Ambassadors episode 2 review

Surviving Disaster review Chernobyl

Published by jamdog on 15th January, 2006.

 Surviving Disaster review

Surviving Disaster

BBC1

Surviving Disaster is not the BBC’s account of the past 12 months’ of EastEnders though at times it has been almost as harrowing as watching the Ferreiras, Alfie’s mad gran and Sonia lezzing up.

"Morbid and ghoulish though it may be I can’t tear my eyes away from anything on Aberfan, Hillsborough, Dunblane, King’s Cross and Piper Alpha."

I’ve always loved disaster documentaries. I will drop everything I’m doing to get back for the 2:00am Channel 95 documentary on the St Francis Dam Disaster. Morbid and ghoulish though it may be, I can’t tear my eyes away from anything on Aberfan, Hillsborough, Dunblane, King’s Cross and Piper Alpha.

You engage in these documentaries in a way you don’t with others. You can’t help but put yourself in the situation of the victims. What would I do in that situation? How would I react?

“At Hillsborough, I crowd surf my way to the upper tier, at Columbine I knock the first goth unconscious, take his gun and fill the others full of lead.”

There are two types of people who watch these programmes, the Cassandras and the Pollyannas. The Cassandras spend the hour watching the action and saying "that’s it, I’m dead" – the Pollyannas see themselves miraculously surviving everything the disaster throws at them.

I’m a Pollyanna. Really. There is no disaster I can’t survive and, believe me, I’ve watched cheaply produced programmes on all of them. At Hillsborough, I crowd surf my way to the upper tier, at Columbine I knock the first goth unconscious, take his gun and fill the others full of lead. I crawl from the King’s Cross fire with just scorched hair and smoke inhalation for my trouble. Shit, I took a direct hit at Nagasaki and came away with concussion. And the women really did wicky-wacky woo.

Disasters are the ultimate human interest story. If you can’t empathise with people in the last few seconds of their lives then you never will.

Surviving Disaster merged drama with documentary and a Bernard Hill voice-over. It covered the Chernobyl reactor explosion with Adrian Edmondson putting in a remarkable performance as Dr Valeri Legasov, the man leading the investigation into Chernobyl who hanged himself on the second anniversary of the explosion.

"We see divers knowingly swimming to their deaths through massively radioactive water in a successful attempt to avoid a thermal explosion that would have killed a million."

It followed the chain of events from the six fatal errors that caused the explosion through the denial, corruption and secrecy that ultimately killed thousands more. A celebration of human stupidity.

We see human courage too, divers knowingly swimming to their deaths through massively radioactive water in a successful attempt to avoid a thermal explosion that would have killed a million, levelled 200 square kilometres and irradiated 200 million people’s water supply.

Legasov sees the divers and reactor workers as part of the same Soviet obedience to protocol. Both groups were good citizens doing as they were told, obeying the chain of command. Would you have got such unthinking sacrifice in the West?

“The majority of people who survived the Piper Alpha disaster ignored the official advice not to jump into the North Sea.”

What type of character survives the things is an interesting question. The majority of people who survived the Piper Alpha disaster ignored the official advice not to jump into the North Sea. Survival of the contrary? And those who survived the Estonian ferry sinking noted how those who tried to help others were left behind. Maybe a touch of ruthlessness helps?

Maybe. One thing is clear. I’m not dying in one of those things. If it means climbing over corpses, jumping into the ocean or just plain scarpering I’m doing it.

The best thing about it: The strangely compelling knowledge that something terrible is going happen.

The verdict on Surviving Disaster : Makes you glad to be alive.

Marks out of 10: 7.5

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Tags: Categories: Documentary

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