Lori Adaile Toye was first called to prophecy when she was a farm wife in Idaho. "You have work to do for Master St Germain," said a woman in a health store one day, before leading her into a back room where the portrait of her future employer hung on the wall. Lori had the spooky feeling that she recognised this man from some previous encounter, not inconceivable because the picture was of Barbie's consort Ken in one of his more beardy avatars. But Master St Germain would have to be patient. Lori had kids to raise and more important things than apocalypse to think about: "I was more concerned with getting my laundry hung up and getting my peaches canned," she said.
Fortunately for the world, the kids eventually grew up and, when other farm wives might be thinking of taking up quilting or marquetry to fill the empty hours, Lori turned to saving the world. This involved mapping the world to come, one in which most current coastlines would be altered beyond recognition, with some land sinking into the ocean (bye-bye California) and new areas rising up (Portugal stands a fair chance of becoming a superpower). In one of the funniest sequences in Knocking at Doomsday's Door (ITV), Lori stood in front of a post-apocalyptic map of Northern Europe reading out the long term forecast in a sing-song, matter of fact voice: "Ireland is prophesied to go under water. But we see that Scotland does remain and parts of Northern England too." She looked like a weather girl who'd dropped a tab of bad acid.
Lori was part of the loony tune element in Lawrence Moore's hodge-podge of a programme, which indiscriminately mixed scientific predictions about the near future with the ramblings of various end-timers, people who don't have a world view so much as a kind of mental pocket fluff, in which dog- eared fragments of mythology get tangled up with half-chewed popular science and some disaster movie ticket stubs. So after visiting the Prophets Conference in Phoenix - a pick and mix bazaar at which a whole range of bad times was on offer - the film moved on to cataclysmic asteroid strike, a doomsday scenario which sits uneasily somewhere between hard science and Saturday matinee.
After that there was a brisk tour of the dangers from infectious diseases - easily the most unnerving of all these scenarios but also the one least susceptible to flashy computer simulation and big-bang statistics - so naturally it had to yield airtime to an extended home visit with Antonio Carducci, a 79-year-old Texan who has built a set of concrete igloos and stuffed it with 35 tons of canned food. Mr Carducci's wig, an implausible thatch of jet-black, suggested that he might be in denial about his own prospects of enjoying this facility but it won't matter whether he makes it or not, because he intends this as a post-apocalypse nursery - a Montessori for the New Millennium.
It was hard to know what to make of such seamless passages from lunatic fiction to sober extrapolation. One's expectations of ITV documentaries have now dropped so low that the inclusion of any kind of verifiable fact is probably grounds for celebration, and I take it there was some notion here that the contrast between tangible fears (however improbable) and the gloomy fairy tales of the millenialists would give the programme some backbone. But the narration declined to distinguish between its various predicted calamities, and that omission itself implied a kind of equivalence between the assessment of real and calculable risks and the self-aggrandising fictions of the crazies. There is a splinter of truth here - if you want to fund a research programme to look for earth-bound asteroids then you have a vested interest in making the worst-case scenario as lurid as possible. But a splinter like that is easily removed, the tweezers in question being other scientists who will check the calculations. What is harder to make good is the increasingly fudged and messy border between rational thought and irrational nonsense. This shabby documentary smeared it a little further.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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