Sunday, 6 August 2006
Blizzard: Race To The Pole, BBC2
While the challenge of an expedition into the frigid wastes to replicate the success and folly of Amundsen and Scott is engaging, it is also palled by the sense of senseless one-upmanship that blights all reality TV.
What was good about it?
• Bruce Parry who is a kind of Bruce Forsyth of grizzled reality shows, ever-willing to humiliate or torture himself in the name of good TV.
• Rory O’Connor, a member of Bruce Parry’s team, and possibly the oldest-looking 37-year-old on the planet. He looks like Chelsea FC's Peter Kenyon minus the Satan horns and sucked dry of all his inherent malevolence.
• The chronicle of Amundsen and Scott’s race was enlightening as it explained how each man was driven by a sense of national pride – Scott as part of the enduring belief of British superiority, while Amundsen sought glory for the newly-independent Norway. But it was slightly spoilt by the mostly British historians and experts continually making excuses for Scott, whether it was claiming that Scott was more interested in a scientific exploration of the pole rather than a race, or that Amundsen was more driven in his quest such as planning before the mission to kill half of his dogs to feed the rest of them., while Scott lamented the baleful effect of the weather on his “beasts”.
• And such a disparity was reflected in the journal entries that judiciously coloured the tale as Amundsen’s were always pragmatic and stoical merely detailing what needed to be done, while Scott’s were more poetic and troubled as he wrestled with his own guilt for the peril of his mission.
• Nick, the British team’s dog handler looking on exasperated as the hounds either laze about or attempt to hump one another.
• The way in which the British team is unconsciously mirroring their doomed upper-class forbears, such as when Chris gazed nauseously at his unpalatable foodstuff that was 50% fat and said, with a typically English stiff upper-lip, “I think I will finish this”; or when the script or the team looked for every squeamish euphemism under the sun to gently describe the act of taking a crap – “oblations”, “daily constitutional” and “defecate”.
• Chris Bonnington recalling how difficult he finds it during the first few days of any of his super-human adventures, and explaining how he dreams up almost any excuse as a face-saving way of quitting such as shooting his partner and claim the polar bears took him or feigning an injury.
What was bad about it?
• The pseudo quest for the truth about Scott’s fateful expedition. The overly-portentous narration by Simon MacCorkindale boomed that the mission "should lay the controversy to rest.” But why would a recreation by two teams in 2006 marching to an inhospitable point in Greenland offer a more profound insight into Scott’s doom than the century of research since 1912? Initially, Scott was hailed as a valiant hero, but then “post-imperial attitudes” in the 60s blamed his cowardliness for the deaths of his men, but in the 90s, Dr Susan Solomon discovered that Scott was more a victim of bad luck as the winter arrived six weeks earlier than it had ever done, or has done since, leaving the party exposed to conditions they couldn’t hope to survive.
• However, the credibility of the opinion of Scott also took a bitter battering as one biographer claimed, with little evidence, that Scott “took the easy way out” after he realised that Amundsen had beaten him to the South Pole and would return home in shame, a loser.
• The way in which the narration tries to exploit the viewers’ ignorance by claming that the Greenland ice cap is “10,000 feet thick”. How nice that a force of nature has kindly adhered to easily digestible human measurements. While later on we were told that the teams were taking with them “10,000 kilos of equipment and food”.
• We thought we had avoided them, but the last 10 minutes were a plague of that Great Satan of 21st-century television – the personal camera; where the viewer is drawn into a false sense of intimacy with the speaker.
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