Who needs TV drama when you’ve got David Attenborough’s Africa?

The nature series trumps Ripper Street and Mr Selfridge with its tear-jerking tragedy, hard-won romance and nail-biting suspense, says Susanna Lazarus

Tear-jerking tragedy, a fight to the death, hard-won romance, nail-biting suspense – all topped off with a light-hearted injection of slapstick comedy. Sounds rather like a Shakespearean classic, or in the very least a damn good piece of drama. Except it’s not, because all of the above can be found in David Attenborough’s latest nature series, Africa.


Set to the tune of Attenborough’s smooth dulcet tones plotting the trials and tribulations of the animal kingdom, watching Africa provides the ultimate talking point. Who could forget the breathtaking giraffe duel of episode one or the tragic plight of the starving elephant herds broadcast in week two? I’d much rather while away my Wednesday evenings with Africa than the raft of lacklustre January dramas proffered by our television networks over the last few weeks.

Tonight’s episode excelled in every dramatic trope. Want some suspense? I give you the against-the-clock sprint to the sea enacted by the scores of newly-hatched baby green turtles (left), dodging the ravenous advances of the diving birds of prey that circle above them. “They just keep going – they’re so resilient,” remarked the camera crew in their post-episode reflection.

And I hope you saved a few nails to bite on for later in the hour-long broadcast when an audacious lizard braves the wrath of a short-tempered lion herd for the sake of purloining some precious flies to fill his empty stomach.

But if stomach-churning tension isn’t your thing, then how about a spot of romance? Go gooey watching an enchanting swarm of butterflies flirtatiously twirling about one another to a symphony of violin strings at a breathtaking mountain-top butterfly ball. If you thought it was tough trekking across London for a boozy Saturday night, try traversing a rugged cliff to reach the destination of your evening soiree.

And speaking of passion, how about the vicious rivalry of the male monkey beetles, fighting it out to win the heart of a golden princess? The prize? A passionate clinch amongst a ring of petals with yet more violin strings, akin to one of James Bond’s famous seduction scenes. Who needs the sleazy extra-marital exploits of Mr Selfridge when you have the chivalrous code of the insect community?

And then, if you’re fed up of the soppy stuff, there’s always a bit of slapstick comedy in hand to lighten the mood. Never mind Blandings, there are giggles aplenty to be had if you choose to witness a series of penguins slip and slide their way down a perilous slope in Africa.

If Downton Abbey’s Christmas special failed to jerk your festive tears, then I challenge you not to well up out of pity for the baby shoebill whose elder sibling basks in the love of their parents. Returning with food and water for their eldest child, the adult shoebills shun their youngest whose wide-eyed misery is simply heart-breaking; the Cinderella story of the animal kingdom.

Need proof that natural beauty trumps Selfridge’s underwhelming window displays? The exquisite landscapes of Africa should satiate your malnourished January pallet. Whether it be the vivid pink, purple and red blooms of the coastal desert, or the staggering cliffs of the Drakensburg mountains, this vast continent more than delivers… 

Has the gore of Ripper Street failed to pique your interest? Feast your eyes on a pair of great white sharks tearing flesh from the carcus of a dead whale (left), or watch a high-speed feeding frenzy unfolding in the seas off Africa’s most southerly tip.

As a nation we like to drown our January blues in front of the box but as we near the end of the month, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down by a number of the new year offerings. But in Africa I got everything I was searching for, all packed into a neat hour-long package accompanied by Attenborough’s fastidious narration. Who needs TV drama when you’ve got that…

Africa continues on Wednesdays at 9:00pm on BBC1