The Last Dragon

Now that was fun. The Last Dragon was shown on Channel 4 last night. Part mockumentary[1], part Walking with Dinosaurs style reconstruction, and all good fun.

The, err, documentary parts follow a young palaeontologist based in London’s Natural History Museum[2], which is given a fictitious name for the purposes of the programme. It all starts with an investigation of the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which has curious marks, perhaps made by talons from above and looks oddly burnt. What kind of creature could have done that to a T Rex?

We then see some lovely CGI work. A nicely-done T Rex is looking for food, and finds a strange looking creature. A winged reptile that looks quite unlike the familiar pterodactyls and the like. It cries out (its cry is very loud, which causes the T Rex a lot of discomfort) and its mother, a huge dragon flies in and fights the T Rex. Claws, flames, the lot. The T Rex is defeated, but the dragon is fatally wounded in the fight, leaving the young dragon to fend for itself.

Throughout the programme, the “reconstructions” of dragons are quite beautifully done. We see how marine dragon species survived the extinction event that saw off the dinosaurs and eventually evolved into new varieties of flying dragons. And eventually, we see how contact with humans led to the extinction of these amazing creatures, ending with a small band of knights finally killing what was almost certainly the last dragon.

All this CGI stuff alternates with more of the dramatised documentary. Our hero gets the job of investigating some unusual remains found in a mountainous area of Eastern Europe. What they find is a number of human bodies and the complete carcass of an unknown reptilian creature. It soon becomes apparent that this creature is something quite unusual. For a start it has wings. On further examination, it is found that the creature has some odd internal organs that contain a mixture of hydrogen and methane – enough lighter-than-air gas to enable the animal to fly. And to enable it to breathe fire. Could it be a dragon? Well, of course it could[4]. But this dragon had never breathed fire – it appears to be an immature female. So where did the scorch marks in its cave come from? Why are the human bodies burnt?

A scorch mark on a cave wall leads the investigators to break through a wall of ice, and there they find some more human bodies and the huge body of and adult female dragon – the last dragon of the title.

The documentary ends with a return to the National History Museum, where the bodies of the two dragons are now preserved. The palaeontologist speculates that perhaps somewhere, dragons may yet survive. A report arrives, and he runs off in search of more dragons…

All this was played completely straight. Not a hint of irony, no suggestion that games were being played (apart from details like the NHM being renamed…). Good stuff, two hours of worth-watching TV. I’m expecting it to be released on DVD, and I’ll be first in the queue to buy it.

If you get a chance, watch it.

[1] A useful made-up word
[2] An instantly recognisable building: possibly the finest secular cathedral[3] of the Victorian era
[3] For want of a better word
[4] Otherwise the title wouldn’t make much sense…

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