Becoming Human

Darwin's Darkest Hour
Premiere Broadcast on PBS: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NOVA and National Geographic Television present the extraordinary human drama that led to the birth of the most influential scientific theory of all time. In this two-hour special, acclaimed screenwriter John Goldsmith (David Copperfield, Victoria and Albert) brings to life Charles Darwin's greatest personal crisis: the anguishing decision over whether to "go public" with his theory of evolution. Darwin, portrayed by Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), spent years refining his ideas and penning his "Big Book," On the Origin of Species. Yet, daunted by looming conflict with the orthodox religious values of his day, he resisted publishing—until a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace forced his hand. In 1858, Darwin learned that Wallace was on the brink of publishing ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn all of his work to obscurity—his voyage on the Beagle, his adventures in the Andes, the gauchos and bizarre fossils of Patagonia, the finches and giant tortoises of the Galapagos. But to come forward with his ideas risked the fury of the Church and perhaps a rift with his own devoted wife, Emma, portrayed by Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park, The Importance of Being Earnest, Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence), who clung to a devout, orthodox view of creation. "Darwin's Darkest Hour" is a moving drama about the birth of a great idea seen through the inspiration and personal sufferings of its brilliant originator.

What Darwin Never Knew
Premiere Broadcast on PBS: Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Earth teems with a staggering variety of animals, including 9,000 kinds of birds, 28,000 types of fish, and more than 350,000 species of beetles. What explains this explosion of living creatures—1.4 million different species discovered so far, with perhaps another 50 million to go? The source of life's endless forms was a profound mystery until Charles Darwin's revolutionary idea of natural selection, which he showed could help explain the gradual development of life on Earth. But Darwin's radical insights raised as many questions as they answered. What actually drives evolution and turns one species into another? And how did we evolve?

Now, on the 150th anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, NOVA reveals answers to the riddles that Darwin couldn't explain in this two-hour program. Stunning breakthroughs in a brand-new science—nicknamed "evo devo"—are linking the enigma of origins to another of nature's great mysteries, the development of an embryo. To explore this exciting new idea, NOVA takes viewers on a journey from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic, and from the Cambrian explosion of animal forms half a billion years ago to the research labs of today. Here scientists are finally beginning to crack nature's biggest secrets at the genetic level. And, as NOVA shows in this absorbing detective story, the results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin's insights while exposing clues to life's breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.

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Henry Ian Cusick plays a young Charles Darwin

In "Darwin's Darkest Hour," actor Henry Ian Cusick plays a young Charles Darwin struggling with the dilemma of whether to publish his controversial theory.

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While Darwin could do rudimentary studies of embryos such as this nascent chick, today's "evo devo" scientists have the tools to see precisely how genetics drives both embryonic development and the evolution of new species.

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