Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SteveReviews: Spy in the Wild

For those of you who aren’t aware of the BBC series Spy in the Wild, the premise is simple. Each episode uses a number of animatronic spy cameras that thanks, to increasing levels of technology and miniaturisation, are disguised as animals. These can then placed in natural habitats to reveal how wild animals behave providing a candid camera into the social life and intelligence of certain animals. The first series aired in 2017 with series 2 coming out this year (in 2020). It is wonderfully put together and even narrated by the great David Tennant, who I still haven’t forgiven for leaving Dr. Who (although he did play an amazing Kilgrave in Jessica Jones).

The program has it roots in the BBC Wildlife Species from the early 2000s such as Lions: Spy in the Den, Elephants: Spy in the Herd, Smart Sharks: Swimming With Roboshark, Bears: Spy in the Woods, Trek: Spy on the Wildebeest, Tiger: Spy in the Jungle…the list goes on. A number of these were also narrated by David Tennant but others were blessed by the voice of God himself, Sir David Attenborough. The premise in these older programs was simple, fit a camera inside an inanimate object and leave it in-situ to film wildlife like never before.

The programs were groundbreaking for the time and with advances in technology, the stage was set for ever daring filmography. Dolphins: Spy in the Pod (the series that kicked everything off) was commended for capturing iconic footage revealing of dolphins deliberately chewing on puffer fish to release nerve toxins in order to get high. My favourite was Roboshark – pretty much what it says on the tin! A robot shark fitted with cameras that swam with sharks, did I mention sharks?

The first series of Spy in the Wild was very eye opening in regards to the behaviour of animals featured. It was built on the very foundations of the multiple specials that came before it. Amazing! Then as things moved into the second series, something changed. The animatronic animals become more life-like (which is great, less disturbance and what not) but instead of filming animals behaving naturally, the series has transformed into a program where wild animals react to the animatronic versions of themselves. Now this doesn’t happen in every sequence of every episode although I had to speak with some friends just to double check this.

The footage is still amazing, don’t get me wrong and clearly of lot of time and money has been invested in the robotics and engineering of each of the spy animals. However it’s moved away from the winning formula and as a conservationist that has a passion for wildlife documentaries, the very artificial element to Spy in the Wild now makes it feel like an animal version of Big Brother. Maybe I’m just being a cynic, it’s still enjoyed by millions and has some great reviews – I just preferred things when we were restricted to ‘log cam’ or ‘rock cam’.

By all means check the series out and tell me how wrong I am, I suspect that some of the change has come about to appeal to younger audiences. So whilst we’re in lockdown, find a child and them them down to watch Spy in the Wild before asking them what they make of it.

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