But there’s another balancing act Attenborough pulls off here that’s even more impressive. And that’s juggling his increasingly urgent message about climate change with keeping viewers engaged and entertained.
Every charity knows there’s a limit to which you can show the general public the hideous reality of the problems they’re dealing with: starving babies, Ebola victims, mutilated domestic pets. For every one distressing picture, we’ll get 10, 20, 50 of bright-eyed children attending a village school or adorable dogs in their “fur-ever home”. You need to explain why your cause matters, but you can’t afford to turn people off.
Attenborough faces the same issues. We do see quite a lot of dead animals – and not, this time, in the noble service of keeping a predator alive. These creatures are being laid waste by us, through the effects of climate change, in some cases to the point of extinction.
But while it’s inarguable that his documentaries have become increasingly tough to watch, he and the BBC team remain masters of balancing the frightening and the feel-good.
The first episode deals with Antarctica. Already one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with one of the most brutal climates, it’s a serious matter when – thanks to changing global weather patterns – storms, winds and blizzards get worse, sea levels rise and glaciers disappear.
It doesn’t help that the species who do live or breed there are exquisitely adapted to do so. Radical change to the environment is devastating and there are some gut-wrenching moments – but they’re expertly balanced with light relief, happy endings and the gasp-creating footage the intrepid crew has managed to capture.
Seven Worlds certainly delivers everything we’ve come to expect from an Attenborough documentary – in spades – and as technology improves, the ability to access both detail and fresh territory increases exponentially.
But one of the bittersweet undercurrents that permeates everything here is not just that there’s always something new to learn about familiar species, but there are whole new worlds yet to be discovered. The footage of the ocean floor under sea ice, for instance, is frankly incredible. This makes Attenborough’s mission – to inspire all of us to do more to protect this extraordinary planet – feel all the more urgent.