Darwin's Darkest Hour

A two-hour drama on the crisis that forced Darwin to publish his theory of evolution Airing October 6, 2009 at 9 pm on PBS Aired October 6, 2009 on PBS

Program Description

(Program not available for streaming.) This two-hour scripted drama tells the remarkable story behind the unveiling of the most influential scientific theory of all time, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The program is a special presentation from NOVA and National Geographic Television, written by acclaimed British screenwriter John Goldsmith and directed by John Bradshaw.

Darwin, portrayed by Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), spent years refining his ideas and penning what he called his "big book." 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 ready to publish ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn his greatest work to obscurity–the brilliant argument he had pieced together with clues from his voyage on the Beagle, his adventures in the Andes, the bizarre fossils of Patagonia, the finches and giant tortoises of the Galapagos, as well as the British countryside. 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), who was a devout Christian.

"Darwin's Darkest Hour" is a moving drama about the genesis of a groundbreaking theory seen through the inspiration and personal sufferings of its originator.


Darwin's Darkest Hour

PBS Airdate: October 6, 2009


NARRATOR: Tonight, a special two-hour dramatic presentation: His was the finest mind of the age, the father of modern biology, author of the most influential theory in the history of science.

CHARLES DARWIN: Nature's selection, natural selection.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Have you the proofs of this?


NARRATOR: But in the summer of 1858, Charles Darwin faced his darkest hour.

EMMA DARWIN: Charles? What is it?

CHARLES DARWIN: Twenty years of work and I've, I've been beaten to the post. It's from a man called Wallace.

His theory and my own are identical. He even employs phrases that I myself have used in my book: "the struggle for existence," for example.

NARRATOR: For 20 years, he has suppressed his greatest work, wary of public reaction, of scientific scrutiny, of religious differences with his wife, Emma.

CHARLES DARWIN: I think I may have found the answer to the mystery of mysteries, and if I'm right, then the God that Lyell believes in so profoundly is dead.

EMMA DARWIN: And what of the God that I believe in?

NARRATOR: Now, in the midst of personal tragedy...

DR. ENGLEHEART: It is not scarlet fever.

EMMA DARWIN: Ah, I'm so desperately worried, what with Etty so sick, and now the baby. I think it may prove too much for Charles.

NARRATOR: ...on the verge of professional triumph...

CHARLES DARWIN: ...millions of small changes, of the same kind, over millions of years.

WILLIAM FITZROY: The danger in what you say is that it undermines the truth of scripture. It's an ax to the root of the faith by which men lead their lives and which sustains our whole society.

NARRATOR: ...Darwin must make a critical decision, and the world's most controversial scientific theory hangs in the balance.

EMMA DARWIN: I think you must publish.

CHARLES DARWIN: You'd be sorry to see me an object of hatred. You must think very carefully.

NARRATOR: Darwin's Darkest Hour, right now, on this NOVA/National Geographic special movie presentation.

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And by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, dedicated to strengthening America's future through education.

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and viewers like you. Thank you.

ALFRED WALLACE: Malthus, Malthus. The human population should have overwhelmed the planet by now, that's what Malthus said. Malthus...should have overwhelmed the planet by now, but nothing of the sort has happened.

Why not? Why not?

Malthus. External pressures, pressures, natural disasters. Malthus...that's what Malthus says.

What if the same laws apply to animal populations? External pressures, natural disasters, great heaven! What if that's true? It could be the answer. The answer. The answer to the greatest question any scientist, any thinking man could ask, any thinking man could ask.

POSTMAN: How are you doing today, Joe? Come along.

LENNY DARWIN: My turn! My turn!


EMMA DARWIN: Postmans here!

PARSLOW: ' Morning, Mr. Barker

POSTMAN: ' Morning, Mr. Parslow.

PARSLOW: Thank you, kindly.

EMMA DARWIN: Thank you, Parslow.


FRANK DARWIN: Can I be postman?

LENNY DARWIN: It's my turn!

HORACE DARWIN: It's my turn!

EMMA DARWIN: I think it's Franky's turn.


EMMA DARWIN: Better hurry up, Franky, it's half past nine.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Come on, boys, let's go play outside.

EMMA DARWIN: Thank you, Elizabeth.



Thank you, Franky. Oh, post's early today.

FRANK DARWIN: What is it, Papa?

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, it's a model of a beehive cell.

FRANK DARWIN: Can we do bees today?

CHARLES DARWIN: Hmm, yes, I should think so.

PARSLOW: ' Morning, Jane. ' Morning, Master Charley! How's my lovely boy?


PARSLOW: Take him, Jane, please.

EMMA DARWIN: Charles? What is it?

CHARLES DARWIN: I've been beaten to the post. Twenty years of work, and I've been beaten to the post. He wants me to forward it to Lyell. What can I do? I can't suppress it. I must do as he asks; I'm honor-bound to do so. It's...

EMMA DARWIN: Charles? Step-by-step? Method in all things, yes?


Uhh, it's, ahh, it's from a man called Wallace, Alfred Russel Wallace. He's in the East, the Moluccas, I think. He encloses an essay, "On the Tendency of Varieties..."

EMMA DARWIN: "...to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type." Yes I see. What does it mean?

CHARLES DARWIN: What does it mean? It means I'm trumped, gammoned! His theory and my own are identical. He even employs phrases that I, myself, have used in my book: "the struggle for existence," for example.

I don't know what's to be done, Emma. I don't know which way to turn.

EMMA DARWIN: What's to be done is for you to sit down quietly and tell me exactly who this man is.

CHARLES DARWIN: I don't know what you'd call him. Traveler? Explorer? Naturalist? He was in the Amazon basin, and he wrote a book about it. It was quite readable, if rather light from a scientific point of view.

EMMA DARWIN: You've met him?


ALFRED WALLACE: There are two books that have together altered the whole course of my life. One is Humboldt's Personal Narrative of his travels in South America. The other is your own Voyage of HMS Beagle.

CHARLES DARWIN: Humboldt! Now, the first time I tried to read him, I couldn't get through it, but the second time, when I was at Cambridge, I devoured it.

ALFRED WALLACE: Nothing like it to stimulate a young man's appetite for travel.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, you ventured into wilder places than I ever did. I never visited Amazonia.

ALFRED WALLACE: Is that not Sir Charles Lyell?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. Yes it is.

ALFRED WALLACE: There's another book that has changed my whole way of thinking, his Principles of Geology; wonderful.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, indeed.

ALFRED WALLACE: Might I beg an introduction?


SIR CHARLES LYELL: Forgive my slight tardiness, my dear Charles.

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, think nothing of it. Might I introduce Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace?

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Ah, the Amazonian adventurer.

Mr. Wallace.

ALFRED WALLACE: A very great honor to meet you, Sir Charles.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Yes, we really should be getting along.

ALFRED WALLACE: I won't detain you any longer. A great honor to meet you, sir.

CHARLES DARWIN: And you, sir.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Bit of a rough diamond.


SIR CHARLES LYELL: I believe his father was some sort of West Country attorney, couldn't afford to give his son a decent education.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, he seems to have acquired one by his own efforts.


CHARLES DARWIN: Wallace went abroad again soon after, to the East, and we corresponded.

EMMA DARWIN: About your theory?

CHARLES DARWIN: No, well, not at first. I wanted specimens of poultry that had been bred over many generations in remote regions. He sent me those ducks from Bali. Do you remember?

EMMA DARWIN: So many people sent you so many things.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, well, Wallace was one of them. He makes his living that way, collecting and selling specimens. Then I read an article he'd written. I made some notes on it. I must have it here somewhere. It was entitled "The Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of the New Species." I wasn't greatly impressed. There was nothing very new in it, but where on earth are those notes?

EMMA DARWIN: Charles, don't bother about it now.

CHARLES DARWIN: I wrote to Wallace, kindly, about it. I said we were thinking along the same lines.

Lyell warned me.

You behold in me a member of the Borough Club of pigeon fanciers.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: I thought it was the Philoperisteron.

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, I attend the Philo, of course, but your true featherman prefers the Borough. We meet in all sorts of queer little grog shops and beer halls.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: How very disagreeable.

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, I rather enjoy it.

Now, consider the number of varieties the feathermen have produced from the pigeon's wild forbears. How do they do it?

By minute variations. Yet the changes brought about by these methods are vast. I have fifteen varieties here, and I can count the equivalents of three good genera and 15 good species.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: That's astonishing. But this is leading somewhere else.

CHARLES DARWIN: What if nature acts in the same way? What if nature is capable of forcing and then preserving those variations which, by slow accumulation, provide immense change?

SIR CHARLES LYELL: By what mechanism?

CHARLES DARWIN: By geographical isolation, climactic change.

These variations may or may not be beneficial. Just in the same way as the domestic breeder removes those variations that fail, so does nature. Nature's selection, natural selection.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Have you the proofs of this?


I see you don't much like the idea.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: You must give me time to reflect. You mentioned geographical isolation. That man Wallace writes of the same thing.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, we have much in common in our way of thinking.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: No, no, no. You should be careful. I don't see Wallace as any great threat, but there may be others, men of real standing, working along the same lines. You should publish something.

CHARLES DARWIN: Ah, I'm not ready.

SIR CHARLES LYELL: Well, some small fragment of your data then, the pigeons, for instance. Come out with your theory, give it a date, let it be cited and understood. It would be tragic if, after all these years of work, you were preempted.

EMMA DARWIN: Why didn't you publish an extract, an essay?

CHARLES DARWIN: I was determined to finish the book.

EMMA DARWIN: The big book.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. I decided that the question of priority was less important.

EMMA DARWIN: Was that the only reason?

CHARLES DARWIN: There was a look in Lyell's eye when I told him about my theory. It was fear. Sir Charles Lyell, the foremost geologist of his generation, the man who proved the earth to be millions of years old rather than a few thousand, as so many churchmen claim, this indomitable man of science was afraid–and with good reason. Emma, I think I may have found the answer to the mystery of mysteries, and if I'm right, then the God that Lyell believes in so profoundly is dead.

EMMA DARWIN: And what of the God that I believe in?

PARSLOW (Singing): Charley is me darling, oh, yes he is.

EMMA DARWIN: Does that hurt there?


EMMA DARWIN: Perhaps we'll get Dr. Engleheart to call tomorrow, see what he thinks. Why don't you rest upstairs?


CHARLES DARWIN: What's the matter with Etty?

EMMA DARWIN: Her throat's very sore.

CHARLES DARWIN: Should we send for the doctor?

EMMA DARWIN: Tomorrow, perhaps, if she's not feeling better. Don't worry, Charles.

CHARLES DARWIN: How can I be restrained from worrying about the health of my children? With the exception of William, they all seem to have inherited my wretched health.

EMMA DARWIN: Nonsense.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, Frank and George are both prone to palpitations of the heart.

EMMA DARWIN: They have been. They've grown out of it.

CHARLES DARWIN: Lenny and Horace are delicate.

EMMA DARWIN: They don't look so very delicate to me.

CHARLES DARWIN: One cannot escape the fact that you and I are first cousins.

EMMA DARWIN: It's not a fact from which I think there is any reason to escape. Really, Charles, you mustn't let your scientific notions run riot. Our children aren't pigeons.

CHARLES DARWIN: True. But one cannot forget, our dearest Annie.

Thank you, Annie.

ANNIE DARWIN: Quick, Papa. Quick, Papa. Quick!

EMMA DARWIN: No, of course, never forget.

DARWIN BOYS: Look what we found, Papa.


CHARLES DARWIN: Ah. What have we here? Ah, Geotrupes stercorarius. Oh, here we are. Oh, what a handsome fellow. Off you go.

When I was at Cambridge, I had a mania for collecting beetles. I remember one day I came across two of the rarest, and I picked one up in my left hand and the other in my right, and that's when I saw the rarest of them all, Panagaeus crux-major!

What to do? I didn't want to lose the ones I had in my hand, but to miss out on Panagaeus, that was out of the question. So I put the one in my right hand in my mouth.



CHARLES DARWIN: And d'you know what the inconsiderate little beast did? It squirted a sort of acid down my throat.



EMMA DARWIN: Really, Charles!

CHARLES DARWIN: It must have been a bombardier! Anyway, I spat it out, dropped the others and lost all three.

EMMA DARWIN: Ah, there's a lesson in that.

FRANK DARWIN: Are we going to do bees today, Papa?

EMMA DARWIN: Not today, Franky, tomorrow, perhaps.


EMMA DARWIN: Delicate?

Have you decided what to do about Wallace?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, I'll do as he requests. I'll forward his paper to Lyell.

My dear Lyell, your words have come true with a vengeance, that I should be forestalled. I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my sketch written out in 1842,

he could not have made a better abstract. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed.

You'd better look over this before I send it.

EMMA DARWIN: "Please return the manuscript, which he does not say he wishes me to publish."

But I shall, of course, at once write off and offer to send it to any journal.

D'you really think that's necessary?

CHARLES DARWIN: I must act honorably.

EMMA DARWIN: But as you yourself point out, Wallace hasn't actually asked for your help in publishing.

CHARLES DARWIN: It's surely implied.


CHARLES DARWIN: In any case, if I make no effort on his behalf, I could be accused, justly accused, of seeking to suppress a rival's work. Never let that be said of me.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh, it's just so unfair! You've been working on this theory for how many years? Ever since your voyage in the Beagle.

CHARLES DARWIN: Such ideas were in my head even before then.

When I was a medical student in Edinburgh, one of my teachers was Dr .Robert Grant, a man of highly advanced, indeed revolutionary ideas. His passion was primitive marine life, especially sponges.

DR. ROBERT GRANT: "Would it be too bold to imagine that in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament?"

Do you recognize the quotation?

CHARLES DARWIN: Mmm. It's from Zoonomia.

DR. ROBERT GRANT: Exactly, from Zoonomia, by the great Dr. Erasmus Darwin.

CHARLES DARWIN: "Nursed by warm sunbeams in primal caves, organic life began beneath the waves. Hence without parent, by spontaneous birth, rise the first specks of animated earth."

DR. ROBERT GRANT: Hmph. You may be able to quote him but from what I've been able to judge of your own ideas, you haven't learned from him.

You know Lamarck's work, a very great thinker. I met him when I was in Paris. He utterly demolishes the notion that species have been separately and divinely created. He declares, and I declare with him, that the origins and progression of species are due to physical and chemical forces obeying natural laws.

Why d'you look so startled? These cannot be new ideas to Erasmus Darwin's grandson.

Poor Lamarck! He has all the forces of political and scientific reaction arraigned against him, their spears tipped with venom, their shields armored with ignorance, astride their intellectually spavined hobbyhorses.


He was fascinated by the microscopic world. He made some wonderful drawings. He gave me this. It's a species of sea-mat called Flustra. It's primitive, moss-like, comprising a colony of tentacle-waving polyps.

(Speaking with a Scottish Accent) "You'll hardly believe me when I tell you that certain gentlemen masquerading as naturalists still consider Flustra to be a plant!"

EMMA DARWIN: Is that how he talked?

CHARLES DARWIN: More or less.

(Speaking with a Scottish Accent) "This in spite of the fact that I have shown beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt that it's an animal, and an animal, moreover, I am convinced holds clues to the common foundation of all life."

He said that I should direct my studies towards the microscopic world.

(Speaking with a Scottish Accent) "Look for the answers to the greatest questions in the smallest things."

I took to beachcombing, myself. I observed waving, hair-like cilia on the larvae of a species of Flustra previously unknown. Grant wrote an article about it but he failed to mention my contribution.


CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. It was an early lesson I seem to have forgotten.

EMMA DARWIN: I suppose his religious views were as radical as his scientific ones. Perhaps you didn't discuss them.

Charles don't do anything precipitate about this Wallace business. Think carefully.

A game? Or shall I play for you?

CHARLES DARWIN: Play for me. I need soothing.

DR. ENGLEHEART: ...to the side.

It's not scarlet fever.

EMMA DARWIN: Why did you think it might be?

DR. ENGLEHEART: Ah, you haven't heard. There's scarlet fever in the village.


EMMA DARWIN: We've heard nothing.

DR. ENGLEHEART: I'm almost certain it's a form of quinsy, an acute form. It's recently been given a name: diphtheria.

EMMA DARWIN: I hate the thought of your life's work being preempted by some latecomer. You must defend yourself. Priority is everything. We should establish a chronology, a step-by-step account of the exact stages by which you've arrived at your theory.

CHARLES DARWIN: My theory. My abominable theory! It's all your fault.

EMMA DARWIN: My fault?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, your family's, your father's, in particular. You know perfectly well that if it hadn't been for him, I'd never have set foot on the deck of the good ship Beagle. My own father was dead set against it.

ROBERT DARWIN: Well, Charles, we'd better have it out. I've considered the matter carefully, and I cannot give my consent to this wild scheme of yours. You're going into the Church. This voyage, or expedition, or whatever it is, would do irreparable damage to your reputation as a clergyman.

CHARLES DARWIN: Some of our best and most respected naturalists are men of the cloth, Father.

ROBERT DARWIN: Yes, and they confine their beetle-hunting and butterfly-pinning within the sphere of their parishes. They don't go gadding off halfway across the world on a boat.

Besides which, your primary task now, at Cambridge, is to prepare for the Bishop's ordination examination. Natural history is, or it is supposed to be, for your leisure hours.

CHARLES DARWIN: It's more than that, much, much more than that.

ROBERT DARWIN: Would you say that you have a great reputation as a naturalist?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, no. The Reverend Professor Henslow has recommended me, and Mr. Peacock.

ROBERT DARWIN: Peacock? I'm not familiar with the name.

CHARLES DARWIN: He's a fellow of Trinity and a friend of Captain Fitzroy, who's to command the Beagle.

ROBERT DARWIN: My strongest objection is that if you did go that you would never settle to a profession afterwards.

CHARLES DARWIN: I don't see how you can say that.

ROBERT DARWIN: I can say that because I can cite history. You were to be a doctor, I sent you to Edinburgh. It came to nothing.

CHARLES DARWIN: I couldn't stand those operating theaters: the dirt, the screams of the wretched patients, the blood. It was revolting.

ROBERT DARWIN: Next, it was to be the Church. I sent you to Cambridge. And now that, in turn, is to be abandoned for some harum-scarum nautical adventure? No, no, no. There must be an end to all this chopping and changing. You will be a clergyman.

CHARLES DARWIN: With your permission, I need to change my clothes. I'm riding over to Maer this afternoon.

ROBERT DARWIN: Charles, if you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go, I would reconsider.

CHARLES DARWIN: Thank you, Father.

Don't stop, please.

JOS WEDGEWOOD: Charles, here you are.


It's from my father.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: How well you're looking, Charles. Isn't he Emma?

EMMA DARWIN: Welcome back to Maer, Charles.

CHARLES DARWIN: Thank you. That was beautiful.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Nobody plays Chopin better.

EMMA DARWIN: He always said I massacred his music.


JOS WEDGEWOOD: Your father prescribes turpentine pills for my ailment, Charles.

CHARLES DARWIN: What else does he say?

JOS WEDGEWOOD: Oh, a great deal on the subject he refers to as your "voyage of discovery." He calls it folly.

CHARLES DARWIN: It isn't folly, Uncle Jos. It's a heaven-sent opportunity to see South America, Australia, the Pacific Isles, the world. It's what I've dreamed of.

EMMA DARWIN: Then you must go, Charles.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Of course he must.

CHARLES DARWIN: The Admiralty won't pay for my expenses without my father's support.

JOS WEDGEWOOD: Your father does add that if I thought differently he would wish you to follow my advice.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Then advise him to go, Papa.


JOS WEDGEWOOD: That's all very well, but I know my brother-in-law. The arguments will have to be dashed good ones.

CHARLES DARWIN: It's what I was born to do. I feel it, I, I know it.

I don't understand him. I remember once, when I was a boy, he flew into a rage. He said all I cared about was shooting, dogs and rat-catching, said I was a disgrace to myself and my family. Now that I've found something I'm passionate about, he opposes it. It's always what he wants me to do, never what I want to do.

JOS WEDGEWOOD: A sea voyage is always a dangerous undertaking, Charles, very dangerous. Perhaps he's afraid of losing you. You're a most beloved son to him. He's not a man to wear his heart on his sleeve, but the heart is there.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, I must do something.

JOS WEDGEWOOD: We're doing it, presenting a rational counterargument to each of his objections. So, as to it's being a "wild scheme," I think we might point out that, on the contrary, you would have definite objects on which to employ yourself and might acquire the habits of application.

CHARLES DARWIN: I can apply myself. I do apply myself, when the subject interests me. At the present my studies bore me to death, and always will, whereas natural history absolutely fascinates me.

JOS WEDGEWOOD: And, one might add, that your pursuit of knowledge in natural history is in the same track that you would have to follow in the expedition. Would that do?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. It's the truth.

EMMA DARWIN: So you went.

CHARLES DARWIN: Ah, that voyage.

EMMA DARWIN: Nearly five years.

CHARLES DARWIN: To the uttermost ends of the earth and back.

EMMA DARWIN: We used to long for your letters.

CHARLES DARWIN: I tried to convey something of the wonder of it all. It was like...

EMMA DARWIN: "...being admitted into nature's library."

CHARLES DARWIN: Did I write that?


CHARLES DARWIN: I must have been referring to the Brazilian rain forest: the glossy green of the foliage, the sheer luxuriance of the vegetation.

I had Lyell's Principles of Geology with me. It was just out. What a book! I lived and ate and dreamed it.

At Punta Alta, in Argentina, I made my first discovery. Over days and weeks we exposed the remains of what turned out to be a megatherium, a huge ground-living relative of the sloth.

By now, I was thinking, questioning: How had the remains arrived there? How were the gravels in which they were embedded formed? What forces had been at work?

It was only when I returned to England that I saw there was a greater mystery. These remains were giant versions of familiar, living creatures, so similar that there must be some link between them, but what?

There were puzzles everywhere, some set by spectacular finds like the megatherium, others by the smallest, apparently almost humdrum objects.

It's a fossilized horse's tooth. I found it when I was with the gauchos in Argentina.

EMMA DARWIN: Where's the puzzle?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, it's known that the horse was introduced into South America by the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century. Yet there, in my hand, out on the pampas, was proof that at some time in the distant past, horses had roamed there.

What had happened to them? How had they been made extinct?

You know how throughout the voyage I never found my sea legs and suffered agonies of seasickness?

EMMA DARWIN: However did you put up with it?

CHARLES DARWIN: I was younger then.


CHARLES DARWIN: The point is, when I was in the Andes, I was astonished, and not a little dismayed, to find myself subject to the same symptoms.

What I found up there? Fossilized seashells–seashells!–so excited my thoughts as to prove a miraculous cure to my ailment.

They were a little less pleasing to my friend Captain Fitzroy, master of the Beagle.

Ask yourself, "How is it possible to find the remains of seashells at the top of a mountain range unless, at some time in the distant past, those same mountaintops were at sea level?"

WILLIAM FITZROY: I was brought up to believe that some few thousand years ago, at the time of Noah's Flood, the sea rose violently up and drowned the South American continent.

When it receded, traces were left behind.

CHARLES DARWIN: You really think that explains it?

WILLIAM FITZROY: How do you explain it?

CHARLES DARWIN: It came about, over vast stretches of time, by processes with which you and I are only too familiar. Concepcion, when we sailed into the harbor? Or rather what was left of it?


CHARLES DARWIN: Exactly. I found mussel beds lying above the high tide mark. The land had risen by several feet. Imagine millions of small changes of the same kind over millions of years.

WILLIAM FITZROY: So the biblical account in Genesis is wrong? What I was taught to believe is wrong? Be careful, Philosopher.

CHARLES DARWIN: But it was you yourself who gave me Lyell's book. I thought you accepted his ideas.

WILLIAM FITZROY: What I accept or don't accept, what I believe or don't believe, isn't the point at issue. The danger in what you say is that it undermines the truth of scripture. It's an ax to the root of the faith by which men lead their lives and which sustains our whole society.

CHARLES DARWIN: William, we've gone, what, three years without quarrelling? Let's not spoil the record now.

WILLIAM FITZROY: I'm not a literalist. I don't believe that a 40-days flood could have raised this to the heights of the Andes.

I'm just issuing a warning, a friendly warning. When you attack the Bible you cause great pain and arouse great anger.

Well, I have business to attend to ashore.

CHARLES DARWIN: He misunderstood me. I wasn't attacking the Bible; I was only raising the question of whether scripture needs to be taken as science or whether it can be regarded as dealing with other realms entirely.

It was a perfectly reasonable question.

EMMA DARWIN: People don't see it that way. When they hear the Bible attacked they do feel great pain and they are greatly angered.


EMMA DARWIN: Let's continue the voyage.

CHARLES DARWIN: Looking back, I'm not so much amazed at the beauty and variety of what I saw, as at my failure to grasp the deeper significance of so much of it.

EMMA DARWIN: For example?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, the English resident in Charles Island, in the Galapagos, told me that the giant tortoises could be found on all the islands in the group and that it was possible to tell by the different markings on an individual's carapace from which particular island it originated.

I noted this, of course, but its true meaning escaped me at the time.

EMMA DARWIN: You loved the Galapagos Islands, didn't you?

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, they were astonishing: a cornucopia of nature's richest treasures. With what frantic endeavor did I collect specimens, with what incessant speed did my pen fly across the pages of my note-books. Of course, I sensed that here were pieces of the puzzle, answers to the questions swirling in my mind, but how dimly, it seems to me now, how feebly.

I made a considerable collection of birds. From the varieties of the shapes and sizes of their beaks I took them to be an assortment of wrens, grosbeaks, orioles and finches. But in my hurry, I failed to record from which particular island each one had been taken.

I started this in July of '37, 10 months after my return to England. I gave it the title "Zoonomia," after my grandfather. I put in it all my thoughts about varieties in nature and how they have arisen.

Here's a turning point: the birds of the Galapagos.

You've heard me talk of Gould, John Gould, Superintendent of Stuffed Birds at the Zoological Society?


CHARLES DARWIN: Ah, what I owe that man.

JOHN GOULD: You'll recall that at the January meeting of the Society, I reported that part of your Galapagos collection, which you'd thought to be a mixture of different birds, is, in fact, a series of finches, a new group, containing no less than twelve species. Well, I've found a thirteenth. What you thought to be a wren is another finch.

But I've made another discovery, a most singular discovery. The mockingbirds: you labeled each specimen with its island of origin. You took it, I took it myself at first, that they were varieties. They're not; they are separate species.


JOHN GOULD: Yes. There's no doubt of it, and each one inhabiting a different island.

CHARLES DARWIN: It threw me into a mental turmoil. Separate species inhabiting different islands only a few miles apart? How could one explain this?

Had they migrated from the mainland as Gould seemed to suggest? Or was there some other mechanism at work? Isolated on those islands, had they begun to change? Was this evidence of transmutation, gradual change, at work?

If so, the stability of species was completely undermined. But there was still so much that I didn't know, so much I had to learn.

I began consulting experts in every field. I even consulted my father.

Have you ever wondered how instinct is passed from generation to generation? Is it some form of inherited memory?

ROBERT DARWIN: I had a case once, an elderly man whose memory had entirely gone. Except that he could remember songs from his childhood. He could sing them perfectly, and he did so, but in a way that was–how can I put it?–less than conscious. It was more akin to what you were referring to, to instinct.

What are you up to?


ROBERT DARWIN: The gardener tells me that you've been asking him a lot of questions about plant cuttings and crosspollination.

Come on, out with it.

CHARLES DARWIN: I was looking into the idea of gradual change in species.

ROBERT DARWIN: Transmutation? I thought as much–following in your grandfather's footsteps.

Be careful, Charles. Be very careful. These notions are highly dangerous. They are seen not just as an attack on religion but on the whole moral and social order.

In my father's case, happily for his reputation and mine, they remained in the sphere of philosophical speculation. The world could just shrug them off as merely eccentric. But if anybody can find proof, scientific proof, well, that person better watch out for squalls.

CHARLES DARWIN: Here's my next notebook. Notebook C I called it. You see all my groping towards answers to the questions that assailed me. I saw that changes to species must be slow, taking place over large stretches of time, like Lyell's geological changes.

This idea grew on me in every sphere I was investigating. For example, geographical isolation. Remember the giant tortoises of the Galapagos? The fact that extinct and living species of the same general type are found in the same areas, I saw that only some law of evolution could solve that puzzle.

You see what I write here?

EMMA DARWIN: "The whole fabric totters and falls." The whole fabric?

CHARLES DARWIN: The whole traditional view of a created, fixed order, and of man at the pinnacle of that creation. I saw that the laws of transmutation, whatever they were, must apply to the whole of nature, including man.

EMMA DARWIN: But man, wonderful man is an exception.

CHARLES DARWIN: It was no good. I couldn't escape the truth. Man is clearly a mammal, sharing many of the same instincts and feelings as animals.

EMMA DARWIN: Man is no exception? I don't know what to say, Charles. It's troubling. It's deeply troubling.

ETTY DARWIN: Mama's been reading us one of her stories.


ETTY DARWIN: "Pound of Sugar."

CHARLES DARWIN: Where did you get to?

ETTY DARWIN: Um, Bobby and Lizzy have got home to their grandfather, but they've bought salt instead of sugar.

CHARLES DARWIN: Ah, here we are.

When the tea was ready, the old man poured the salt into the sugar basin and was much surprised to see that it was white.

Well, everything is changed nowadays. I suppose all the brown sugar is made white.

As soon as Bobby had tasted his tea he said, "My tea tastes very odd, Grandfather."

"Pooh! Nonsense, child. Don't be dainty."

Lizzy then drank some of hers.

The old man then tasted his tea and said, "Why, there is salt in the tea," then looked at the sugar basin.

Why, Bobby, you have brought a pound of salt instead of sugar. No wonder it was so cheap.

FRANK DARWIN: Bees tomorrow, Papa?

CHARLES DARWIN: We'll see, Franky. We'll see.

EMMA DARWIN: I've been thinking about your Notebook C.

CHARLES DARWIN: C for "controversy," c for "calumny," c for "criminal."

EMMA DARWIN: C for "complaints," perhaps? Wasn't it about the time you finished it that you began to be ill?


EMMA DARWIN: You know perfectly well it was.

CHARLES DARWIN: The bodily pain I suffered was perfectly real, I can assure you.

EMMA DARWIN: Hmm. I remember, at Maer, whenever I had to play at a big house party or Papa invited the neighbors round, I would become quite ill. I suppose it was a sort of a stage fright. But the symptoms were "perfectly real," I can assure you.

CHARLES DARWIN: You're being fanciful. In any case, at that point, though I'd become convinced about the truth of transmutation, I hadn't decided what yet had caused it to happen.

EMMA DARWIN: But then you did: Notebook D–for the "devil?"

CHARLES DARWIN: It was a devilish time, I can assure you, the autumn of '38.

EMMA DARWIN: We announced our engagement in November, '38, Charles!

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, I don't mean that. It was my work. I was collaborating with Fitzroy on the annals of the Beagle voyage, I was trying to finish a geological paper, my health was wretched, and I was struggling with transmutation, when I turned to this: Malthus. Malthus calculated that the human population could double in a mere 25 years, but it didn't.

Why? First, the combination of famine, war, disease; second, what he terms "moral restraint," in other words, placing the birth of children within the confines of marriage.

But of course, among plants and animals there are no such moral restraints, yet the pressures of population growth on limited resources remains the same.

There can be only one result: carnage. To quote my grandfather, Erasmus, "the world is one great slaughterhouse."

I suddenly saw Nature as she is: predation, competition, excess reproduction, death; a war of all against all, of species, including man, Emma, predating endlessly upon each other and within their own groups.

There's a force like a hundred-thousand wedges trying to impel every kind of adapted structure into the gaps in the economy of Nature, or rather forming gaps by thrusting out weaker ones. The final result of this must be to sort out proper structure and adapt it to change.

Years later, I gave a name to this process. I called it "natural selection."

EMMA DARWIN: Yes, I think you told me something of it at the time.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, I wanted you to know the trend of my thinking before we married.

EMMA DARWIN: Charles, Nature may be terrible, but she's also beautiful. When I see a flower I don't see the ugliness, I see beauty, pure, overwhelming beauty.

Charles, you told me something of your theory before we were married, but did you tell no one else?

CHARLES DARWIN: It was only that, a theory. I kept it to myself, until I saw Hooker in Kew Gardens.

EMMA DARWIN: When was that? It's important.

CHARLES DARWIN: It must have been '44.

Joseph, I've been engaged in a very presumptuous work. I'm almost convinced that species are not immutable.

JOSEPH DALTON HOOKER: Charles, this is not the opinion you started with.

CHARLES DARWIN: No, quite contrary to where I began. I think I've found the simple way by which species can become exquisitely adapted to various ends.

It's like confessing a murder.

EMMA DARWIN: Like confessing a murder.

NARRATOR: On NOVA's Darwin's Darkest Hour Web site, go behind the scenes with actor Henry Ian Cusick and scriptwriter John Goldsmith, take a tour of the Galapagos Islands, and more. Find it on PBS.org.

Coming up next on NOVA...

EMMA DARWIN: It's Charles. He stands to lose everything, his whole life's work.

CHARLES DARWIN: I daresay it is all too late.

EMMA DARWIN: I think you must publish.

CHARLES DARWIN: You'd be sorry to see me an object of hatred.

NARRATOR: The dramatic conclusion of Darwin's Darkest Hour, Part 2, right now on NOVA.


POSTMAN: Mr. Parslow.

NARRATOR: Last time, on Darwin's Darkest Hour:

CHARLES DARWIN: Twenty years of work and I've, I've been beaten to the post.

NARRATOR: When an unexpected letter arrives, Darwin's landmark theory could be trumped.

CHARLES DARWIN: It's from a man called Wallace. Trumped, gammoned! His theory and my own are identical. He even employs phrases that I, myself, have used in my book: "the struggle for existence," for example.

EMMA DARWIN: Priority is everything. We should establish a chronology, a step-by-step account of the exact stages by which you've arrived at your theory.


EMMA DARWIN: I'm so desperately worried, what with Etty so sick, I think it may prove too much for Charles.

DR. ENGLEHEART: I'm almost certain it's a form of quinsy, an acute form. It's recently been given a name: diphtheria.

CHARLES DARWIN: Is it dangerous?

DR. ENGLEHEART: Serious, certainly, but not dangerous.

CHARLES DARWIN: Sir Charles Lyell, the foremost geologist of his generation, the man who proved the earth to be millions of years old rather than a few thousand, as so many churchmen claim, this indomitable man of science was afraid–and with good reason. Emma, I think I may have found the answer to the mystery of mysteries, and if I'm right, then the God that Lyell believes in so profoundly is dead.

EMMA DARWIN: And what of the God that I believe in?

CHARLES DARWIN: I think I've found the simple way by which species can become exquisitely adapted to various ends.

It's like confessing a murder.

NARRATOR: Now, the riveting conclusion of Darwin's Darkest Hour, on this NOVA/National Geographic special movie presentation.


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EMMA DARWIN: ...like confessing a murder. And that was in '44, that's the same year that...

Yes, Jane? What is it?

JANE: Begging your pardon, ma'am, but it's Charley. I can't get him to sleep, and I think he's feverish.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh, sweetie.

CHARLES DARWIN: Oh, Charley, Charley, Charley. I think he has a fever. Poor little chap.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh. Perhaps we might send for the doctor in the morning.

CHARLES DARWIN: We could send now.

EMMA DARWIN: Have pity on the poor man. I'll sit with him. You go to bed, Charles.

CHARLES DARWIN: All right. Good night. Good night, Jane.

JANE: Good night, sir.

EMMA DARWIN: You'd better go too, Jane.

JANE: Good night, ma'am.

EMMA DARWIN: Good night.


CHARLES DARWIN: I couldn't sleep. Will you read to me. What's that you've got there?

EMMA DARWIN: You should recognize it. You gave it to me yourself.

It's dated the 5th of July, 1844. The same year you wrote to Hooker.

"My dear Emma, I have just finished my sketch of my species theory. I believe that my theory is true and that if it be accepted by even one competent judge, it will be a considerable step in science.

I therefore write this, in case of my sudden death, as my most solemn and last request, you will devote 400 pounds to its publication."

This trumps Wallace!

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. It may do.

EMMA DARWIN: If you knew it was true why didn't you publish?

CHARLES DARWIN: Because of something else that was published that year. It was an anonymous work. It was entitled "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation."

EMMA DARWIN: I remember there was a quite a fuss and to-do but I can't remember why.

CHARLES DARWIN: Because it created such a storm. The Church was in a fury. It was denounced at various public places. The author did well to remain anonymous. If he hadn't it would have meant his utter ruin.


CHARLES DARWIN: If I was to be subject to similar attacks, which seemed inescapable, my science had to be unassailable. That's why I shifted my direction to other areas.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh, those wretched barnacles.

CHARLES DARWIN: Hmph, those wretched barnacles.

EMMA DARWIN: Mr. Arthrobalanus.

CHARLES DARWIN: Mr. Arthrobalanus.

EMMA DARWIN: Where was it again, that you found that creature?

CHARLES DARWIN: During the Beagle voyage, on Chiloé, an island off the coast of Chile. There I came across that enigmatic genus of the family of Balanidae.

It was not until the '40s that I took a good look at him. That very first specimen, no bigger than a pinhead, posed an immediate puzzle. I realized that it represented an unknown genus. I named it Arthrobalanus.

This started me off on a trail of investigation that showed species of barnacles progressing in stages from hermaphroditism to distinct males and females, a trail that led back to gradual change, to transmutation or "evolution."

It's your first time, Skimp, isn't it? Well, we are going to play a little trick on our friends today.

FRANK DARWIN: Here's a place, Papa.




Well, I've noticed that bees often interrupt their journeys and stop and buzz at certain places, and they always seem to stop at the same place. Now, is this just a coincidence, pure chance, or is there something else going on?

One way to find out is to put flour all over a plant and see if it deters them.

FRANK DARWIN: D'you understand, Skimp? Doesn't matter. All you have to do is when you see a bee, you shout, "Here's a bee!"

And if you see it stop and buzz, you shove a stake in.

CHARLES DARWIN: Alright, these Xs mark the spot.

Lead on, Lenny.

LENNY DARWIN: I'm going over here.

FRANK DARWIN: I'll look over there

LENNY DARWIN: Oh, I think I see one.

HORACE DARWIN: Here's a bee!

CHARLES DARWIN: Horace, Horace, come back! Horace, don't be silly. Come back. It's only a bee.

LENNY DARWIN: Here's a bee!

CHARLES DARWIN: Well done, Lenny. Horace.


CHARLES DARWIN: Right-o, another bee. Good.

FRANK DARWIN: Only one more place left, Papa. Oh, there's a bee!


FRANK DARWIN: Look, papa.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. Will it go to the plant?

LENNY DARWIN: It didn't land on the plant.

HORACE DARWIN: Look out, Joe.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, the flour had no effect. It didn't deter them at all. You see, the bees followed the same pattern exactly, despite our little trick.

There's obviously some sort of memory or instinct at work here. Information is passed on from one generation of bee to the next. Hmm. Well, I think that's a good day's work.

Thank you, boys.

Come on, Joe.

DR. ENGLEHEART: Sounding and looking much better, my dear.

Well, Etty's much better, I'm happy to say, well on the road to recovery. The baby, it is scarlet fever, but of the milder sort. Not half so severe as some of the cases I've been dealing with in the village. The little fellow has a strong constitution. I can't believe he's in any real danger. With careful nursing, I'm confident he'll pull through, bless him.

EMMA DARWIN: Will you call again tomorrow, Doctor?

DR. ENGLEHEART: Of course! And if you detect any change don't hesitate to send for me, at any hour.

EMMA DARWIN: Thank you.


CHARLES DARWIN: Don't tell me not to worry.

EMMA DARWIN: The doctor's perfectly right. Charley's strong.

So, the essay you gave me in '44 proves that you had your theory long before this man Wallace. Now, did anybody else see it?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. I sent a copy to Hooker.

EMMA DARWIN: Well there you are. He can corroborate it.

CHARLES DARWIN: There's Gray, too. I sent him a letter less than a year ago giving him a summary.

What does any of this matter? All that matters is that Etty should get well again and we shouldn't lose Charley as we lost....

Besides that, the question of priority between me and Wallace is completely trivial.

EMMA DARWIN: Is Gray the man at that British Museum who used to send you all those barnacles?

CHARLES DARWIN: No, no, that's, that's John Gray, keeper of barnacles. I meant Asa Gray, the Harvard botanist.

EMMA DARWIN: There was some trouble, wasn't there?

CHARLES DARWIN: I wouldn't call it trouble.

EMMA DARWIN: No? You went up to London expressly to see him. You were quite in a flither.

CHARLES DARWIN: Mr. Gray! I'm glad I caught you. Could you spare me a moment?

JOHN GRAY: My dear Mr. Darwin, it's always a pleasure to see you, not least because it's such a rare one.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, quite. Um, fact is, a rumor has come to my attention. It may be only that of course, a rumor, that at a recent meeting of the Zoological Society...

JOHN GRAY: A great forum of gossip.

CHARLES DARWIN: Quite. At the meeting, I'm told, you announced an intention to publish a monograph of barnacles.


CHARLES DARWIN: Nobody could be better qualified, of course, but, it inevitably anticipates my own project.

As you know better than anyone else, I have been laboring on it for more than two years.

JOHN GRAY: Fallaces sunt rerum species. There's clearly been a misunderstanding.

CHARLES DARWIN: I thought that might be the case.

JOHN GRAY: What I said at the meeting was that I had some thought of publishing my own arrangement of the genera and species according to my manuscript catalogue, a synonima, no more than a synonima.


JOHN GRAY: My intention was to facilitate rather than anticipate your own work.


JOHN GRAY: Of course, if you have any objections I will withdraw the papers. They've not yet been sent to the press.

CHARLES DARWIN: No. No, no. Well, I hope you didn't mind my mentioning the matter.

JOHN GRAY: Certainly not.

CHARLES DARWIN: Humanum est errare.

JOHN GRAY: Quite so, quite so.

EMMA DARWIN: But you wrote to him didn't you?

CHARLES DARWIN: I thought it best to have it in writing.

EMMA DARWIN: In case he went back on his word and stole your thunder? So priority does matter to you.

CHARLES DARWIN: That wasn't the only reason.

Some years before, I'd had a letter from Hooker. We were corresponding about a French botanist, Frédéric Gérard. Hooker had no great opinion of him. Ah here it is.

"I am not inclined," he said, "to take much for granted from anyone who treats the subject in this way and does not know what it is to be a specific naturalist himself."

That struck home.

EMMA DARWIN: He meant nothing against you.

CHARLES DARWIN: It was painful to me. It reminded me that although perhaps I had established my credentials in geology and systematic biology...


CHARLES DARWIN: ...I could be accused of being an amateur.

EMMA DARWIN: My dear Charles!

CHARLES DARWIN: It struck me that I hardly had the right to examine the question of species without having minutely examined many of them.

EMMA DARWIN: Hmm, barnacles again.

I remember taking Georgie to play at the Hammonds', and the first thing he asked young Will was, "Where does your Papa keep his barnacles?" It seemed that you were at them for an age.

CHARLES DARWIN: Ohh, eight years. I came to hate them as no man ever did before, not even a sailor on a slow-sailing ship!

EMMA DARWIN: But you published your barnacle book, and you received The Royal Medal for it, and still you wouldn't make your theory public?

CHARLES DARWIN: There was still too much I didn't understand, too many areas unexplored.

EMMA DARWIN: Or were you procrastinating?

CHARLES DARWIN: How can I defend myself against that charge?

Here, take this. I've been working on a model of a beehive cell. Now according to certain mathematicians, hive bees construct their cells in order to hold the greatest possible amount of honey while producing the least possible amount of wax. I've discovered that various species construct their cells to varying degrees of excellence.

What does this mean? That they are at various stages of evolution.

Let us ask, then, how could a long succession of modified architectural instincts have profited the progenitors of the hive bee?

Bees consume from 12 to 15 pounds of sugar to create a single pound of wax. In addition, it takes a great deal of time to make the wax. Hence the wax has a great value to bees and anything that saves them some increases their chances of survival and their ability to multiply.

The advanced cell-making instincts of modern hive bees can be explained by natural selection having taken advantage of numerous, successive, slight modifications of simple instincts.


CHARLES DARWIN: In fact it fails, unless it can be shown to apply in every aspect of nature from great issues, such as instinct, to lesser matters such as seed dispersal.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh, lord. Franky's dead bird! Ugh.

LENNY DARWIN: Is it a drink, Papa?

ETTY DARWIN: He's making seawater, Lenny.

CHARLES DARWIN: I'm trying to find out how long plants and seeds can survive in seawater. I've already found out that asparagus can float for 23 days, if fresh and green...


CHARLES DARWIN: ...and 85 if you dry it out first. And the seeds, they are still alive and they germinate. Cabbage seeds, on the other hand...

LENNY DARWIN: I hate cabbage.

CHARLES DARWIN: But you'll be pleased to know they quickly get rotten and sink.


CHARLES DARWIN: Now, of course, seeds can travel in many other ways. Can anyone think of any ways?

ETTY DARWIN: Fly! Like dandelions.

CHARLES DARWIN: Quite right, Etty.

Any other ways?

Well, they can stick to birds' feet. They can be picked up in one place and washed off in another. And, of course, the birds eat the seeds and don't necessarily digest them all and uh.... That's another way they can travel.



FRANK DARWIN: Dead birds float. What if there were seeds inside a dead bird and it was in the sea and it floated?

CHARLES DARWIN: Excellent, Franky. I hadn't thought of that!

Alright, let us put our seeds in our containers.

One for you, Horace. That's for you.

Grab your beaker and put some salt in it.

No, these ones.


Thank you.


Well done. Now shake it up and down. Watch it dissolve.

ETTY DARWIN: Make sure you shake it up really well.



I propose, as a first experiment, we leave this in a salt bath for 30 days. Are we agreed, Professor Franky?

FRANK DARWIN: Agreed, Professor Papa.

CHARLES DARWIN: You avoided the next part.

EMMA DARWIN: I most certainly did.


ETTY DARWIN: This is absolutely disgusting.

PARSLOW: Ugghhhh.


FRANK DARWIN: They've geromnated, Papa.

CHARLES DARWIN: Indeed they have. I'll make a note of that: seeds "geromnated."

Well, my heartfelt congratulations, Professor Franky.

EMMA DARWIN: Even Parslow complained about the smell of it.

CHARLES DARWIN: Did he? You never told me.

EMMA DARWIN: I never tell you half the complaints I receive about your stinks and stenches.

CHARLES DARWIN: A good thing, no doubt.

EMMA DARWIN: Well, they're all in a good cause.

I never thought we were enduring them all to have Mr. Wallace run off with the prize.


EMMA DARWIN: Write to Lyell and Hooker about it. See what advice they give. They're both eminent scientists and honorable men.

CHARLES DARWIN: That's an excellent idea, excellent.

PARSLOW: Very good to see you at Down House again, Miss Wedgwood.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Oh, thank you, Parslow.

EMMA DARWIN: My dear, dear sister.


EMMA DARWIN: So glad you could come.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: It's so good to see you.

CHARLES DARWIN: Elizabeth. Good to see you.

EMMA DARWIN: You must be tired.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Oh, my dear, quite the journey. Oh, my dear, my dearest dear, the children must come to me, all of them and you and Charles.

EMMA DARWIN: It's not that. It's, it's Charles. He stands to lose everything, his whole life's work.

CHARLES DARWIN: "My dear Lyell, I am very, very sorry to trouble you, busy as you are, but if you will give me your deliberate opinion? There is nothing in Wallace's sketch which is not written much fuller in my sketch copied in 1844 and read by Hooker a dozen years ago. I should be extremely glad now to publish a sketch of my general views, but I cannot persuade myself that I can do so honorably.

EMMA DARWIN: Oh, I'm so desperately worried. What with Etty so sick, and now the baby, I think it may prove too much for Charles. You know how wretched his health is. He's thinking of Annie. He doesn't say anything, but I know he is.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: You've enough fortitude to carry you both through this storm.


ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: I'll never forget how brave you were when Annie died.

EMMA DARWIN: Was I brave? Didn't I cry all the time?

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: You cried, yes, but not violently. You tended to their needs with all your usual thoughtfulness.

EMMA DARWIN: You don't know what a comfort it is to have you here.

CHARLES DARWIN: I would far rather burn my whole book than that he or any other man should think that I had behaved in a paltry spirit. This is a trumpery affair to trouble you with; but you cannot tell how much obliged I should be for your advice.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: On the way over I was so thinking of our visit to Italy with Papa. Do you remember when we crossed the Alps and how we were nearly tipped out into the snow?

EMMA DARWIN: I remember it was so cold, the windows were frozen on the inside.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: And Rome! I'll never forget how roundly you condemned the Sistine Chapel!

EMMA DARWIN: Well, it was so hideous.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: You were quite furious with Michelangelo for wasting his talents on something so ugly.

Oh, and do you remember that awful hum of an evening with those German women?

EMMA DARWIN: And that most peculiar reception of the Princess Doria for poor pilgrims? Do you remember?

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: The Queen of Etruria's daughters and those two Ruspoli princesses carrying trays about like waiters!


CHARLES DARWIN: I'd like you to look this over before I send it to Lyell.


ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Will you have some tea, Charles?

CHARLES DARWIN: Uh, no thank you.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: I was saying to Emma that unless things improve here you must all come to me at Hartfield.

EMMA DARWIN: I'm not sure I like your postscript much. It's not a trumpery letter and it's not influenced by trumpery feelings.

CHARLES DARWIN: There's one aspect that still troubles me. I never wanted to publish just a sketch. I've always meant to set out my theory fully, in the big book.

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Ah, the big book.

CHARLES DARWIN: Emma told you?

ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Yes. What a thing.


EMMA DARWIN: Parslow will take it.

DR. ENGLEHEART: I can't pretend there's any improvement. In fact, I'm sorry to say he's somewhat worse, but I see no cause for undue alarm.

EMMA DARWIN: Lenny, hurry up. Come along, now. We're going to be late for church. We're already late as it is. Oh, I just don't know how to cope with those two.

I saw that.

DR. ENGLEHEART: Etty is coming along well, but I can't say I'm entirely sanguine about the boy's condition.


The children were very pleased with this sight, and while Bobby was thinking of something else, he took the sixpence out of his pocket and began playing with it. At last he put it in his pocket again, but it was into the one with the hole, hole in it. And Bobby thought again of the sixpence and felt for it but it was gone. He felt in the other pocket but with no better success.

"Oh Lizzy, the sixpence is gone! What shall I do?"

EMMA DARWIN: I saw the doctor as we were coming back from church. He's hot. Has he slept at all?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, I read to him. That seemed to do the trick. And then he just woke up.

EMMA DARWIN: You go for your walk. I'll sit with him now.

Charles, don't torment yourself.


ANNIE DARWIN: Papa, push please. Papa.


ANNIE DARWIN: You were thinking.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, it's a very bad habit of mine!

ANNIE DARWIN: What were you thinking?

CHARLES DARWIN: I was thinking a little girl on a swing is a perfect example of Newton's Law of Motion.

ANNIE DARWIN: Who's Newton?

CHARLES DARWIN: Isaac Newton is the father of modern science.

ANNIE DARWIN: Was he a good father? Did he push it on a swing?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well yes, in a way, that's exactly what he did! He realized that in Nature objects tend towards a state of inertia, that is, they stay still, until an external force is applied. Like this! Hang on, we're going high!

ANNIE DARWIN: Too high, Papa


We're going to Malvern, Kitty Kumplings. We're going to see Dr. Gully. He made your Papa well and he's going to make you well.

Move on.

"My dearest Emma, she went to her final sleep most tranquilly, most sweetly, at 12:00 today. Our poor dear child had a very short life, but I trust happy, and God only knows what miseries might have been in store for her.

She expired without a sigh.

How desolate it makes one to think of her frank, cordial manners. We must be more and more to each other my dear wife. When I shall return, I cannot say, my own poor dear wife."

POSTMAN: ' Morning, Mr. Parslow.

PARSLOW: ' Morning, Mr. Barker. Thank ye.

CHARLES DARWIN: Thank you, Parslow.




CHARLES DARWIN: Sorry. It's from Lyell. He's been in touch with Hooker. I think they've found a solution. There's to be a meeting of the Linnean Society on the 1st of July. They propose that my sketch of '44, along with my letter to Gray, be read out in conjunction with Wallace's paper. I think it meets the case.

It would be an honorable outcome.

EMMA DARWIN: Well done.


ELIZABETH WEDGWOOD: Oh, my poor dear darling! Oh, my Emma!


CHARLES DARWIN: "My dear Hooker, you will be most sorry for us when you hear that poor baby died yesterday evening. I am quite prostrated and can do nothing, but I sent Wallace's paper and my abstract and letter to Gray. I daresay it is all too late. I hardly care about it. It is miserable in me to care at all about priority. God bless you my dear, kind friend. I can write no more."

REVEREND INNES: "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. In the midst of life we are in death."

JOHN BENNETT: Extracts from papers by Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Russell Wallace: Part One by Mr. Darwin, "On Variation under Domestication and on the Principles of Selection."

REVEREND INNES: "Of whom may we seek for succor, but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased."

JOHN BENNETT: "Be it remembered, I have nothing to say about life and mind and all forms descending from one common type. I speak of the variation of the existing great divisions of the organized kingdom. Nature could effect, with selection, such changes slowly."

REVEREND INNES: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother, here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

JOHN BENNETT: "We know the state of the earth has changed, and as earthquakes and tides go on, the state must change. Many geologists believe a slow natural cooling..."

Extracts from a paper by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type."

"One of the strongest arguments which have been adduced to prove..."

EMMA DARWIN: Anything from Lyell or Hooker?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. It seems my learned brethren of the Linnean Society were entirely uninterested in my sketch and Wallace's paper. The president was overheard as saying it had been a dull year, with no striking discoveries.

EMMA DARWIN: Are you disappointed or relieved?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, they were only sketches.

EMMA DARWIN: What is it? Out with it.

CHARLES DARWIN: Lyell is urging me to publish a fuller text.

EMMA DARWIN: You mean to do it?

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, if, if I do, there'd be no escaping the full implications of my theory. Then watch out for squalls.

EMMA DARWIN: You know, I've always found it difficult to talk about matters religious. I find writing so much easier. Do you remember, soon after we were engaged, I wrote to you?

CHARLES DARWIN: Remember it? I have most of it by heart. You were afraid that our opinions on the most important subject should differ so widely.

EMMA DARWIN: I said that honest and conscientious doubts could never be a sin.


EMMA DARWIN: I still think so.

CHARLES DARWIN: But you felt that it would be a painful void between us.

EMMA DARWIN: You were always completely open with me about it, and I was grateful for that.

CHARLES DARWIN: My father, my father advised me to be the very opposite of open.

ROBERT DARWIN: Emma! Well, she'll make the best possible wife for you: a very pretty girl, with a brain, too! There's only one drawback I can see: religion. She's pious like all the Wedgwood women.

CHARLES DARWIN: Emma's a Unitarian, father. Hmm. Do you remember how grandfather described Unitarianism?

ROBERT DARWIN: A featherbed for falling Christians!

Unitarianism may be a wishy-washy sort of Christianity compared with your fire-breathing Evangelicals, but make no mistake: Emma believes in things, in the afterlife, hellfire and so on, but I assume you don't.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, I'm less certain than I used to be.

ROBERT DARWIN: Well, I don't believe in them. Your grandfather didn't. But to women of Emma's cast of mind, they are matters of vital importance.

No need to look so despondent. The way round it is to pay lip-service, go to church and all that sort of thing, and if possible, avoid discussions and above all, never, under any circumstances, reveal your true opinions.

EMMA DARWIN: So you went against your father's advice? I'm so glad you did.

That letter I wrote, just before we married. I asked you to do something for me, to read our Savior's farewell discourse to his disciples.

CHARLES DARWIN: You said it was your favorite part of the New Testament. You said it was so full of love to them and devotion and every beautiful feeling.

EMMA DARWIN: You remembered.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well, it was my favorite part, too, when I was at university.

EMMA DARWIN: I wanted you to read it–I hardly know why–but I never wanted you to give me your opinion of it.

CHARLES DARWIN: And do you want to hear it now?

EMMA DARWIN: Not much, but I will.

CHARLES DARWIN: Well they are beautiful words–"a new Commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you," –but reason raises grave doubts as to whether Jesus ever said them.

EMMA DARWIN: By reason, you mean those horrid German scholars.

CHARLES DARWIN: Horrid they may be, but they are scholars, as you know yourself. You've read some of them.

EMMA DARWIN: Most uneasily! Down the centuries, millions of people have responded, as I do, to that message of love and hope and beauty.

CHARLES DARWIN: I think there's beauty and grandeur in a view of life having been originally breathed into perhaps a single form, and that from so simple a beginning endless forms, most beautiful and wonderful, have been, and are being, evolved.

EMMA DARWIN: Some of the finest, most intellectual minds have acknowledged the truth of religion.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, but they would have to say that others with fine intellectual minds, like my father, my brother, my grandfather, who cannot accept the dogmas of the Christian faith, are to burn in eternal hellfire.

EMMA DARWIN: It was after Annie died that you stopped going to church. Was that the final blow?

CHARLES DARWIN: Such a painful, cruel thing. It makes it difficult to believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God, but even before then.... I have looked deep into the book of Nature, I have seen its endless cycles of predation and death. The ichneumon wasp lays its eggs inside a living caterpillar. When the larvae hatch they devour their host from the inside. Is this the work of a benign creator?

At the same time, I'm like everyone else. I don't want to die. It would be a comfort to believe that our love could go on forever.

EMMA DARWIN: I do believe it. I do believe we are never parted from those that we love.

CHARLES DARWIN: I sometimes think the whole subject is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.

EMMA DARWIN: Have you come to any decision about publishing?

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes. No. I'm not sure. It would raise such a storm.

EMMA DARWIN: I'm not so sure. I've thought of little else these last few days. The great difficulty I see is man, the notion of man as having descended from animals rather than made in the image of God, of man without a soul. If that could be avoided...

CHARLES DARWIN: I've never inclined to be explicit about it, quite the opposite. But of course it's implicit in the general thrust of the argument.

EMMA DARWIN: When my sister Fanny died, I was heartbroken, but my faith wasn't shaken. But when Annie died, I think I ceased to believe, only for a moment, but it gave me a greater understanding. I think you must publish.

CHARLES DARWIN: It's not only you, Emma. There's the family, our friends, to say nothing of the public at large. You'd be sorry to see me an object of hatred. We must think very carefully.

Have you thought? About publishing?

EMMA DARWIN: I suppose you're going to prove it's an animal!

CHARLES DARWIN: "When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as a naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seem to me to throw some light on the origin of species, that mystery of mysteries."


Good morning.

POSTMAN: Mr. Darwin.

CHARLES DARWIN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Boys, where's your mother? Have a look at this. Quickly.

Emma, Emma.

LENNY DARWIN: Is it your adomiball volume, Papa?

ETTY DARWIN: Abominable, Lenny.

CHARLES DARWIN: Yes, it's my Abominable volume.


NARRATOR: On NOVA's Darwin's Darkest Hour Web site, go behind the scenes with actor Henry Ian Cusick and scriptwriter John Goldsmith, take a tour of the Galapagos Islands and more. Find it on PBS.org.

Stay tuned for an exclusive behind the scenes look at Darwin's Darkest Hour, but first...

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the following:

I've been growing algae for 35 years. Most people try to get rid of algae; we're trying to grow it. The algae are very beautiful. They come in blue and red, golden, green. Algae could be converted into biofuels that we could someday run our cars on. In using algae to form biofuels, we're not competing with the food supply, and they absorb CO2, so they help solve the greenhouse problem as well. We're making a big commitment to finding out just how much algae can help to meet the fuel demands of the world.

And by Pacific Life: the power to help you succeed; offering insurance annuities and investments.

And by David H. Koch. And...

HHMI: Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Major funding for Darwin's Darkest Hour is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to enhance public understanding of science and technology and to portray the lives of men and women engaged in scientific and technological pursuit.

And by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, dedicated to strengthening America's future through education.

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and viewers like you. Thank you.

NARRATOR: This NOVA program is available on DVD and Blu-ray at shoppbs.org, or call 1-800-PLAYPBS.

Working with director John Bradshaw, the production team set out to tell the story of the father of modern biology.



JOHN GOLDSMITH: Can you think of a more important story? It's difficult to think of a more important story. There are certain books that have changed the world–the Bible, obviously, the Koran–but I think probably leading the field would be On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.

CHARLES DARWIN: Nature's selection, natural selection.

JOHN BRADSHAW: Darwin was, you know, probably one of the scientists of the world who has changed the world, almost more than anybody else.

JOHN GOLDSMITH: A lot of the words on the page are verbatim. They are Darwin's authentic voice.

CHARLES DARWIN: "...most beautiful and wonderful, have been, and are being evolved."

NARRATOR: To depict Darwin's world, the team chose Nova Scotia, where they could find a dramatic variety of locations.

CHARLES DARWIN: "...engaged in a very presumptuous work."

NARRATOR: In a single day, they recreated London's Kew Garden, the coast of Scotland, an island off Chile, and finished the day in the high Andes, even adding a mountain or two, and shooting all within five miles of downtown Halifax.

CHARLES DARWIN: "...beaten to the post. It's from a man called Wallace."

NARRATOR: To play the critical roles of Charles and Emma Darwin: Henry Ian Cusick and Frances O'Connor.

CHARLES DARWIN: "...the laws of transmutation, whatever they were..."

HENRY IAN CUSICK: The idea of playing Darwin.... You know, I played Jesus; I thought it would be quite nice to play Darwin as well.

JOHN GOLDSMITH: He does gentle strength, which is so hard. That was what Darwin was like; he was very strong but very gentle.

HENRY IAN CUSICK: I just looked at the photograph and–I saw the bald one with the long beard–just looked at his eyes and thought he had the kindest eyes. Something about his eyes, I just thought...so that's when I...

CHARLES DARWIN: It would be a comfort to believe that our love could go on forever.

EMMA DARWIN: I do believe it.

JOHN GOLDSMITH: They look like a couple–yes, they really do–without overdoing it, because let's face it, these are sort of slightly uptight, upper middle class English people of the mid-19th century, you know? They're not from the world of Desperate Housewives.

HENRY IAN CUSICK: Oh, my god, you okay? I didn't see you.

FRANCES O'CONNOR: She was a very smart woman...

EMMA DARWIN: We should establish a chronology, a step-by-step account of the exact stages by which you've arrived at your theory.

FRANCES O'CONNOR: ...and was kind of the rock, with a lot of common sense. She's actually actively questioning him and pushing him in terms of admitting to why he hasn't published his theories.

CHARLES DARWIN: ...too many areas unexplored.

EMMA DARWIN: Or were you procrastinating?

JOHN GOLDSMITH: For those who regard Darwin as a kind of monstrous figure–and there are millions who regard Darwin as kind of a devil incarnate–what I hope they'll get from it is Darwin the human, Darwin doubting his own theories, struggling with it, not with any anti-God motives at all, quite the opposite. His allegiance was to scientific truth.


Broadcast Credits

Directed by
John Bradshaw
Teleplay by
John Goldsmith
Produced by
Michael Mahoney
Executive Producers
John Bredar
Norman Stephens
Director of Photography
Christopher Ball
Production Designer
Brian Enman
Dean Soltys
Music by
Charles Bernstein
Production Manager
Valerie Halman
1st Assistant Director
Bruce Zwicker
2nd Assistant Director
John Shurko
Senior Executive Producer
Michael Rosenfeld
Senior Development Producer
Maryanne Culpepper
Senior Producer
Linda Goldman
Production Manager
Christopher Maes
Post Production Supervisor
Susan Lach
Teresa Tate
Associate Producer
J.J. Kelley
Casting by
John Buchan CSA
Jason Knight
Charles Darwin
Henry Ian Cusick
Emma Darwin
Frances O'Connor
Sir Charles Lyell
Nigel Bennett
Jeremy Akerman
Elizabeth Wedgwood
Vanessa Walton-Bone
Dr. Robert Darwin
Richard Donat
Frank Darwin
Jacob Robertson
Horace Darwin
Simon Pattison
Lenny Darwin
Owen Pattison
Dr. Engleheart
Daniel Lillford
John O'Keefe
Alfred Wallace
Rhys Bevan-John
William Fitzroy
Mike McPhee
John Gould
Jeff Schwager
Andrea Lee Norwood
John Bennett
Lee J. Campbell
John Gray
Jeremy Webb
Reverend Innes
David Hughes
Uncle Jos Wedgewood
Andrew Gillies
Annie Darwin
Emily Power
Dr. Grant
Gordan Gammie
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Gary Levert
Costume Designer
Martha Curry
Key Make-Up Artist
Elizabeth Kuchurean
Key Hair Stylist
Barbi Jollota
1st Asst. Art Director
Matt Likely
Set Designer
Terry Quennell
Location Manager
Jason Vanhouten
Maggie Thomas
Production Assistant
Colleen McMaster
Production Co-ordinator
Rob Chapman
Key Set Decorator
Robert Grani
Set Dressing Buyer
Marianne Seeley
On Set Dresser
Kris Rogers
Priority Master
Kevin Pierson
Camera Operator
Forbes Macdonald
Steadicam Operator
Kelsey W. Smith
1st Assistant Camera (A-Camera)
Eddy McInnis
1st Assistant Camera (B-Camera)
Gareth Roberts
2nd Assistant Camera (A-Camera)
Andrew Stretch
Data Management Technician
Cam Erais
Camera Trainee
Scott Thorne
Sound Mixer
Jim Rillie
Boom Operator
Frank Kavanagh
Boom Operator
Frank Kavanagh
Still Photographer
Chris Reardon
Ken Leblanc
Best Boy Electric
Jess MacGillivray
John Gallagher
Blake Connell
Generator Operator
Gary Mitchell
Key Grip
Steve Arnold
Best Boy Grip
Doug Betts
Dolly Grip
Christopher Baxter
Michael Jackson
1st Assistant Accountant
Linda Hallett
Assistant Costume Designer
Rachael Grant
Costume Set Supervisor
Bethanna Briffett
Set Costumer
Diana Redmond
Make-Up Assistant
Nadine Beed
Hair Assistant
Jim Macdonald
Animal Wranglers
Heather Lowther
Steve Murphy
Transport Coordinator
Debi Jonatanson
Transport Captain
Kristin Arason
Jim Gaudet
Rex Hart
Action Catering
Craft Services
Brian Sears
Phill Dinn
Construction Coordinator
Stefan Bernier
Lead Carpenter
Andre Lacroix
Key Scenic Artist
Kevin Lewis
Head Painter
James Mathews
Assistant Property Master
Sherry Devanney
3rd Assistant Director
Heather Harvey
Set Decorators
Morgan Gentle
Bill Hardwick
Ray Macdonald
Production Assistants
Sonja Smith
Ryan Kamperman
Susan Diamond
v Neil Shaw
Ryan Vessey
Whitney Morash
1st Assistant Editor
Ehren Davis
Power Post Production Coordinator
Christopher Fost
HD Online Editor/Colorist
Doug Woods
Assistant Online Editor
Chris Macintosh
Re-Recording Mixer
Allan Scarth
Sound Effects Designer
Rene Baudry
Foley Artist/Editor
Cory Tetford
Dialogue Editor
Bob Malanson
Adr Recordist
Graham Coldwell
Visual Effects by
Rocket Science
Equipment Provided by
William F. White Atlantic
Filmed on location in Nova Scotia Canada
Special Thanks
Nova Scotia Provincial Museums
Randal Keynes
Adam Leipzig
Gould Artwork Reproduced with permission from John van Wyhe ed.,
The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online
Stock Footage
NOVA Series Graphics
yU + co.
NOVA Theme Music Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
Additional NOVA Theme Music
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
Post Production Online Editor
Jim Ferguson
Closed Captioning
The Caption Center
NOVA Administrator
Mykim Dang
Carole McFall
Eileen Campion
Victoria Louie
Karinna Sjo-Gaber
Karen Laverty
Steve Sears
Kate Becker
Senior Researcher
Gaia Remerowski
Production Coordinator
Linda Callahan
Sarah Erlandson
Talent Relations
Scott Kardel, Esq.
Janice Flood
Legal Counsel
Susan Rosen
Production Assistant
Ryan Murdock
Post Production Assistant
Darcy Forlenza
Associate Producer, Post Production
Patrick Carey
Post Production Supervisor
Regina O'Toole
Post Production Editors
Rebecca Nieto
Jason York
Post Production Manager
Nathan Gunner
Compliance Manager
Linzy Emery
Development Producer
Pamela Rosenstein
Supervising Producer
Stephen Sweigart
Business Manager
Joseph P. Tracy
Senior Producer and Project Director
Lisa Mirowitz
Coordinating Producer
Laurie Cahalane
Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham
Senior Series Producer
Melanie Wallace
Managing Director
Alan Ritsko
Senior Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell

The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

The Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
Directors Guild of Canada
Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

Production services provided by Magic Rock Productions

A National Geographic Television Production
For NOVA In Association With NHK
© 2009 NGHT, Inc

Additional Material © 2009 WGBH Educational Foundation All rights reserved.

Image credit: (Charles and Emma Darwin) © WGBH Educational Foundation/National Geographic Television


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