Stephen Hawking's Universe

Discovery Channel
Demand Media
Stephen Hawking's Universe

Over three episodes, Discovery Channel’s stunning CGI brings the knowledge of Prof Stephen Hawking to life. The famous physicist covers everything from the birth of the Universe to galaxy formation, time travel and aliens. With each chapter his iconic computerised speech fades into that of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the professor in a 2004 BBC biopic. It makes for easier listening, whilst reminding you of the man behind that famous artificial voice.

The series kicks off with ‘Aliens’ and it’s clear that Universe is aimed at the whole family. The science is light and clearly explained – a hammer thrower is used to describe how we can detect an exoplanet due to the wobble of its parent star, for instance. However, the balance between fact and speculation is tipped too much towards the latter in this first episode. For example, you watch an alien civilisation surround a star with solar panels to build a Dyson Sphere, and then use it to create a wormhole.

The leap of faith needed to jump between these difficult concepts can be partly forgiven, since this is one of the world’s greatest scientists telling you it’s possible. Plus, it’s also one of the show’s most breathtaking moments. Indeed, the CGI artists have realised Hawking’s imagination with aplomb.

Universe feels more grounded when Hawking is in his familiar territory of physics and cosmology, which is explored in the episodes ‘Time Travel’ and ‘The Story Of Everything’. They’re informative without being confusing and loaded with ‘wow’ moments, including a starship orbiting a supermassive black hole to travel into the future. Grandiose scenes like these abound, and the orchestral score gives real gravitas to events such as the ignition of a gamma-ray burst.

To top it all, your narrator is at his witty best throughout; you’ll chuckle when he laments the failure of a future Miss Universe to turn up to his party for time travellers. This is a mind-blowing ride through the cosmos, and with Hawking as your guide, it’s easy to let your imagination run wild.

Daniel Down is the production editor of Sky at Night Magazine

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