This week's Planet Dinosaur looked at the killer theropods of the Late Cretaceous. (I'm sure they're getting to non-theropods in time.) In the North, Daspletosaurus was the tyrannosaurs' representative while in the South, Majungasaurus held up the abelisaur end. There was also a brief sojurn into the Land of the Giant Troodon, but we'll come to that in a minute.
Daspletosaurus and Centrosaurus. Copyright the BBC.
Firstly, though, we must address the most important issue here: was Daspletosaurus spelled consistently in John Hurt's script? The poor guy seemed to be pronouncing it in two different ways; much of the time it was correct, but then equally as often he seemed to be saying "Desplatosaurus". Or do my ears deceive me?
We were informed from the off that Daspletosaurus co-existed with Gorgosaurus although, sadly, we never got to see the latter. (Also, the skeletal diagram for Gorgosaurus depicted, strangely, a juvenile animal.) Daspletosaurus was portrayed as gregarious, but not a pack hunter a la Currie - rather, it displayed the more reptilian behaviour of attacking in a mob without any tactics or co-ordination. Which was a Good Thing. Once again, the programme pointed to healed bite marks and puncture wounds on tyrannosaur skulls as evidence for intraspecific competition, which was welcome, but did feel like a bit of a retread.
For the most part, the creatures in this episode looked rather good, and the animation was decent with a few moments of stiffness (including a tyrannosaur that looked like it was skating). There were a few nice touches, such as a Chasmosaurus scratching itself against a tree, that lent the action a more naturalistic feel. Nevertheless, the animals still look completely rubbish when they fight - while no scrap was quite as slapdash-looking as the herky-jerky carcharodontosaur battle in the first episode, there is still something quite...wrong about the way Planet Dinosaur's beasts do battle. This is particularly true of larger animals, as they appear to lack the necessary mass.
The series was also guilty of presenting speculation as fact this week, notably when it portrayed an Alaskan giant Troodon population ganging up on juvenile Edmontosaurus. While it was pointed out that there is evidence of Troodon (or at the very least, troodont) bite marks on Edmontosaurus remains, we were presented with no evidence for Troodon being a co-ordinated pack hunter. It's plausible, perhaps, but still speculative - and it's a little disappointing that the show didn't point this out, given how good it has been on that front so far. Equally disappointing was the rather under-feathered appearance of the Troodon. It seems extremely unlikely, given the advanced feathers seen on other troodonts, that Troodon itself would have reverted to only having an extremely short, hairlike covering of protofeathers. This seems especially baffling given that, disregarding a few cock-ups with feather attachment points and the like, the show's dromaeosaurs all have wings.
The segment featuring Majungasaurus was enjoyable, if only for the adorable baby Majungasaurus that fed alongside their attentative mother (again, speculative, but in this case, I'm going to let it go. It's cute). Naturally, in addition to looking at the biomechanics of its bite, the show took delight in presenting the animal's cannibalistic side - following a (rubbish) fight with a burly male over a carcass, the mother Majungasaurus promptly devoured her opponent. It would've been better if the fight sequence itself was better animated - and the behaviour of the animals during the fight a little more convincing - but said cannibalism was still a cool fact to introduce to the public. Especially kids. I bet they loved it.
The final section in this episode was pretty cool, too, as a herd of Centrosaurus met a watery death in a flooded river while migrating en masse. Granted, some of the animals' behaviour was again a little odd (why weren't they resisting the Daspletosaurus more?), but this moody, stormy scene made for a good finale.
Overall, Planet Dinosaur continues to be a mixture of virtuous science, better-than-average CG restorations and slightly clunky animation. It's difficult to decide how pedantic one should be when writing these reviews. For me, the most important aspect of this series is the science that it's introducing to the general public. Most of this stuff won't be new to dinosaur enthusiasts, but episodes like last week's are likely to astound the public at large (who are also less likely to notice that the feathers are incorrect, or particularly remember how the feathers were arranged anyway). Hopefully, next week will see a break away from theropods - much as I like them - and John Hurt correctly pronouncing those tricksy dinosaur names.