Representation of the Unobservable and the Shift of Narrative Style in TV Science Documentaries: BBC’s Horizon


Fabia Ling-Yuan Lin


science documentary, popular science, BBC Horizon, scientific image, digital effects


This study examines the BBC TV series ‘Horizon’, one of the longest ever-running science programme stands in history, to see if recent episodes show this tendency of growing reliance on digital animation after the millennium. The results of this study don’t support such a tendency. On the contrary, there is a slight decline in the usage of animation. This can be explained in part by science film’s basic need to establish an image of science. The results also indicate that there are significant aesthetic changes in recent episodes: photographic images continue to be the primary medium, but they are handled in a different way than in traditional science documentaries, with a propensity toward formal excess. By means of cluster analysis, the sample films in this study (60 films in total) can be divided into three groups, representing early, classical and post-classical forms. This finding parallels Cagle’s (2012) observation of a “postclassical” change in the social documentary. The discussion in this article of the visual approaches used in TV science documentaries demonstrates the change of how we spread and communicate knowledge, as well as the change of our perspectives on knowledge.