The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, BBC2 - TV review: There's nothing boring about this look at the tunnel beneath the Thames

 

The London Underground can be quite a nauseating place at the best of times. If you're not shoved up against the sweaty posterior of a fellow traveller, you can be dodging the subterranean vomit of a weekend drunk. That's fairly par for the course, the cost of getting around a chaotic city. Well, the cost apart from the actual, wildly expensive, cost.

So, it's a good job that anyone travelling on the Tube had no idea that, at some point in the past year or so, a few metres above the heads of oblivious passengers, a group of engineers was threading a 1,000 tonne, 150m-long boring machine in between a Northern Line tunnel and an escalator. The job was so precise, that at its narrowest point the clearance was just 35cm.

That was the most extraordinary feat witnessed in last week's opening episode of The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway (BBC2), a title that perhaps didn't do its subject – the creation of London's new east-west rail link, Crossrail – justice. I would perhaps have called it "Look How Hard Digging Massive Tunnels Underneath a Busy City Is".

The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway is narrated by Julian Barratt, who's certainly carving out an odd, post-Mighty Boosh niche as the voice of BBC documentaries about the capital's transport infrastructure (he also did The Tube: an Underground History and The Route Masters: Running London's Roads, both a few notes away from Howard Moon and co).

But despite the London transport topic and the Barratt link, TFBPR doesn't quite have the human heart of The Tube.

While that series, of course, dealt with the logistics of ferrying millions around each day, its real heart was in the staff working on the Underground and their stories. Here, the star is a big machine called Mary, capable of boring through the ground under the Thames at 27 metres per day. And that's fine.

This series is produced by Carlo Massarella whom you may remember from such large-scale engineering documentaries as Animal Mega Moves, Heavy Haulers and Big, Bigger, Biggest and it's directed by Joby Lubman (World's Biggest Ship, Monster Moves etc). So it's safe to say they can handle filming scale.

Thus, it was absolutely fascinating watching the engineers planning the rebuilding of the Victorian Connaught Tunnel to make it fit for Crossrail's speedy rolling stock (and good to witness, in Linda Miller and Alex Mitchell, two female engineers featuring prominently in one of these Big Build-type shows).

I'd also been astonished last week by the genius of how grout shafts prevent surface-level subsidence. Which is not a sentiment I'd ever envisioned expressing with passion in a national newspaper, but there you go.

It was these how-does-that-work moments, including a decent set of explanatory graphics, which reminded me of reading those oversized Dorling Kindersley cross-section books as a kid, which were fascinating. The subplots – will a boat show at the ExCeL get disrupted by the Connaught project? Will a vintage car show at Bonhams have trouble with access? – really didn't add too much to the drama. But ignore them and it's engrossing.

If you live in London, it ought to be difficult not to find TFBPR interesting. This is going on below your feet. But, if you're one of the majority of Britons who don't, then any interest is possibly tempered by watching billions of taxpayers' pounds being spent on the capital. Again.

Just don't let anyone tell you that tunnelling is boring.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all