TV UK, 2 June

The Plane that Hit the Tower: the distraction of dramatic reconstruction.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

In this week’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Channel 4 on Tuesdays), Gordon Ramsay said that a chef losing an order ticket was like an air traffic controller losing a plane. One person who might beg to differ is the Boston air traffic controller featured in 9/11 – The Plane that Hit the Tower: the True Story (Channel 5 on Monday), who watched powerless as the hijacked Flight 11 drifted out of his control on 11 September 2001.

Dramatic reconstruction is dodgy at the best of times, but a dramatisation of something as loaded as the 9/11 attacks is all the more potentially disastrous. In the event, The Plane that Hit the Tower was not in particularly bad taste, and served mostly as a tribute to the flight staff, who, in this telling at least, did everything they could to keep their passengers calm and to convey as much information as possible to the authorities on the ground.

Of course, there isn’t much to go on. Apart from the calls made by flight attendants, apparently using credit cards borrowed from customers, and an announcement made by the hijackers, apparently intended for the passengers but broadcast in error to other planes, the filmmakers could only speculate. This makes the ‘true story’ tag somewhat misleading. A manual found in hijacker Mohammed Atta’s luggage provided the programme with pompous verbiage rather than any insight into the mindset, let alone behaviour, of the hijackers. And much was made of the fact that an experienced Israeli soldier was sitting directly in front of one of the hijackers, but that fed ‘what if?’ scenarios rather than anything concrete.

The substance of the film was really interviews with the colleagues and partners of the flight staff, who were able to add some colour to the story and discuss the effects of what happened on their own lives. In that sense, The Plane that Hit the Tower is a contribution to ‘people’s history’ rather than providing any major insight into the broader significance of the event, and the dramatic reconstruction is a distraction if anything from that contribution.

Another programme coming at an issue from a different angle was the wittily titled Desperate Midwives (BBC3 on Monday night). The opening episode of this fairly breezy docusoap about, er, midwives, happened to feature the Derby family whose three daughters have all had children in their teens, and which thus hit the headlines the other week, symbolising how the world is apparently going to hell in a pushchair.

But the producers seemed uninterested in that aspect of the story, and the programme was remarkably sanguine about it, focusing instead on the practicalities. The health visitor described how visiting the organised chaos of the family’s home always gave her a boost, and how she would miss them once the last baby was settled.

With the third daughter about to deliver, at one point the grandmother-to-be-again announced that she was sure the baby would be here by 11. Primed by the hype around the family and the alleged social crisis they represent, I thought at first she was predicting the age at which the baby would return to the labour unit as a mother. No, she was simply estimating the delivery time.

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