The BEST episodes directed by John Downer

Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice
58 votes

#1 - Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice

BBC Documentaries - Season 2010 - Episode 125

Shot mainly using spy cameras, this film gets closer than ever before to the world's greatest land predator. Icebergcam, Blizzardcam and Snowballcam are a new generation of covert devices on a mission to explore the Arctic islands of Svalbard in Norway. Backed up by Snowcam and Driftcam, these state-of-the-art camouflaged cameras reveal the extraordinary curiosity and intelligence of the polar bear. The cameras are just a breath away when two sets of cubs emerge from winter maternity dens. They also capture the moment when the sea-ice breaks away from the island in the Spring. As one set of mother and cubs journey across the drifting ice in search of seals, the other is marooned on the island with very little food. How they cope with their different fates is captured in revelatory close-up detail. The cameras also follow the bears as they hunt seals, raid bird colonies, dive for kelp and indulge in entertaining courtship rituals. Icebergcam even discovers their little-known social nature as seven bears share a washed-up whale carcass. Often just a paw's swipe from the play-fighting and squabbling bears, the spy cameras face their most challenging subject yet. When their curious subjects discover the cameras, they are subjected to some comical-but-destructive encounters. As the film captures its intimate portrait of polar bears' lives, it reveals how their intelligence and curiosity help them cope in a world of shrinking ice.

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Flying High
106 votes

#2 - Flying High

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 6

To fly like a bird, Earthflight not only captured remarkable images of wild flocks but also relied on some extraordinary relationships between people and birds. Filmed over four years, in six continents and more than 40 countries, the Earthflight team used many extraordinary techniques. For some of the unique flying shots, members of the team became part of the flock. The birds followed wherever they went – even in a microlight over Edinburgh and London. In Africa, paragliders floated alongside wild vultures, while a model vulture carried a camera inside the flock. In South America, wild-living macaws, that were rescued as babies, still come back to visit their ‘foster mother’ as he travels along a jungle river. In Africa, a radio-controlled ‘drone’ silently infiltrates masses of pink flamingos without disturbing a feather, and microlights and helicopters capture the dramatic moment white storks arrive over Istanbul. A tame vulture carried a camera across the African bush and recreated the behaviour of his wild relatives. Similarly, in the USA, a flock of hand-reared snow geese followed the migration route of wild flocks and took in the sights and sounds of New York – managing to get lost in Brooklyn.

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51 votes

#3 - Intelligence

Spy in the Wild - Season 1 - Episode 2

The spy creatures go undercover to explore the world of animal intelligence and reveal their use of tools, self-medication, culture and subterfuge. In Borneo, the most lifelike spy creature yet meets real orangutans and discovers how they use human tools. Spy Orang films how they wash with soap and how this behaviour is now part of their wild culture. In one of the most extraordinary scenes ever filmed, a wild orang uses a saw and competes with Spy Orang! Spy Otter takes us to the heart of the sea otter colony to reveal their ingenious methods of finding and cracking open a meal. Spy Bushbaby infiltrates the world of chimpanzees to witness their problem solving and tool making, and is even hunted by a curious chimp. Spy Squirrel discovers how real squirrels use intellect and subterfuge to outwit other thieving squirrels. Spy Ostrich Chick joins hatchlings in a nest and witnesses the daring trickery of the mother as she cleverly lures a leopard away from her vulnerable brood. Spy Termite Mound explores how drongo birds mislead meerkats in order to steal their food. Spy Crow films the world's most intelligent crow as he fashions tools from sticks to extract grubs and uses stones to crack nuts. Capuchins discover that Spy Rock offers a convenient way to smash open their favourite food. Spy Sloth meets a real sloth and reveals the incredible jungle pharmacy that exists amongst its fur. In a magical scene, Spy Macaw, Spy Peccary and Spy Spider Monkey are our guides to a secret glade where jungle medicine abounds. This revelatory program reveals that animals are far cleverer than we ever realised.

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112 votes

#4 - Africa

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 2

On the second leg of this world trip, head north over Africa. Plunge into the great sardine run with thousands of Cape gannets, explore the Great Rift with fish eagles and vultures, and slow dance with millions of pink flamingos on Kenya’s Lake Bogoria. Off the Cape, gannets race high above the waves. They are the dolphins’ keen eyes in the sky. From up here they readily spot the whorling shoals of sardines, and the first gannet to take the plunge sparks a feeding frenzy of gannets, dolphins, sharks and whales. Along the shore, kelp gulls follow young seals as they take to the sea for the first time. The gulls know that great white sharks hunt in these waters and will prepare dinner for them. High above the Serengeti, riding on a vulture’s wide wings, the full drama of the mass wildebeest migration plays out below. As the wildebeest cross the plain they’re attacked by lions, before facing the mighty Mara river where huge crocodiles lie in wait. The scavenging vultures just have to wait for the spoils. In Kenya, flamingos are on the lookout for their perfect lake – hot, toxic and brimming with tasty algae. Eventually they find the perfect spot and two million flamingos descend on Lake Bogoria, instantly turning this soda lake pink. Here they cement lifelong bonds in an wild party of synchonised dancing. But danger lurks in pink paradise in the shape of hunting baboons and fish eagles. On the longhaul flight north to Europe, glide with white storks on the thermals, encountering slight turbulence over Victoria Falls. Then take a somewhat smoother route up the Nile. Swallows are hot on their tails, taking a lower flightpath and refuelling rapidly on the wing as billions of lake flies rise out of Lake Malawi. Then these tireless little birds cross the vast Sahara on their 6,000-mile trip home.

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34 votes

#5 - Friendship

Spy in the Wild - Season 1 - Episode 3

The Spy Creatures are on another extraordinary mission as they discover how friendships are a vital part of animal societies. Spy Wolf Cub joins a pack of arctic wolves, where a real cub's survival depends on friendships in one of the harshest environments in the world. Spy Cub is anointed into the pack by a she-wolf that marks him with her own scent. Spy Warthog meets some real warthogs and discovers the extraordinary relationship they have with mongoose. He even experiences the mongoose's personal grooming service as they explore every nook and cranny. Spy Hippo comes face to face with an angry hippo, before discovering their relationship below the surface with some very fishy skin clinicians. Spy Cobra meets the real meerkat mob and is quickly dispatched with a show of unified force. A walking and swimming Spy Crocodile finds the nest site of a real crocodile and reveals the extraordinary relationship they have with the tiny dikkop bird, who will not only stand up to the crocodile but joins them in a neighbourhood watch scheme against marauding monitor lizards. Spy Rattlesnake helps uncover the mysteries of prairie dogs - who have the most extraordinary and complex language in the animal world. In the colony, Spy Prairie Dog finds the cutest owls on earth and we learn how they rely upon each other for protection against coyotes. Chimpanzees take a bath in a jungle pool and show us that their social life is as sophisticated as our own. In the extraordinary climax, the chimps show how human organisation may have begun, as they spectacularly unite to hunt baboons.

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74 votes

#6 - Love

Spy in the Wild - Season 1 - Episode 1

To discover just how like us animals really are, animatronic spy creatures infiltrate the animal world to explore their complex emotions. Spy Pup makes friends with a wild dog pack to investigate their maternal love and has a dangerous encounter with lions and elephants. Baby Spy Crocs discover the extraordinary devotion of a mother crocodile and take a rollercoaster ride inside her mouth as she carries her babies to water. Spy Egret and Spy Tortoise are nearly trampled by elephants as they film a newborn baby sharing the love of his caring family. Spy Monkey meets a troop of over 120 unruly langurs and finds out how teenage monkeys comically practise babysitting skills. Spy Prairie Dog witnesses the most enthusiastic kissers in the animal world. Spy Chick discovers the extraordinary devotion of hornbills as a mother is imprisoned for the sake of her brood. In Antarctica, Spy Adelie Penguin becomes entangled in the penguins' turbulent love life as they fight to steal pebbles to impress a fussy female. On the savannah, giraffes are filmed for the first time paying homage to an old giraffe that recently passed away. Spy Bush Baby meets some curious chimpanzees, and Spy Tortoise is adopted by a five-year-old and is taken on a wild ride through the jungle canopy before coming down to earth with a bump. In a thought-provoking scene a chimpanzee shows empathy as he finds an abandoned wildcat kitten and adopts it as his pet.

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South America
107 votes

#7 - South America

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 4

In this bird’s-eye view of South America, condors soar along the Andes, scarlet macaws explore the heart of the Amazon and hummingbirds and vultures show us the continent’s greatest sights. It’s a journey that includes Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. In Patagonia, giant petrels shadow killer whales as they hunt seals by stranding their huge bodies on the beach. At Iguassu Falls, dusky swifts dive through the cascades to huddle in communal roosts and hummingbirds bathe below. In a secret Andean location, condors soar in flocks over 40-strong and scavenge on casualties from herds of fighting guanacos. Elsewhere, a mother condor gently pushes her youngster to the edge of a 200-metre cliff – flight school begins. Deep in the Amazon, macaws seek medicinal clay. They are joined by a host of secretive jungle animals, including spider monkeys and tapirs, all after the same remedy. In Peru, condors soar over fighting sealions waiting for casualities and on a mass exodus north, birds converge on the Panama Canal. In Costa Rica, black vultures descend on turtles as they lay their eggs in the sand and pick off the eggs that ping-pong through the air.

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76 votes

#8 - Conflict

Serengeti - Season 1 - Episode 2

As the Serengeti starts to dry out, competition hots up between the families of lions, cheetahs, baboons, elephants, ostriches and hyenas.

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109 votes

#9 - Destiny

Serengeti - Season 1 - Episode 1

Following the drama of the African savannah. A young hyena loses her mother in a terrifying attack by some rogue male lions and has to assume the leadership of her family.

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31 votes

#10 - Mischief

Spy in the Wild - Season 1 - Episode 4

The Spy Creatures discover that mischief is rife in nature, but perhaps there are still rules that govern animals' lives. Spy Macaque visits a monkey swimming pool where teenage tearaways attempt the high dive causing chaos for parents teaching babies to swim. Spy Tropicbird reveals how frigate birds ruthlessly steal fish from real tropicbirds. In Australia, a bowerbird decorates his courtship bower with blue treasures, and a smart imposter attempts a daylight robbery on his precious horde. Spy Bowerbird investigates the shenanigans complete with his own nest rigged with irresistible Jewelcams. In Antarctica, Spy Penguin keeps a beady eye on a crafty Adelie penguin as he uses a storm as cover to steal stones from other penguin nests. As the storm clears, skua birds arrive and steal the penguins' eggs, and Eggcam captures the most astonishing aerial view of a penguin colony ever seen. Among chimpanzees, an illicit affair creates outrage among the dominant males, and a similar misdemeanour in a meerkat colony results in some very rough justice. A spectacular war dance follows as neighbouring meerkat groups battle over territory. A gang of surf-loving dolphins get their teenage kicks from a poisonous but intoxicating pufferfish, and lemurs try out natural highs when they use millipedes as insecticides with some very dreamy side effects. Spy Wolf Cub watches as naughty wolf cubs are taught the hard rules of pack life, and Spy Egret joins forces with a state-of-the art Dungcam to see how elephants discipline their misbehaving youngsters. In a spectacular finale, an impudent chimpanzee stages a challenge to the troop leader, resulting in a fight with weapons that hints at how human warfare may have begun.

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Meet the Spies
20 votes

#11 - Meet the Spies

Spy in the Wild - Season 1 - Episode 5

A behind-the-scenes view of the extraordinary story behind deploying the Spy Creatures, showing how the concept evolved and became the inspiration for the animatronic animals of the series. Discover the painstaking work behind building the lifelike models, from first concept until they become alive for the first time. In Borneo, Spy Orang travels by speedboat to meet wild orangutans and joins them in their soap washing and sawing behaviour. In Uganda, Spy Crocodile and Spy Hatchlings go on their first mission along the banks of the treacherous River Nile, dodging hippos and elephants along the way, before the Spy Hatchlings meet some overly maternal crocodiles. In Africa, Spy Egret goes on safari and encounters an elephant herd for the first nerve-wracking time and Spy Tortoise is crushed by a five-ton elephant but still valiantly keeps filming. Spy Hippo gets stuck in the middle of a hippo- and crocodile-infested river and has to be rescued by a crew member nervously wading among them. In Australia, Jewelcams, used to test the thieving behaviour of bowerbirds, are then discovered by local children who are filmed trying to take them home. Spy Bushbaby meets the chimpanzee scientist and is deployed among the chimps for the first time. Spy Cub and the team venture to the high arctic to film real wolves but have their clothes stolen from camp by the mischievous wolves who are becoming a little over familiar. Ultimately, Spy Cub meets his demise in the jaws of a lone wolf.

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Asia & Australia
108 votes

#12 - Asia & Australia

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 5

In this bird’s-eye view of two continents, demoiselle cranes negotiate a dangerous Himalayan pass on their way to India while high-flying bar-headed geese take the fast track 5 miles above. In Rajasthan, vultures watch hunting tigers hoping for a meal and pigeons visit a temple dedicated solely to sacred rats. Pigeons are also our guide to the greatest gatherings of camels on Earth and learn to dodge buzzards around the battlements of Jodhpur Fort. 9,000 cranes overwinter in the most unlikely of spots – a barbed wire compound in the centre of a desert town. In Australia, rainbow lorikeets drop in on Sydney and patrol Australia’s Gold Coast. In the outback, white cockatoos swirl in thousands and budgerigars pass Uluru (Ayers Rock) and gather in the biggest flocks ever recorded. In China, swallows and swifts visit the Great Wall and the Forbidden City of Beijing. In Japan, the country’s most revered birds – Japanese cranes are fed fish by appreciative locals and are joined in strange, momentary harmony by hungry red foxes, white-tailed eagles and Steller’s eagles. As peace descends, Japanese cranes dance beautifully in the snow.

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79 votes

#13 - Europe

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 3

Rome, Venice, London … Earthflight departs on its grand European tour, and takes filming to new heights. Using a host of extraordinary techniques that include filming imprinted birds from microlites, we soar with birds over the Grand Canal, the white cliffs of Dover and Edinburgh castle. It’s the world from the air as never seen before. Take to the wing with grey cranes and white storks as they head north for their breeding grounds, riding high on the thermals created by these world-famous sights. Discover how cranes take the shortest route across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar and many stop off in the South of France for a spot of R&R. But the famous Camargue white horses kick up a fuss around these hungry new arrivals, many push on again up the Loire Valley – where 50,000 cranes may fly by in a single day. Navigating by the sun and magnetic fields, birds also follow well-known landmarks – from chateaux along the Loire valley to the tulip fields of Holland. Meanwhile, thousands of male white storks have left Africa behind and set their sights on Istanbul – their entry point into Europe. Next they must reclaim their ancestral homes – the chimney pots of Germany – and do a spot of nest DIY before the females arrive. In Rome, the heat of the city lures in 20 million starlings that perform nature’s greatest aerial display – one that outwits the world’s fastest bird predator, the peregrine. Barnacle geese strike out over Britain, but bad weather sometimes pushes them over London – normally a no-fly zone. Just over the Scottish border is Bass Rock – home to 40,000 gannets. Finally, geese touch down in Svalbard and start to raise a family. But ravenous polar bears threatens to wipe out their colony, and the plucky birds rally together to see off the world’s most dangerous predator.

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North America
276 votes

#14 - North America

Earthflight - Season 1 - Episode 1

Take off in a ‘snowstorm’ of geese and glide under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge with pelicans. This is the world on the wing – a world with secrets known only to the birds. The countdown to Earthflight’s epic adventure begins in the Gulf of Mexico as five million snow geese prepare to fly the entire length of North America. Each spring, these families of geese head north on a gruelling 3,000-mile journey to the Arctic to breed. Cruise with them on a tight schedule along familiar ‘flyways’, taking a route across the parched Monument Valley and up the Mississippi before catching skyscraper-induced thermals over New York City. One unwelcome fellow traveller is the bald eagle. At every opportunity it plummets into the flock to grab a meal. But it’s salmon not geese that lure the eagles away to Alaska. As the annual salmon run kicks off, duck and dive among squabbling grizzly bears as the eagles snatch a share of the feast. At the other extreme, brown pelicans seem to enjoy a far more relaxed Californian lifestyle. In the balmy seas of Baja, join a young pelican on its hunt for fish. It takes its cue from the breaching humpback whales and massing dolphins way below – that’s where the schools of anchovies are sure to be. Hitching a lift with pelicans on their leisurely route up the golden coast reveals the never-filmed-before behaviour of devil rays somersaulting out of the water and the daytime spawning of thousands of grunion fish. Eventually the pelicans make their final descent into San Francisco Bay, gliding past Alcatraz and slipping under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The Gathering Swarms
42 votes

#15 - The Gathering Swarms

Nature - Season 32 - Episode 12

A look at some of the planet’s great gatherings, creatures that come together in inconceivable numbers – sometimes in millions, billions, and even trillions. Included are bats and bees, locust and ants, monarch butterflies in Mexico, 17-year cicada hatches, grunion in the Sea of Cortez and carp in the Mississippi River, sardine runs off the coast of South Africa, super flocks of parakeets in the Australian Outback, mayflies on the 4th of July, and even penguins and wildebeest. Some gather to breed or to migrate, some for protection, some simply to keep warm in the cold. But in the process, a kind of super-organism is created in which individual intelligence is superseded by a collective consciousness that shares information and moves with a single purpose for the benefit of all. Check out swarm intelligence, essentially a living embodiment of social media in the natural world.

0 votes

#16 - 08/01/2018

EastEnders - Season 34 - Episode 5

Whitney ponders her future in the Square. Masood proudly tells Ian about his new successful life. Karen considers her options as her family struggles to make ends meet.

0 votes

#17 - 09/01/2018

EastEnders - Season 34 - Episode 6

Tiffany's back and immediately causes mischief. Masood's day goes from bad to worse. Karen tries to secure her future for the sake of her family.

0 votes

#18 - 11/01/2018

EastEnders - Season 34 - Episode 7

Mel Owen makes her return to Walford, but why is she back? The Ahmed family is thrown into turmoil, leaving Masood feeling guilty.

0 votes

#19 - 12/01/2018

EastEnders - Season 34 - Episode 8

Whitney tries to get to the bottom of what's going on with Tiffany. Ian takes the opportunity to continue to wind up Masood. Karen fights for the sake of her family.