In 1996, an obscure research laboratory in the Scottish borders found the world’s media at their doors. Narrowly spared closure by the government only a few years previously, they had “followed the money” to genetic engineering, then still a largely undiscovered neck of the scientific woods. Preened and primed to take questions from the front was Dolly the Sheep – many critics have wondered how her fictional cousin Shaun might have handled the occasion – cloned from cells taken from a sister sheep by a team of beardy enthusiasts here re-assembled in a documentary equivalent of Radio 4’s The Reunion.
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They chose sheep, we’re told, “because they could be bought for about the same price as a pint”. Without the budget to transport eggs and embryos, embryologist Karen Walker describes how she simply popped them into her bra. And the name Dolly stuck after a throwaway joke by one of the team about the mammary cells used to create her – Dolly Parton made characteristic fun of it all, worrying to fans about the baaad publicity. Walker had been born with spina bifida, so there was serious intent to go after tough diseases with this nascent field of stem cell research. And the whole, bonkers-if-important story is put together with just the kind of homespun brio it describes.
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Gerard Gilbert in the Independent gives it four stars, finding it “a celebration of the painstaking brains behind this woolly icon”. The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stephens was bemused: “One man contacted the Roslin team, begging them to clone his fiancée, who had died before their wedding. Gently, the scientists explained they could, in theory, do this — but his bride would be a baby.” But James Jackson in The Times was impressed: “the boffins really did achieve something extraordinary. Between this and the recent documentary about the Covid vaccine, TV is giving scientists the hero worship they deserve.” First shown December 2021.