PBS Evolution: Darwin's Dangerous Idea (2001)

For 21 years, Charles Darwin kept his theory of evolution secret from all but a few friends. He confided to one: "It is like confessing to a murder." His torment resonates in society today - in the challenge his incredibly powerful idea poses to our understanding of our world and ourselves. Darwin's Dangerous Idea interweaves the drama in key moments of Darwin's life with documentary sequences of current research, linking past to present and introducing major concepts of evolutionary theory. It explores why Darwin's "dangerous idea" might matter even more today than it did in his own time, and reveals how science might be used to explain the past and predict the future of life on Earth.
Peter's DVD rating: 3.0 stars
This 2-hour episode is very uneven. The segments on Darwin's life are suspect since the producers decided to fictionalize many important details. For example, a great deal is made of how Darwin was inspired by the Galapagos finches; while he did note the variation in their beak sizes and speculated on a common ancestry in his Voyage of the Beagle, he did not say anything about them in The Origin of Species. Am "eureka" moment finds Darwin talking finches with ornithologist John Gould and exclaiming "... and they're all descended from this one - the common ground finch." As far as I know, there is no bird called "common ground finch", and this moment is as non-existent as the finch.

The biography also shows Darwin handling a pigeon for 10 seconds, and has brief clips showing him musing about dogs and cabbage, but does not say anything about how his study of domesticated organisms led him to begin The Origin of Species with an account of artificial selection. Also too brief are passing references to his study of barnacles, which became a specialty for Darwin. The segments on current research such as HIV, the vertebrate eye, and DNA are strong, but the shortcomings of the biographic segments taint this episode.
1:30Darwin in South America, 1833 5:15London, 1836 7:10Darwin at dinner
11:00John Gould: Wren, grosbeak, blackbir, are finches, descended from 14:10Geology (planets, sun) governed by natural laws. 16:00 Darwin's finches ? like Hawfinch, Chaffinch, descended from Common Ground Finch (or Warbler Finch)?
14:40Tree of life, grandfather Zoonomia 20:20Tiputini, Ecuador, November 2000: Charis Schneider: rainforest birds 25:30 Leafy Mantis
32:50Maer Hall, Staffordshire, 1837: artificial selection: breeding dogs 37:35Cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower - bred from wild mustard. 33:15Manuscript from Alfred Russell Wallace
46:55Goethe University, Frankfurt 1997 HIV virus resistence decreases when patient is taken off drugs: treatment interruption 57:40Sloth fossil 1:04:00Human eye
1:07:15Dan Erik Nilsson, Lunds University, Sweden: eye evolution 1:12:15Barnacle males (crustaceans, not mollusks) 1:31:20Huxley fisagreement with Richard Owen: Darwin handling pigeon
1:44:25Chimp and human relationship: DNA 1:52:30 Darwin buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Newton   
16:00 Darwin's finches ?
25:30 Leafy Mantis
1:52:30 Darwin
Index Feb 18, 2006 copyleft Peter Chen