Team hugs and tears might not have been the order of the day when Scott went to the Antarctic, but here's plenty of them in this five-part series about modern-day adventurers. It reveals that a team race to the South Pole, pulling sledges in the style of the original explorers, is very far removed from the exploits of Scott and Amundsen.
However, the final two episodes reveal just how far and how hard the British team can push themselves to reach their goal and - maybe - stand a chance of winning an international race against overwhelming international competition. I started watching and thinking `what a bunch of girls'... and by the end I was cheering the boys on.
Each 60 minute episode follows the progress of James Cracknell (Olympic athlete) and Ben Fogle (adventure TV presenter) on their next big adventure to win the gruelling race to the South Pole. After rowing the Atlantic, they set out to find a third team member for the Antarctic challenge, and then have a year to train and prepare before the event. The race itself involves ski-pulling sleds which weigh 200lb some 500 miles across treacherous ice and snow, followed all the way by the cameras. The winds reach 100mph and the temperatures fall to minus 50-degrees. The conditions are grim: perfect material for a TV documentary...
And this series does get under the skin of the participants. It shows them at their moments of weakness and dispute, when things aren't going well and all three team members have their doubts about each others' ability to cope with the conditions. No one shoved a camera at Scott when he'd just failed to complete a relatively simple training exercise and was at his most demoralised - yet the boys allow themselves to be filmed when during times of failure which makes their efforts to succeed all the more impressive. There's a distinct lack of stiff upper lip, but that's modern life for you.
The British team are racing against some of the most experienced and fit artic explorers in the world. The Norwegian team, ex-special forces, are the obvious favourites and the Brits are the complete outsiders. The British team also has to train while working around normal life, which in this case involves horrid tropical diseases, pregnancy, filming commitments and the uncertainty of the third team member's commitment. The first three episodes are dedicated to the pre-event organisation and to be honest there's too much preamble. These three hours could have been condensed down to two because it's only when the race actually starts that the series really takes off.
Set against the stunning blue and whites of Antarctica, the race itself is gripping. The teams plod ever onward, navigating around the dangers of cracked ice fields, all the while walking their feet to the bone (almost literally) and risking frostbite with every breath. They endure the worst: altitude sickness, infected blisters, pneumonia, absolute fatigue and more - and they keep on going. They trudge 16 hours a day - then longer - then longer still, forgoing rest in order to keep up with the experienced competitors they are racing against. In the end, the race boils down to the determination of the British team to get to the South Pole as a threesome: to endure the unendurable, and not to give in. They could opt to stop and call it a day - the thrill of the final episode is whether they make it to the Pole. Or not.
So for me this series could have been edited better: more about the race and less about the prep. I would have liked to see more about the other teams and their progress. But overall it's a fascinating record of the race, and of the human determination to accomplish a goal.