Life on Our Planet (2023) s01e01 Episode Script

Chapter 1: The Rules of Life

[tense music playing]
[growls softly]
[Morgan Freeman] Two million years ago,
and our planet is a very different place.
A saber-toothed cat, the Smilodon.
[ominous music playing]
A fearsome predator of its age.
Standing in the way, a giant terror bird,
two meters tall.
[barks, roars]
[growls softly]
Both sides are armed
and prepared for a fight.
[dramatic music playing]
This is the story
of the great battles for survival
and the dynasties
that would take over the world.
This is the story of life.
[music intensifies, ends]
[rousing music playing]
[low growling]
[rousing music continues]
[wind howling]
[rousing music intensifies]
[music fades]
[tranquil music playing]
If you know where to look,
you can still find clues
to the origins of life on our planet.
This is not just a gathering
of marine predators.
It is a coming together
of ancient bloodlines.
Sharks, living fossils,
virtually unchanged
for hundreds of millions of years.
Dolphins, air-breathing mammals
whose ancestors once roamed on land.
Whales, bigger than any other animals
that have ever lived.
the last survivors of the dinosaurs
the world's greatest dynasty.
[dramatic music playing]
All predators,
all hunting the same prey,
but all with totally different origins.
There are more than ten million species
of plant and animals alive today.
[rousing music playing]
And yet, they are just 1%
of all species that have ever existed.
[birds chirping]
By traveling back in time,
we'll meet many of the 99%
that have gone extinct
to reveal
the most extraordinary story of all,
the story of life on our planet.
[music fades]
[thunder rumbles]
Life and all its incredible variety
had to start somewhere.
[thunder continues]
The first spark appeared
four billion years ago.
Perhaps uniquely,
our planet had just the right conditions.
Liquid water, energy from the Sun,
and the perfect chemistry
for life to take hold.
[dreamy music playing]
The exact process
is lost in the mists of time.
But what it produced
was a tiny single living cell.
the Last Universal Common Ancestor
from which all life,
everything, is descended.
[music ends]
From these humble beginnings,
life took billions more years
to develop real complexity.
A feat it first achieved in the oceans.
The earliest animals to attain supremacy
were simple life forms.
[water babbling]
These invertebrates,
animals without backbones,
ruled the seas for many millions of years.
Throughout history,
life has been waging an unending war.
One dynasty rising,
only to be vanquished by the next.
Plants were among the first
to conquer the land
creating conditions that, in time,
allowed the invertebrates to follow
and take over.
But the invertebrates
could not rule forever.
[ominous music playing]
A new dynasty would surpass them.
One that also came from the water.
The amphibians
whose novel body plan
of four limbs and a backbone
would prove
an enduring blueprint for success.
Their reach was limited
by their ties to water.
But they spawned another dynasty
with no such binds.
The reptiles.
[low growl]
Able to exploit even the driest regions,
their sprawling gait
carried them around the world.
For the first time in history,
there was a global power.
From these early reptiles
came the most iconic dynasty of them all.
[majestic music playing]
The dinosaurs.
They were to rule
for over 150 million years.
A group of astonishing variety,
whose absolute dominion
was only cut short by calamitous bad luck.
[wind howling]
Out of their shadows
rose the last great bloodline.
The mammals.
[low growling]
One of whom would go on
to change our planet
like nothing before.
[music ends]
[birds chirping]
The rise and fall of these dynasties,
over four billion years,
has not just been a matter of chance.
The whole journey,
from the beginning of life
to the infinite variety we know today,
has been driven
by certain fundamental principles.
The rules of life.
The first rule is the best adapted
will always win through.
Every one of these butterfly eggs
looks identical.
But each has
a different combination of genes
that makes them,
individually, completely unique.
[birds tweeting]
[tranquil music playing]
Some will have genetic qualities
that help them survive.
Qualities that will pass
from generation to generation
until eventually,
one will be so different
to its predecessors
that it becomes an entirely new species,
better adapted to its environment.
This is evolution.
- [rustling]
- [birds chirping]
[music intensifies]
But the caterpillars
aren't the only ones evolving.
[rustling, creaking]
Everything in this forest
is fighting for survival
including the plants.
Unchecked, the caterpillars
would strip them bare.
[dramatic music playing]
But this plant has evolved
its own adaptations for survival.
Poison in its leaves,
capable of killing
anything that eats them.
It's chemical warfare.
[ominous music playing]
Then a new species of caterpillar evolves
that can eat
the otherwise poisonous leaves,
along with any eggs that might be on them.
In response,
other butterflies adapt
to only lay on plants
that are free of eggs
[birds tweeting]
[serene music playing]
ensuring their young
have the best possible start.
But the plants retaliate
[sinister music playing]
forming growths on their leaves
that mimic butterfly eggs
deterring any females from laying there.
What's more, the fake eggs
produce a sweet nectar that attracts ants
that feed on caterpillars.
[sinister music continues]
The first rule of life,
that the best adapted will win through
[music ends]
has produced the huge diversity
that exists today.
[birds tweeting]
The next rule of life
is that competition drives adaptation.
And the most acute competition
comes from one's own kind.
[ominous music playing]
A male terror bird.
His territory is the lakeshore.
[growls, roars]
- [distant call]
- But he's not alone.
A younger male wants this prime spot.
- [distant call]
- [grunts]
The older one can't ignore the threat.
[tense music playing]
The youngster refuses to back down.
He needs a territory of his own.
[both roaring]
The two begin a ritual display.
Assessing the other's strength
while showing off their own.
Their coordinated moves
as formal as a dance.
Who will be the first to back down?
Or attack?
[tense music continues]
With nothing to separate them,
a fight is inevitable.
- [roaring]
- [tense music intensifies]
But they have company.
- [growling]
- [grunting]
The Smilodon's mammalian cunning
was one reason terror birds went extinct.
Competition, both within
and between species,
has always driven evolution.
But it's not just those doing battle
that are always changing.
So too is the battlefield itself,
which leads to the third rule of life.
Earth never remains stable for long.
Sometimes that helps life.
Sometimes it hinders it.
[dramatic music playing]
Throughout history, volcanoes have been
one of the greatest agents of change.
[explosive crashing]
Eruptions lasting thousands of years
have repeatedly engulfed
vast swathes of our planet.
Pumping gases into the atmosphere,
changing the climate,
and, at worst
causing global mass extinction.
The world has rarely been stable.
At times, a realm of fire.
At times, a realm of ice.
[wind howling]
Our changing planet has created
so many challenges for life.
From toxic seas
[cracking, rumbling]
to global wastelands
and periods of almost endless rain.
[thunder crashing]
At four different times,
the planet has pushed life
to the very edge of existence.
Each time, more than three-quarters
of all species
were lost in mass extinctions.
- [thunder crashing]
- [wind howling]
Ours can be a brutal planet.
But there was one period
when Earth was stable
for 100 million years.
[tranquil music playing]
A period which allowed one group
to become the mightiest of dynasties.
This was the age of dinosaurs.
The long calm helped dinosaurs
to proliferate in huge numbers.
These are Maiasaura,
gentle plant eaters
that form herds many thousands strong.
[grunting, snorting]
This mass gathering provides safety,
and not just for the adults.
This rather cautious female
is keen to get back to her nest.
[growls softly]
Maiasaura means "good mother."
[growls softly]
Like the other females,
she has made her nest
in an enormous colony.
To reach it,
she must run the gauntlet
of defensive mothers
keen to protect their young.
[hissing growl]
In avoiding one aggressor,
she strays too close to the next.
- [snarls]
- [grunts]
[grunts, roars]
[grunts softly]
At last, she reaches her own nest.
- [mother grunts softly]
- [babies bleat]
She feeds her young
in a very bird-like way.
- [growls]
- [grunts]
She'll protect them in the nest
for many months,
until they are big enough
to join the rest of the herd.
Yet the planet didn't just support
large numbers of dinosaurs,
its stability also supported dinosaurs
of every shape and size.
Triceratops is very different
to the defenseless Maiasaura.
Weighing five tons
and boasting three horns,
she is heavily armored
adapted to a world
where the best form of defense is attack.
With the breeding season imminent,
she needs to be in peak condition.
And that means finding the best food
wherever she can.
But her search has taken her
far from the herd
and closer to the edge of the forest.
She's right to be nervous.
Triceratops aren't the only giants
in these woods.
[ominous music playing]
[quiet growl]
Tyrannosaurus rex.
The ultimate predator.
She has her two youngsters with her.
[growls quietly]
[hissing, snarling]
- [dramatic music playing]
- [roaring]
The siblings are faster than their mother.
- [Tyrannosaurus squeals]
- [Triceratops bellows]
They work as a team.
- [bellowing]
- [hissing]
The Triceratops
can hold off the youngsters,
but not the adult.
- [hissing]
- [roaring]
[Tyrannosaurs squealing, roaring]
Only the protection of the herd
can save her.
[Triceratops grunting]
They form a defensive wall.
Even the world's greatest predator
knows when she's beaten.
- [Tyrannosaurus snarling]
- [Triceratops roaring]
Unlike the young male.
Dinosaurs might still rule today
if conditions on Earth
had remained the same.
But everything was about to change,
and in just one day.
[explosive crash]
An asteroid the size of Mount Everest,
traveling 20 times faster than a bullet,
smashed into the planet.
[dramatic music playing]
It blew a hole
20 kilometers deep and 180 wide
setting off
an earth-shattering chain of events.
Rising from the massive crater
came the real killer.
A wall of ash and debris
hundreds of kilometers thick
that enveloped the globe.
The cloud blocked out the sunlight,
leading to the death
of almost all dinosaurs
[melancholic music playing]
and three-quarters of life on Earth.
The annihilation was global.
It was the world's fifth mass extinction.
[melancholic music continues]
[music fades]
But there were survivors.
Survivors that would form the basis
of all species that exist today.
[peaceful music playing]
The birds were
the only remaining dinosaurs.
Today, they number
more than 10,000 species
occupying every habitat on Earth.
But the birds didn't have the planet
to themselves.
Another great dynasty
also rose from the ashes.
The mammals.
Under the dinosaurs,
they had been a mere footnote in history.
[grunting, snuffling]
Without the asteroid strike,
none of these survivors
would have had a chance to rule.
From the cataclysm of the mass extinction
came this new multitude of life
in all its wondrous variety
[uplifting music playing]
all perfectly adapted
to the challenges of life.
[birds trilling, chirping]
The struggle to protect
and raise one's young,
to find food,
and to breed.
The cast of characters may have changed,
but the essentials remain the same.
Water and the energy from the Sun
continue to support life,
just as they have for billions of years.
Even today, the rules of life still apply.
Only the best adapted will win through.
[tense music playing]
[birds squawking]
Competition drives evolution.
And a rapidly changing planet
causes chaos.
These rules of life
determine how dynasties will rise
and how they will fall.
Every single thing alive today
can trace its heritage back
four billion years.
This in the face of incredible odds.
[majestic music playing]
99% of all species that have ever existed
are now extinct.
Life today is the 1% that made it through.
This series will explore
the most important milestones
in the history of life.
From when mammals established themselves
as a global power
[heavy grunting]
to the ancestors of the birds
first taking to the air
[triumphant music playing]
to the evolution of hard-shelled eggs
that led to the rise
of the mighty dinosaurs.
And even the moment
when animals first came out of the water.
In the next chapter,
we go back to life's origins in the sea
and the very first fights for survival
on our extraordinary planet.
[ominous music playing]
[music intensifies, ends]
[rousing music playing]
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