9/11 State of Emergency / Sat Channel 4
David Jason: the Battle of Britain / Sun ITV1
Albert's Memorial / Sun ITV1

Light shed on the darkest of days

Anyone making a serious documentary about 9/11 has to strive to stop it turning into a thriller. Everyone is pretty much bound to fail – that event being so potent a blend of enormity and unsuspecting innocence that even the bereaved have acquired a kind of possessive excitement about its details. To have been at the heart of those events – rather than merely an appalled onlooker – is to have enlarged status and the boast of 9/11: State of Emergency was that it had got some of the biggest status witnesses of all. So Donald Rumsfeld pitched up to recall the moment – midway through one of the most redundant CIA security briefings in American history – when American Airlines Flight 77 screamed across the Pentagon lawn and buried itself in the building. And Condoleezza Rice – eyes shining at her intimacy with the momentous – was also here, describing the chaos that followed the strikes. "Despite all of the sophisticated command and control... at that moment much of it didn't function very well," she remembered, "and people instead did whatever they could to communicate messages... frankly, we then had to make it up." Given the fatuous avidity with which the conspiracy theorists seize on the tiniest encouragement you might have wished her to choose her words more carefully, but her account of the powers in the land reduced to calling each other on their own unencrypted cellphones struck me as plausibly chaotic.

The programme's implicit boast was only half-fulfilled. There were unquestionably figures at the heart of the drama here, and they told us things we haven't heard elsewhere. Particularly striking was Condoleezza Rice's decision to put America's armed forces on to Defcon 3, the first time this had happened since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Having ordered this, she suddenly remembered Lesson One in Deterrence Theory – that such gestures can start a feedback loop, with the Russians responding and tension ratcheting up until an unstoppable escalation is set in train. Anxious to put Putin's mind at ease, she put in a call to the Kremlin and found he'd anticipated her. He'd seen what was going on, he said, had lowered Russia's alert status and cancelled a large military exercise. "You don't have to worry about us," he reassured her. "For one moment, I had this moment of reflection," said Rice, "I thought, 'The Cold War's really over'."

Outside of that though you didn't learn much more about the panic at the highest levels of the American government, and nothing at all about what that double-dyed villain Rumsfeld got up to after he'd left the Pentagon lawns, where news footage captured him helping with the evacuation of the wounded. Instead, you got mid-level fluster, as the military looked frantically for an enemy it might actually be able to shoot at and the man running the Federal Aviation Administration took the unprecedented decision to ground every aircraft in American airspace. And you got ground-level courage, from people who'd suddenly found themselves pitched into a disaster movie. Kelly Reyher, a systems analyst working in the South Tower stepped into an elevator just seconds before the second plane hit. Fighting his way out of it again, seconds later, he found himself facing the decapitated body of a dead colleague, and a 70-storey walk down to safety, ignoring the advice of a steady stream of people going upwards to their deaths. The testimonies of those involved was cut together with archive footage and pretty expertly produced reconstruction, the authenticity of which was a professional triumph but a source of some minor editorial anxiety, given the scale of what happened. I wasn't convinced that we really needed to see the arterial blood spray from a murdered passenger on the first flight hijacked, given that there could be no living authority for the accuracy of that detail. It wasn't trying quite hard enough not to be a thriller at that point.

Last night on ITV1 was virtually given over in its entirety to David Jason, who turned up first as the host of a programme about the Battle of Britain and then, after an hour's interval, as a London cabbie in the drama Albert's Memorial, in which two Second World War veterans drive a dead friend across Europe to be buried in a German field. David Jason: the Battle of Britain naturally spent time with veteran pilots but also honoured "the many behind the Few", talking to the ground crew, aircraft observers and fighter command plotters who helped ensure that – unlike those F16s some 60 years later – the fighters could actually find their targets. Albert's Memorial looked initially like an old geezer's comic road movie, enlivened with that invaluable prop for farce – a dead body. Then it darkened into something quite sombre with the revelation that the unresolved secret all three men had carried with them since the war involved their failure to save a young woman from a violent death at the hands of Russian soldiers. And then it squandered the respect it had earned for its daring by adding a preposterous and entirely wishful supernatural ending, with the revelation that the enigmatic hitchhiker the two men had picked up while crossing the Channel was in fact the dead girl's spirit, returned to absolve them of their guilt. I had been planning to make a mild note of protest at the plot's dependence on coincidence, but in the light of that later twist it seems a bit pointless.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions