Horizon

The WORST episodes of Horizon

Every episode of Horizon ever, ranked from worst to best by thousands of votes from fans of the show. The worst episodes of Horizon!

Amazing science stories, unravels mysteries and reveals worlds you've never seen before.

Last Updated: 8/6/2022Network: BBC Two
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The Demonic Ape
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#1 - The Demonic Ape

Season 2004 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/8/2004

In a film that is in turns charming, disturbing and poignant, Horizon explores the relationship between science and the chimpanzee. It began with a magical story. A young girl ventured alone into the jungle and befriended a group of chimpanzees. What she saw became the stuff of scientific legend. But then, last year came a terrible tragedy. Frodo, one of the chimpanzees she had helped make famous, killed a human baby. That shocking act brought into focus a huge debate about the relationship between humans and chimps, and what these primates have taught us about the origins of our own behaviour. The saga of how Jane Goodall went into the jungle to study the chimps of Gombe in Tanzania has inspired novels and movies. Her observations revealed that chimpanzees were in many ways like humans. They used tools, had culture and even language. And what's more they had empathy. They were also capable of savage brutality against their own kind. Just like us. In fact many began to think that the origins of aggressive human male behaviour could be traced back to our shared evolutionary ancestry with chimps. In other words, men are genetically programmed to be violent. But then came some disturbing questions.

Derek Tastes of Earwax
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#2 - Derek Tastes of Earwax

Season 2004 - Episode 13 - Aired 9/30/2004

Is Wednesday red? Take part in our experiment to test whether your senses overlap. Do melodies have a colour? Take part in our experiment to test whether you hear colours. Imagine if every time you saw someone called Derek you got a strong taste of earwax in your mouth. It happens to James Wannerton, who runs a pub. Derek is one of his regulars. Another regular's name gives him the taste of wet nappies. For some puzzling reason, James's sense of sound and taste are intermingled. Dorothy Latham sees words as colours. Whenever she reads a black and white text, she sees each letter tinged in the shade of her own multi-coloured alphabet - even though she knows the reality of the text is black and white. Spoken words have an even stranger effect. She sees them, spelled out letter by letter, on a colourful ticker tape in front of her head. Both James and Dorothy have a mysterious condition called synaesthesia, in which their senses have become linked. For years scientists dismissed it, putting it in the same category as séances and spoon-bending. But now, synaesthesia is sparking a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. Two synaesthetes seldom agree on the colours or tastes they experience. While Covent Garden may taste of crinkly chocolate to James, it's very unlikely to have the same taste for another synaesthete. And Dorothy's brother Peter, also a synaesthete, won't see M or Z in the same colour as she does. But despite these differences, scientists are now beginning to discover more and more overarching synaesthetic patterns. Dorothy doesn't only see letters and numbers in colour. Music produces a riot of colour, too. As Dorothy hears notes going from low to high, her colours change from black and purple to mid-browns and then yellows and whites. Overall, lower notes evoke darker colours and higher notes brighter colours - and this pattern is true for most synaesthetes. But surprisingly, when non-synaesthetes are asked to match colours

The Intelligence Man
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#3 - The Intelligence Man

Season 1984 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/9/1984

Colourful Notions
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#4 - Colourful Notions

Season 1985 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/7/1985

Documentary about colour perception based on the theories of Dr. Edwin Land, which oppose the long-held three-receptor theory of colour vision

Thinking
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#5 - Thinking

Season 1988 - Episode 8 - Aired 2/22/1988

Explores the limits of digital computers and artificial intelligence. Includes the views of John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California who refutes the claims for 'thinking' machines.

Oil Spill
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#6 - Oil Spill

Season 1990 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/8/1990

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Horizon looks at tanker design and the technology used for dealing with major oil slicks.

Medicine 2000
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#7 - Medicine 2000

Season 1990 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/15/1990

Horizon reports on medical developments in Britain which could mean by the year 2000, health care will be very different.

Food Irradiation: Would You Buy It?
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#8 - Food Irradiation: Would You Buy It?

Season 1990 - Episode 3 - Aired 1/22/1990

Horizon examines the history of research into irradiated food.

The Amazing Doctor Newton
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#9 - The Amazing Doctor Newton

Season 1977 - Episode 11 - Aired 7/15/1977

BBC television documentary which explores, using live-action dramatisation, the life's work of Sir Isaac Newton, emphasising his sources of inspiration.

Resurrecting the Dead Sea Scrolls
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#10 - Resurrecting the Dead Sea Scrolls

Season 1993 - Episode 12 - Aired 3/22/1993

In this episode, Horizon examines the latest scientific evidence about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Are You a Racist?
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#11 - Are You a Racist?

Season 1986 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/6/1986

Horizon presents a documentary about how white racists and black victims of racism volunteered to spend time in an isolated house living and talking about their prejudices.

Living Nightmare
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#12 - Living Nightmare

Season 2003 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/16/2003

Sleeping is an essential part of everyone's life yet it remains little understood is barely understood. You might think it's a relaxing recharge but in fact your brain is working harder at times overnight than when you're conscious in the day. Fresh insight into why and how we sleep has come from studying people with sleep disorders, especially sufferers of narcolepsy. The condition means that people fall asleep many times a day, completely out of the blue. A less known symptom is paralysing attacks, that can cause narcoleptics to fall to the ground - unable to move - several times a day. If a way can be found to ease their symptoms, it could open the way to helping any of us to control our sleep patterns and perhaps even to go without rest while staying alert. Gaynor Carr has been nodding off routinely since the age of seven. Her narcolepsy has made holding down a job impossible and made her question the idea of ever having children. Gary Beattie used to work in construction, until he fell asleep 7m up a ladder. He not only loses consciousness, his body becomes paralysed in a so-called cataleptic attack. Both of them say that showing emotion sparks the paralysing attacks and that has forced them to avoid laughing and crying. Bill Baird worked in finance but describes his stockbroking days as a race. The emotion of closing a deal would bring on a fit; he had constantly to hope he could get a client's signature before his almost inevitable collapse. His sleep is restless, with vivid nightmares when he is able to hear his surroundings while seeing terrifying hallucinations.

Dirty Bomb
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#13 - Dirty Bomb

Season 2003 - Episode 4 - Aired 1/30/2003

A dirty bomb is a radiological weapon but unlike a nuclear bomb, its purpose is to contaminate rather than destroy. It uses normal explosives to disperse radioactive materials in the local environment, creating a hazard to health that could last for years unless cleaned up. The relative ease of making such a bomb means it is a potent terrorist weapon but Horizon's investigation shows that the risk to health from most such devices need not be great. It also underlines the need for governments to act to secure radioactive sources from falling into criminal hands. Horizon deliberately avoids outlining the production process in any detail. Horizon publishes the results of specially commissioned research, modelling two possible dirty bomb scenarios: attacks on either London or Washington DC. The main conclusion is that the health risks from a dirty bomb explosion are localised to people who are close to the incident or are in contact with the contamination. Although the modelled attack scenarios could have wide-ranging economic repercussions, the majority of the population of either capital city would have only a negligible increase in their risk of developing cancer.

Sexual Chemistry (Update)
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#14 - Sexual Chemistry (Update)

Season 2003 - Episode 5 - Aired 2/13/2003

The drug Viagra revolutionised the treatment of sexual dysfunction in men on its launch five years ago. An accidental discovery, the tablet that gave impotent men the chance once more to have natural erections became the fastest selling pill in history and has earned its manufacturer, Pfizer, over $6bn. The search is now on for a similar drug that could help women. Research is revealing that female sexuality is more complex than expected. For women suffering from a loss of desire many scientists believe that drugs acting on the brain may be the way forward. A pioneering Scottish study may have identified just such a drug and begun testing it scientifically. An erection is achieved by filling the erectile tissue of the penis with blood. Blood vessels widen to allow blood in and then constrict to maintain the pressure. Male impotence was long thought to be a psychiatric effect, a result of stress, anxiety or depression. Medical advice was that there was not much to be done. Some patients refused to take this message on board.

The Day We Learned To Think
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#15 - The Day We Learned To Think

Season 2003 - Episode 6 - Aired 2/20/2003

Understanding of humans' earliest past often comes from studying fossils. They tell us much of what we know about the people who lived before us. There is one thing fossils cannot tell us; at what point did we stop living day-to-day and start to think symbolically, to represent ideas about our environment and how we could change it? At a dig in South Africa the discovery of a small piece of ochre pigment, 70,000 years old, has raised some very interesting questions. Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) emerged in Africa roughly 100,000 years ago. We know from fossil evidence that Homo sapiens replaced other hominids around them and moved out of Africa into Asia and the Middle East, reaching Europe 40,000 years ago. Prof Richard Klein believes art is a landmark in human evolution. Unquestionable art that's widespread and common suggests you're dealing with people just like us. No other animals, after all, are able to define a painting as anything other than a collection of colours and shapes. This ability is unique to humans.

Trial and Error
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#16 - Trial and Error

Season 2003 - Episode 7 - Aired 2/27/2003

It was the simplest idea but one with enormous potential. If a gene is defective in the human body, just replace it with one that works properly. Gene therapy would mean that genetic disorders would become a thing of the past. Cancer would be cured, as would cystic fibrosis and hundreds of other genetic illnesses. Scientists were justifiably excited about the idea but, this enthusiasm that would end up costing one young man his life. Jesse Gelsinger was born with a liver disorder, a rare condition called ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency that stops the liver metabolising ammonia. People with the disease can suffer from brain damage or coma. At its most extreme the illness is fatal. Jesse was lucky, able to lead a fairly normal life although he had a daily cocktail of drugs to control his condition. Jesse wanted to help others. When he was offered a chance to take part in a medical trial to test the safety of using gene therapy for OTC deficiency, he was keen to participate. He knew this was not a cure for his condition but that, by volunteering he might be able to help others in the future. Although the concept of gene therapy is simple, the practice of administering the treatment is much more difficult. In order to replace defective genes, doctors must get working ones into the body and to the place where they are needed.

God On The Brain
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#17 - God On The Brain

Season 2003 - Episode 11 - Aired 4/17/2003

Rudi Affolter and Gwen Tighe have both experienced strong religious visions. He is an atheist; she a Christian. He thought he had died; she thought she had given birth to Jesus. Both have temporal lobe epilepsy. Like other forms of epilepsy, the condition causes fitting but it is also associated with religious hallucinations. Research into why people like Rudi and Gwen saw what they did has opened up a whole field of brain science: neurotheology. The connection between the temporal lobes of the brain and religious feeling has led one Canadian scientist to try stimulating them. (They are near your ears.) 80% of Dr Michael Persinger's experimental subjects report that an artificial magnetic field focused on those brain areas gives them a feeling of 'not being alone'. Some of them describe it as a religious sensation. His work raises the prospect that we are programmed to believe in god, that faith is a mental ability humans have developed or been given. And temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) could help unlock the mystery.

SARS: The True Story
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#18 - SARS: The True Story

Season 2003 - Episode 13 - Aired 5/29/2003

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome didn't even have its name in February 2003, when it struck its first known victim, Johnny Cheng, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Within days, an international effort led by the World Health Organization (WHO) had massed scientific expertise to fight the mystery illness and avert the nightmare scenario of an uncontrollable pandemic sweeping the globe. Amid attempts to quarantine high risk groups of people, it seemed only fear could spread more rapidly than the disease itself. Nothing was known about the condition - where it had come from, how it was passed on, how to spot it, contain it or treat it. The infection was described merely as 'flu-like'. But if this was a type of influenza, it was one that killed up to 15% of its sufferers. The doctor treating Mr Cheng, who first contacted the WHO about the unusual symptoms, was one of six medics to die of SARS at the hospital. But the alarm had been raised and the Organization began to pull together a response. Colossal effort by scientists around the world - and unprecedented co-operation - followed. Meanwhile, the media made much of the risk posed by and to international travel, and watched financial markets respond in gloomy fashion.

The Bible Code
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#19 - The Bible Code

Season 2003 - Episode 15 - Aired 11/20/2003

This week Horizon investigates the science behind the Bible Code. What he can see is truly horrific; according to Drosnin, the world could end in an atomic holocaust - in 2006. It sounds preposterous yet Drosnin claims to have serious scientific backing. Behind his findings lies the work of one of the world's most brilliant theoretical mathematicians, an Israeli professor called Eliyahu Rips. In 1994, using exactly the same ancient code, Michael Drosnin accurately predicted the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin - twelve months before it occurred. Drosnin's books on the Bible Code have been translated into most of the world's major languages and are read by millions of people. If he's right, he's stumbled on one of the most important discoveries ever made.

The Hunt for an AIDS Vaccine
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#20 - The Hunt for an AIDS Vaccine

Season 2003 - Episode 17 - Aired 12/4/2003

Horizon tells the microbiological detective story in which some of the best brains in science have been pitted against the most extraordinary bug the world has ever seen. In 1984 it was discovered that HIV was the cause of AIDS. Straight away, there were confident predictions that there would be a vaccine ready for testing in just two years. Back then, just 1,292 deaths from AIDS had been reported. Now the figure is 25 million dead. By 2010 it is predicted there will be 85 million infections and 70 million deaths. And after 20 years there is still no sign of a vaccine. Despite work of dazzling complexity, the ambition of so many brilliant scientists has been constantly thwarted. Just as a vaccine seems to be working, the AIDS virus alters itself, and ten to fifteen years of work, and millions of pounds, go down the drain. These bitter disappointments are only compounded by the desperate human urgency of the work. This is a story where the clock doesn't stop ticking.

Percy Pilcher's Flying Machine
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#21 - Percy Pilcher's Flying Machine

Season 2003 - Episode 18 - Aired 12/11/2003

Could an unknown Englishman have been the first person ever to fly? To mark the hundredth anniversary of the Wright brothers inaugural flight, Horizon tells the remarkable story of Percy Pilcher. He could have been the most famous aviator of them all. Four years before the Wright brothers, he had constructed his own aeroplane. But on the day it was due to take off for the very first time, something so terrible happened that he was denied the chance of ever flying it. So Horizon has rebuilt his long lost flying machine to see if Percy Pilcher, the British amateur, could have claimed the glory and been the first person ever to fly. This film mixes dramatic reconstruction with fabulous contemporary scenes and gripping science. With a specially assembled team of historians, aviation experts and our own test pilot, Horizon painstakingly rebuilds Pilcher's flying machine and puts it to the test. The results will leave you cheering.

Time Trip
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#22 - Time Trip

Season 2003 - Episode 19 - Aired 12/18/2003

Horizon's Time Trip is a thrilling journey deep into the strangeness of cutting-edge physics - a place where beautiful, baffling ideas are sometimes indistinguishable from the utterly crazy. On this journey, we meet a time-travelling pizza, a brilliant mathematician in a ski mask and even God. The journey ends with a strange and dark conclusion - one which calls into question our very existence. Ever since Einstein showed it was theoretically possible, the quest to travel through time has drawn eccentric amateurs and brilliant scientists in almost equal numbers. The amateurs include Aage Nost, who demonstrates his time machine in front of the cameras. The professionals include the likes of Professor Frank Tipler of Tulane University. His time machine sounds good - but it would weigh half the mass of the galaxy. There is, however, one way that time travel to the past could be possible. And it would be much more convenient. Future civilisations could use computers to create exact replicas of the past. Unfortunately that idea has physics trembling in its socks. Because if you can generate a perfect virtual reality version of the past, who's to say we are not one of the replicas?

Fatbusters
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#23 - Fatbusters

Season 2002 - Episode 3 - Aired 1/24/2002

There is a new epidemic sweeping the world. It's been silently growing over the last few decades - only now is it reaching dramatic proportions. If current trends continue, more than one quarter of British adults will have this disease by the year 2010. This new epidemic is obesity. Scientists have recently made significant discoveries, which could lead to a drug treatment for obesity. In the meantime, until the drugs are developed, what should we do to keep off the pounds? One thing is certain. Willpower alone won't stop the epidemic of obesity; however, new research suggests there may be an easier way to fight the flab than joining the gym. Meet the Padded Lilies, a troupe of obese water ballet dancers who insist it is impossible to change our natural weight. They say they are born with a slow metabolic rate that has made them fat. But scientists now know that fat people actually have a faster metabolic rate. The Padded Lilies' suspicion that there is something wrong with their biology may well be true... but not in the way they thought. In 1994, research into a fat mouse was the starting point for a revolution in the science of obesity. The obese mouse was missing a hormone called leptin, which turns off the feelings of hunger. Wall Street went mad and the patent for leptin was purchased by a biotechnology company for millions of dollars. It seemed that at last a quick fix for obesity had been found. However, researchers quickly discovered that fat people had lots of leptin. There seemed to be no connection between the fat mice and obesity in humans. Then four years ago at Cambridge University, a young researcher, examined the blood of two young children who were so obese they could hardly walk and were confined to wheelchairs. She discovered these children, just like the mouse, didn't have the genetic information to make leptin and so could not suppress their appetites. She had for the first time ever identified human beings who were obese because

The Dinosaur that Fooled the World
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#24 - The Dinosaur that Fooled the World

Season 2002 - Episode 7 - Aired 2/21/2002

In the mid 1800s, when Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution, one species of animal remained a mystery; where did birds fit on his evolutionary tree? Several years later his friend and colleague, Thomas Henry Huxley, came up with an answer. Huxley had recently examined a new fossil from southern Germany called Archaeopteryx which was causing considerable excitement in palaeontological circles. There were clear signs of feathers and it was obvious this was the earliest fossil evidence of a bird ever found. Huxley noticed something else as well. To him it looked as though the skeleton bore a striking similarity to that of a family of meat eating dinosaurs known as therapods. In the 1860s, on the basis of this observation, he announced a new theory; birds must have evolved from dinosaurs. The theory ignited what was to become one of the biggest controversies in palaeontology. Could Huxley possibly be right; how could a large, land-bound creature like a dinosaur have ever evolved into something as light and sleek as a bird? Many questioned the accuracy of Huxley's observations and ever since there has been a search for further fossil evidence to confirm the theory; a transitional animal which would incontrovertibly show how, in one creature, birds had evolved from dinosaurs. It has become one of the big missing links in palaeontology. In Spring 1999, at the Tucson Gem and Fossil Fair in Arizona, an American collector came across a new Chinese fossil which seemed to be just this transitional animal. It had the head and upper body of a bird but the tail of a dinosaur. It was called Archaeoraptor or 'ancient hunter'. Throughout the 1990s a number of important fossils emerged from China showing an apparent relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Practically all come from a region in the north of the country called Liaoning, one of the richest fossil areas in the world. Here, 130 million years ago, volcanic eruptions buried a wetland once teeming in wil

The England Patient
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#25 - The England Patient

Season 2002 - Episode 13 - Aired 5/23/2002

The England football manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, believes that modern soccer matches are not won on the pitch, but inside people's minds. This film examines not just how Eriksson got inside his players' brains, but how he is now starting nothing short of a revolution in English football thinking. Eriksson's plan, devised with sports psychologist Dr Willi Railo, has two critical elements. These are to banish the crippling effects of the fear of failure from the minds of the England players, and to encourage them to train mentally as well as physically to reach the highest levels of performance - dubbed playing in 'the zone'. Neurologists and psychologists from some of Britain's most prestigious universities believe anxiety and the fear of failure can make top professionals turn in performances like amateurs, and that Eriksson and Railo have a way to help the England team endure the pressure. Their view is that England's football past has been dogged by fear of failure. Piling on pressure and relying on patriotism to get people to perform doesn't work when - at heart - it's just 11 footballers taking on 11. If players accept they could lose (and that it's alright when they do) then they'll be less nervous and less prone to what's called 'choking'. When sportspeople choke, familiar instincts are overwhelmed by pressure. Monitoring shows that people use different parts of the brain to perform actions which they are learning and those which are second nature. If the brain reverts to its learning mode, motor skills are constrained and that 89th minute penalty kick goes right over the bar. Visualisation is fundamental to making sure people play to their best at all times. As far the brain is concerned, there's little difference between practising a movement and just thinking through it. By thinking in advance just how intense the pressure could be, Eriksson's players can avoid choking when critical moments arise. Eriksson has a further psychological ace

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