Building the Impossible

Two science programmes on the same channel in the same week, and we end up with this? Now I’ll admit to having a soft spot for programmes which build things, like Secrets of the Ancients and it’s ilk. Yes they have some slightly contrived tensions amongst the participants as they decide how to deal with the problems they face, but you feel you learn something in the process.
This series is nominally the same. In the first episode we have a team of scientists, a boat builder and a rower/stuntman trying to recreate a 17th Century submarine for which no plans exist. We are told that an international team is being put together, which consists solely of Brits plus one American, probably because this is a TLC coproduction. Needless to say that aside from studious Chris, we have attractive Caroline. Neither seem especially suited to the task in hand, any more than an intelligent TV presenter, since they rely on others for help. Some of this is spurious – we’re shown that the pressure at even 10m below sea level is enough to crush empty cans. Tell me something I didn’t learn in O-Level physics. I don’t mind this being explained, but it’s presented as news to our scientist team by the physicist. Well if it is news to them, we need some other people quickly.
Then there’s the phony deadline. They have just 20 weeks to build this submarine, although the rush is never explained. TV deadlines is the obvious answer, but at the end when they’re rushing to use every minute of daylight to get their manned test underway, you feel that if it’s taken the best part of six months to get this project completed, another day isn’t going to make much odds.
But most irritatingly of all are the entirely spurious shots of our two key team members swanning around London on respectively a motorbike and a Porsche. These shots are used again and again. Why? I suppose the likes of Time Team use their branded Discoveries, and Meet the Ancestors has it’s Land Rover, and even Adam Hart Davies has his bicycle, but we don’t normally get repeated stylised shots of central London. And how many in the academic community really have Porsches, unless their incomes are being seriously supplemented by TV programme fees?
Obviously the whole thing exists only for TV, but some semblance of genuine scientific endeavour would help the illusion. And of course the building was all done by our boat-builder friend, meaning that most of the time, our regular team can concentrate on the other programmes in the series – this week a the Roman War Machine.