The latest 'what if' drama will keep you on the edge of your nerves
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and a subsequent anthrax scare, the BBC commissioned drama-documentary Smallpox. It played on our very real fear that something nasty could be waiting for us in the mailbox. Then, in 2003, we were heavily traumatised by The Day Britain Stopped, an all-too real depiction of the domino-effect chaos and carnage that could ensue when a couple of accidents trigger a complete breakdown in the transport system. Interspersed into the drama was actual footage of gridlock and panic, while a ‘calming’ speech from Tony Blair was included to heighten the sense that all this could feasibly occur.
Channel 4’s Blackout borrows its effects from that work and utilises footage from the 2011 summer riots with David Cameron’s beige words being cut and paste into the action. Rather than the human error and system breakdown which caused the mayhem of The Day Britain Stopped, a vicious cyber-attack has been blamed on the national grid shutting down for five terrifying days as we watch some people trying to carry on through the catastrophic confusion.
With the traffic lights out, the roads are a near no-go area, with inevitable crashes and jams leading to overwhelming pressure on the NHS, petrol shortages at the garages and CCTV cameras down, giving carte blanche to the looting fraternity. While the vast majority of people live from day to day and the spirit of the blitz lasts right up until their phone runs out of charge, a few hardy souls have prepared for such eventualities. This constituency is represented by survivalist Andy, who has gathered enough supplies to protect his family in such a crisis and has proudly shown-off the homemade generator which will see them through until power is restored. But when menacing elements encroach into the family’s comfort zone, it’s clear that Andy’s addiction to keeping a video blog in which he boasts about his achievements has actually put them in danger.
All these recent mockumentaries hark back to a gallant tradition of realistically scaring the bejesus out of the general populace, whether it’s about alien invasion (Orson Welles’ notorious War of the Worlds radio broadcast) or a nuclear apocalypse (Threads). If it looked and sounded real, then to the viewer or listener, it could well be about to happen. Go out and build yourself a home-made generator today. Just keep your camera switched off while you do it.
Blackout is on Channel 4, Monday 9 September, 9pm.