- Brian Donaldson
- 5 March 2021
Gloomy and gory series about a bunch of intrepid men sleepwalking into disaster
In 1845, precisely one century before a devastating world war was to finally end, some men were stomping around the globe for reasonably peaceful reasons. Their ambitions and strategies would tread a fine line between intrepid and foolhardy, particularly when the most extreme of natural elements came into play. So when Sir John Franklin captained two ships (Erebus and Terror) through the Arctic in order to locate the Northwest Passage, the fates were not on his side and the expedition was lost. For the best part of two centuries, has led to much speculation over what exactly happened to those men onboard ships that were almost certainly abandoned when the grimly packed ice made sailing no longer possible.
This is where imaginative minds enter the scene, and in 2007 US author Dan Simmons wrote a fictionalised account of that voyage upon which this ten-part drama is based. As if the ultra-wintry conditions and faulty human relations weren't enough to derail matters, both Simmons and TV-version developer David Kajganich (Ridley Scott is among its executive producers) concocted a paranormal element to give the show extra chills.
Where The Terror succeeds is in suggesting the horror that lies in wait out on the icy wastelands as well as in the men's minds. But this being modern television, that suggestion becomes viscerally real and there are several upsetting scenes involving hacksaws, whips, shards of glass and a possibly supernatural but definitely enormous polar bear that is absolutely not messing about. Throw in some mutiny and a spot of cannibalism, and strong stomachs are required to see yourself through a series that should certainly not be accompanied with a full meal.
Among those attempting to keep matters afloat are Ciarán Hinds as Franklin, Tobias Menzies as his trusted sidekick Commander Fitzjames, Jared Harris as Francis Crozier, a lone dissenting voice who has longstanding personal issues with Franklin, and Paul Ready as the well-named Goodsir, an honourable doctor who does and sees quite terrible things. The first five episodes set a doom-laden scene and have one or two genuine shocks lying in wait, but eventually it all becomes a tad repetitive: there are only so many times you can watch someone stumble around in the dark armed only with a musket in their unsteady hands and knowing that they are about to meet a nasty end. While the second half does open matters out a little, the extra daylight we are experiencing is a total red herring: the long dark night of these men's souls has only just begun.
BBC Two, Wednesdays, 9pm; all episodes available now on BBC iPlayer.