frying pan, and his street audience were clearly impressed.
It was a nice bit of TV, but it worried me. The promotional material implied that all four presenters would work as a team, but Wong appeared only briefly, and didn’t interact with the other three. His official bio is also a bit “ooh, what a boffin”. I’m concerned that the guy on the show with the most scientific knowledge is being somewhat ghettoised.
Overall, the first episode of Bang Goes The Theory was decidedly average. I really liked the vortex cannon, so I’m hoping we’ll see more segments in the same vein. I’ll definitely be watching the second episode, but I have a vested interest. My girlfriend, who is of the non-sci comm persuasion, wasn’t so sure she’d be tuning in, making me wonder how the programme faired amongst the general public. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.