radio review

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The Independent Culture
You probably think of the sea as something fairly vast and empty - lots of fish, obviously, and boats, but given the amount of water, still not overcrowded. So you wonder how it can have made anybody think up something as cluttered as Troubled Waters. John Waite's series on the politics of the oceans, which opened Radio 4's new season of sea-related programmes on Wednesday, was the aural equivalent of one of those ... for Beginners books which reduce intellectually challenging subjects to witless cartoons.

Troubled Waters illustrated a perfectly clear exposition of the history of maritime jurisprudence with a series of unfunny sketches. The pope decides to divvie up the oceans between Spain and Portugal - to the accompaniment, naturally, of a choir of monks. Later, a diver described the effects on the sea-bed of modern-day Indonesian fishing practices, which involve large quantities of underwater explosives. Swimming through an area where this had happened, he could see "a big crater of nothingness": and "nothingness....nothingness...nothingness... nothingness..." echoed for several seconds.

The aural fussiness was particularly irritating, because the meat of the argument was so interesting - especially the account of how the modern law of the sea has been shaped by the territorial ambitions of various countries, and in particular how various nations are trying to manoeuvre themselves into position, ready for the time when deep-sea mining becomes economically rewarding.

This turned out to be useful background for Deep Station Emerald, an underwater science-fiction thriller serial set in a deep-sea mining operation some time in the next century. The soundscape - sonar blips, grinding machinery, electronic doors, loud music, lots of people shouting - is of such baroque over-elaboration that the annoying parts of Troubled Waters look like a Le Corbusier living-room. Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, and cover the lot.

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