CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Tony Robinson's Marvellous Machines review

Tony Robinson’s Marvellous Machines review: Baldrick, black holes, and why we’re all in the wrong universe, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

Tony Robinson’s Marvellous Machines


The Dog House At Christmas


Forget JFK and Area 51, Covid vaccines and extraterrestrial lizards in the Royal Family. The most entertaining conspiracy theories are generated at Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider.

This particle accelerator, which analyses the sub-atomic structure of the universe, caused such alarm to sci-fi neurotics when it was switched on in 2012 that some believed it would create a black hole and swallow the Earth.

Conspiracists claim this was averted only when a time-traveller from the future hopped back here to make some crucial adjustments… which explains, they say, why the LHC is so often ‘shut down for maintenance’.

But last year, when scientists at the nuclear research institute started searching for evidence of so-called ‘dark matter’, the online forums really went nuts. Apparently a ‘wormhole’ was opened into another ‘timeline’ and now we’re all stuck in the wrong universe.

Though best known as Baldrick, here Tony Robinson gave us an insight into how the particle accelerator works

Tony was having so much fun and his delight in these devices is so infectious, that I’m already looking forward to the next series

It’s the kind of universe where anything that can go wrong will do, which probably explains the sudden appearance of abominations like the Big Brother revival and the final series of The Crown.

Though best known as Baldrick, here Tony Robinson gave us an insight into how the particle accelerator works and why it has captured the internet’s overactive imagination, in the final part of his Marvellous Machines (Yesterday).

With the help of four physicists enjoying a Monty Python moment, he demonstrated the Collider’s basic premise. Sir Tony was a sub-atomic particle, a proton, running around in circles while the scientists pretended to be fickle electrons — first attracting him with come-hither looks, and then repelling him with snarls. 

Octo-name of the night 

The last octopus in Plymouth’s fish tanks, on Secrets Of The Aquarium (BBC2), was rather wonderfully called Spaghetti. The new one has been dubbed Kamino, a reference to the Star Wars water world. But surely Tagliatelle would be better. 

After a few circuits, Tone was approaching the speed of light, which must have been good for burning off calories.

I’d always supposed this vast underground facility to resemble a Bond villain’s lair. In fact, it looks more like a Victorian pumping station, with endless tunnels and massive metal pipes bolted together.

It could be a futuristic device foreseen by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. No wonder sci-fi fanatics find it ominous. One more big bang and we’ll find ourselves in a dimension where men sport handlebar moustaches and women wear whalebone bustles.

Tony’s other glimpses of the future were underwhelming. The world’s first electric two-seater plane was an airborne tin can so lightweight that it didn’t appear to have doors. 

In essence, it’s a Sinclair C5 with balsa-wood wings and a battery life of 45 minutes. I can’t see EasyJet buying a fleet of these.

He also pootled round Welsh mountain roads in a water-powered 13-horsepower sportscar — very clever, but any sports car that can’t keep up with a Citroen 2CV is going to find a limited market.

Tony was having so much fun, though, and his delight in these devices is so infectious, that I’m already looking forward to the next series. 

If it doesn’t get commissioned again in this universe, I might have to apply to visit an alternative dimension.

Everyone can imagine a perfect parallel universe. For Lynne, an NHS nurse, it’s the one where her boyfriend is the Hollywood actor Gerard Butler.

She visited Woodgreen animal rescue centre, on The Dog House At Christmas (Ch4), in the hope of finding the next best thing. ‘I know for a fact we haven’t got Gerard Butler on our system,’ the chirpy receptionist warned her.

The most touching of the stories saw a bereaved man and his daughter adopting an adorable Patterdale cross called Crackers, who had been abandoned by the side of a busy road.

It’s an eternal wonder that dogs can ever learn to trust humans again after an experience like that. But with a bit of love and a Christmas jumper, Crackers was wagging again.

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