There's also bittersweet romance on "Frozen Planet." Nature's ultimate loner, a 1400-pound (635-kilogram) male polar bear, has lumbered across the ice all winter in search of a mate come spring. Picking up her scent from 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, he finds her, after which they share a tender interlude. Then, just two weeks later, their brief encounter ends as they are fated to part.
Plus, there are thrilling, life-or-death confrontations in the series. Three-ton elephant seals brawl over females. A pack of 25 wolves brings down a huge bison. A wide-eyed Weddell seal falls prey to hungry orcawhales that, working as a team, can stir up giant waves to wash these frantic seals from the refuge of their ice floes.
And talk about "special effects"! An unprecedented time-lapse shot underwater records the growth of a brinicle — an ice stalactite progressing downward toward the seabed — killing everything its frozen plume touches. This otherworldly sight is as eerie and magical as a CGI effect from a sci-fi film. But it's real.
"That's the thing about the natural world: It gives you amazing natural drama," says Vanessa Berlowitz, "Frozen Planet" series producer, "It looks like it's scripted, but we don't fake anything. Everything that we film is a complete portrayal of reality. And the audience thinks, 'Wow, they did that without trained animals!'"
Berlowitz has produced and directed a score of BBC documentaries, including two episodes of "Planet Earth," and, like Fothergill, she logged time at both poles for "Frozen Planet." She lived aboard a Royal Naval icebreaker for four months filming penguins and whales, and, in the Arctic, spent three weeks filming female polar bears and their cubs while she was five months pregnant.