The Tower

6 x 45 minutes // made for NTR // 2019


6 x 45 minutes // made for NTR // 2019

What can one of the world’s biggest and most important collections tell us about who we are and where we came from. 

A tower, in the middle of Leiden’s city center, stores more than 40 million treasures of natural history. A unique source for today’s scientific research on biodiversity. As one of the world’s biggest and most important collections, this tower tells the story about who we are and where we came from. 

Dutch actor Marcel Musters leads the way into this mysterious tower, where it’s dark and deadly quiet, and tells the stories about the naturalists who traveled the world in search of answers, about the millions of natural history treasures already collected and about how little we still know. 

The Tower ( De Toren in Dutch ) takes you on a journey in the footsteps of the explorers of the past and the researchers of today. Reliving the voyages of their discoveries, to remote corners of our planet, in search of answers to that one question: 

What is the origin of life? 

Director and writer

Joost Engelberts

DOP and researcher

Bas Zwartepoorte


Marcel Musters

Sound and research

Siebren Hodes
& Jochem Salemink


Elja de Lange

Executive producer Atlas

Else-Marie Rombouts

Production ass.

Jerom Galema

Commissioning editor NTR

Roy Straatman


Jef Grosfeld


Jaim Sahuleka

Edit trailer

Pelle Asselbergs

Edit leader

Erik Post

Title design

Bas Weijers

Typography for poster

Guido de Boer

Created by

Joost Engelberts
& Bas Zwartepoorte

Behind the scenes

a talk with creators Bas Zwartepoorte and Joost Engelberts

Bas and Joost, why a series about this tower?

(B) It actually started with our own fascination with bones, taxidermy and naturalia (I always wanted to be a biologist) and we were looking for the ultimate excuse to be able to walk around in that collection and join the worlds leading scientists on their expeditions.
(J) And then by nagging, nagging endlessly and then, once you got past the embarrassment, purely on endurance, nagging some more until we were allowed to come.

Why were you so keen to make something about that place?

(J) It’s the most versatile repository in the world with as many as 42 million found natural objects from this earth. Spanning from 200 to 300 years ago and fossils from millions of years ago. The crazy thing is that nothing is alive. Every object is put in a freezer and not one beetle is allowed to walk around, otherwise the whole collection goes to hell. The tower covers twenty-two floors, and there are different things everywhere: a dodo skeleton, Darwin’s finches, millions of dried plants.

Basically everything that is not human can be found there. In a hallway closet lies a meteorite older than any grain of sand on earth. It’s older than the earth, older than the moon, older than our universe. The tower is a time capsule of measurements and references of certain objects at certain times in certain parts of the world.
(B) Naturalis is not just a museum for old dead things but also a research center. Not many people know that. We tried to connect both with this series.

What else made working on the Tower exceptional?

(J) Naturalis’ museum was closed due to a major renovation and the treasures in its collection are all extremely fragile. So the Tower was closed to everyone: to the public, scientists and its own staff. Not even the director was allowed inside. No animal, plant, human or speck of dust was allowed inside. But we could go in and film. And, at one point, after walking around for 2,5 year, we almost became part of the collection. Everyone was not only envious but – rightly so- extremely concerned.  Over time, everyone, including ourselves, believed in our superhuman exceptionality.
(B) We were also allowed to go on expeditions to tell the stories about those objects. I was even allowed to join a search for dino bones in Wyoming myself. We also found ourselves at the site of the skullcap of homo erectus in Indonesia found by Eugene Dubois. Insane.

Your favorite adventures and why?

(J) Two hours of stair climbing to the top of a 300 meters high tower in the Amazon. Only here, scientists claim, can you breathe fresh air for the first time. It’s an awe-inspiring realization; breathing in air that has never been breathed before. Descending to a depth of 300 meters in a mini-submarine, catching dragonflies in Bhutan with a butterfly net or searching for remains of a dodo on a mountain in Mauritius is also wondrous.
(B) Yes, 325 meters up a tower in Brazil and immediately afterwards submerging in a submarine, 300 meters underwater, was very extreme. We really went high and deep for this series.

And what made working on the Tower impossible?

(J) In Indonesia, we made an episode about Homo Erectus.  Next to a highway, we saw a scene where everything came together. A monkey walking on stilts to beg money for his boss. What followed was a heated discussion between our team-members: some scientists thought it was inhumane that this was done to the monkey and demanded that the scene not be used. We found the scene at least as harrowing for the boy chained to the monkey but did not find that discomfort a reason for censorship.

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