By now you must have seen, or at least heard about, the iguana vs the snakes. The scene from Planet Earth II was put online as a preview for the long-awaited BBC documentary series last November. It showed a hatchling marine iguana on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos being hunted down by - and triumphantly escaping the clutches of - a ruthless gang of snakes.

"A snake's eyes aren't very good, but they can detect movement," Sir David Attenborough warned as one of the predators slithered within inches of its prey. "If the hatchling keeps its nerve, it may just avoid detection." The whole thing was a masterpiece of tension and drama; probably the best action scene of the year.

Galapagos racer snakes peer from their hiding places in the rocks, watching for emerging marine iguana hatchlings that would make for an easy meal.
Galapagos racer snakes peer from their hiding places in the rocks, watching for emerging marine iguana hatchlings that would make for an easy meal.

It arrived about halfway through the series premiere on Prime on Sunday night, the heart-racing peak of what proved to be an emotional rollercoaster filmed across several different remote islands. If the iguana was pure high-stakes action, then the lonely Buller's albatross waiting for his mate to return to their subantarctic Snares Island nesting spot was an almost The Notebook-level story of avian romance. The brutal Komodo dragon fight in Indonesia ("Muscular tails strike with the power of sledgehammers"), on the other hand, a kind of sci-fi horror.

As has become the Attenborough trademark, Planet Earth II masterfully establishes emotional narratives around its creatures without ever quite crossing the line into full-on anthropomorphism. This means one minute you're cheering on an iguana like it's Beauden Barrett in the 2015 World Cup final, the next you're quietly weeping as a fairy tern returns to her nest to find it robbed by a devilish Seychelles fody. As she sat down on the broken egg, the narration described the unfolding tragedy with devastating economy: "She knows something's not quite right, but her drive to incubate is strong."

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Red-eyed tree frog takes a rest in the Jungles of Costa Rica.
Red-eyed tree frog takes a rest in the Jungles of Costa Rica.

The episode's enhanced emotional pull could have something to do with the advancements in technology since the first series came out in 2006. Where the original stunned with its high definition aerial shots filmed mainly from helicopters, this series is filmed more at ground-level, meaning it can get a lot more up close and personal with its subjects. The arrival of drone technology, meanwhile, allows for some even more spectacular aerial vistas.

Sir David Attenborough returns with the series Planet Earth II.
Sir David Attenborough returns with the series Planet Earth II.

Nowhere was all of this more appreciable than on the remote, uninhabited Zavodovski Island in the Southern Ocean. The episode's final destination also provided its most absorbing narrative - an epic family drama set amongst the world's largest penguin colony. The slow motion footage of the accurately named chinstrap penguins (they looked like they were wearing tiny black track cycling helmets) tumbling off the rocks into the pounding sea below were among the episode's most awe-inspiring scenes.

Wild horses, or mustangs, roam freely over much of the southwest United States. They live in herds of five to 20 horses, mainly breeding females and foals led by a dominant stallion.
Wild horses, or mustangs, roam freely over much of the southwest United States. They live in herds of five to 20 horses, mainly breeding females and foals led by a dominant stallion.

To film them, the crew had to spend seven days and nights on board a boat navigating the southern seas before scaling a cliff face and spending a week in a tent exposed to wind, rain, snow and a torrent of penguin waste. While Attenborough's narration is a joy to listen to as always - and he undoubtedly deserves all the accolades he gets - he is really just the glue that holds together the incredible work of dozens of people, all of whom contributed to make this show such a mind-blowing thing to behold.

Comparing it to any other television series hardly seems fair. What other shows are filmed over three years across more than 40 different countries? Like its 10-year-old predecessor, Planet Earth II is on another level.

There are may be as few as 3500 snow leopards left in the wild. They are famously illusive and difficult to film and have become increasingly threatened by climate change and human disturbance.
There are may be as few as 3500 snow leopards left in the wild. They are famously illusive and difficult to film and have become increasingly threatened by climate change and human disturbance.