TV Reviews

"There is an awful sameness about these incidents," said a safety expert in Disaster (BBC2), "they are nearly always characterised by lack of forethought and lack of analysis, and nearly always, the problem comes down to poor management." There is an awful sameness about these ambulance- chasing reconstructions, too, which are nearly always characterised by an abundance of hindsight and a surfeit of doomy precision. Whether you think this is a matter of poor management as well depends on how optimistic you are about the ambitions of senior television executives. If BBC2 simply wants to increase its audience share, then the decision can hardly be faulted, given the certain pleasure of watching others in trouble from the security of one's sofa. If, on the other hand, you think it should be aiming to add value to conventional TV formats, then commissioning a series about six unrelated catastrophes doesn't look so good.

BBC2 has suffered its own accident of timing here, because Disaster follows hard on the heels of Black Box, a similar exercise from Channel 4, but one which was fortified against criticism by its focus and historical scope (even more unfortunately, next week's Disaster tells the story of the Sioux City aircrash, an event which formed the bulk of Black Box's most gripping episode). The comparison does no favours for the BBC series. Where Black Box was reliant on eye-witness accounts and recordings, Disaster settled instead for dramatic reconstruction - a contradiction in terms as it turns out, because the performances have the counter-productive effect of smoothing out the grain and texture from real dialogue. Heard on the cockpit voice recorders, a joke exchanged between the pilots had an authentic shiver of mastered terror; repeated by actors of moderate ability (the constraints of budget and facial similitude make any other kind unlikely), it just sounds like a cheesy piece of Hollywood fortitude.

This effect was borne out by last night's opening programme on the Piper Alpha disaster. If we are to believe the somewhat mechanical acted sequences, not one of the tough oilmen involved in this terrifying event uttered even the mildest obscenity as they tried to work out what was happening. Sweat beaded their brow, voices were raised, but not a "damn" sullied the smoky air. This is falsification, not clarification, an odd muting of what must have been far more intense and confusing. What makes such sequences more irritating is that they are not even necessary.

By far the most memorable thing in the film was the moment when a secondary explosion blew the gas pipelines - a scene accompanied by the information that three tonnes of gas per second (one and a half times the entire UK gas consumption) - was burning in a space 75 metres square. The conventional modesty garment for these snuff movies is the notion of "lessons to be learned", but the Piper Alpha film couldn't even hide behind that gauzy justification. The people who really need educating got it years ago, from the Cullen report. And as for the viewer? Well, of the 61 men who survived the disaster, almost all did so because they had ignored their safety training - hardly a lesson that will stand any viewer in good stead for the next occasion they might find themselves on a burning oil rig.

Survival's film (ITV) about elephants in the Namib desert exemplified the inflationary pressures on wildlife film-makers. Another film about elephants? No thanks - we've got a trunk-full already. Elephants surfing down sand-dunes? Now you're talking. These scenes were very beautiful, in fact, in particular a bull elephant trailing one big pantomime leg behind him as he coasted downwards in a golden sift. But the most fascinating organisms on screen were the film-makers themselves. Des and Jen Bartlett live a nomadic existence on the Skeleton Coast, loading all their belongings onto two microlight aircraft before hopping to the next tiny waterhole. Fortunately, there was another wildlife film-maker on hand to capture their strange behaviour patterns. Despite the rigours of desert life, these unique creatures had managed to breed; the film ended with a magical sequence in which the daughter and grandson turned up, reassuring proof that this rare species will survive into the next generation.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam