Dr Alice Roberts: Don’t Die Young, BBC2

Did we like it?
A jolly entertaining show about something often treated with aghast Puritanism by the majority of Britons, and hosted by the lovely Alice Roberts who is fast becoming Think of a Number-era Johnny Ball for the internet generation. But there were times during both shows in this double bill where we felt we were being jolted about in time as rudimentary facts about reproduction jostled cheek by jowl with fascinating insights into the human body.

What was good about it?
• Dr Alice Roberts has fabulous screen charisma, and injects enthusiasm into phrases she must have used a thousand times before.
• She even managed to make her opening lines of: “Our fascination with sex is as old as the hills. And we’ve celebrated the differences between men and women since the time of Adam and Eve.” It was unusual to hear a scientist preach from the Biblical gospel and then go onto present a show that reduced the deep mystery of love to a series of genetic impulses.
• The detailed explanation of how the reproductive organs work, complete with demonstrations such as rolling down a hill in an inflatable ball to show how the egg travels from the ovaries.
• Dr Alice’s clay model of the male reproductive organs that had testicles resembling suitcases hurriedly over-packed by fleeing deposed dictators and a penis that looked like the Loch Ness Monster diving in the deep.
• The most fascinating part, if you had a strong enough stomach, was the keyhole camera that showed in all its gory glory, a man having a his cancerous prostate removed. The surgeons unobtrusively inserted a few instruments into the patient’s abdomen and skilfully performed the operation by looking at live pictures of his guts, detaching the prostate from the surrounding tissue before popping it into a little bag as if doing some late night shopping and removing it from his body.

What was bad about it?
• While it was all bright and bubbly, some elements were dragged out into the sun and left to overbake. One such part was the rather boring explanation of how the semen travels from the testes to the egg. While there was the odd nugget of enlightenment – sperm travels in a corkscrew motion through the thicker fluid on its way to the egg – it went on far too long. And surely everyone knows what causes an erection.
• Spreading out this common knowledge over a whole hour seemed excessive, and it would have been better had they been condensed into one episode.
• And sometimes, even Dr Alice is guilty of talking down to her audience. “It’s not even 500,000 eggs,” she exclaimed, before helpfully adding, “that’s half-a-million!”
• Despite the best efforts of Dr Alice, there was still an atmosphere of the typical repressed British attitude to sex; even the long shot of full frontal male nudity seemed a deliberate effort to challenge this view rather then include it simply to illustrate the programme.

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