‘The Terror’ recounts an ambitious voyage

Wednesday: The Terror;(BBC Two, 9pm & 9.45pm)

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 5:00 pm
Francis Crozier, Sir John Franklin and James Fitzjames
Francis Crozier, Sir John Franklin and James Fitzjames

In 1845, two ships under the command of Captain John Franklin set sail from Britain on an ambitious voyage to the Arctic in order to locate the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Three years later, they had both disappeared.

None of the 129 men on the expedition came back, and the battered wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were found in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Quite how Franklin and his crew died remains a mystery.

Historians have only scattered Inuit reports, a few abandoned messages, and the remains of disease-wracked and partially eaten bodies to go on. What’s all but certain is that the sailors’ predicament was terrifying, and their demises horrific.

AMC’s menacing 10-part series The Terror takes its inspiration from Dan Simmons’s 2007 novel as well as creature features Alien and The Thing, and survival horror The Walking Dead.

Executive produced by Ridley Scott, among others, it tells a fictionalised account of what befell the men of Erebus and Terror. The two crews are headed up by the religious Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) and sharp-tongued alcoholic Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), with the pair’s duelling outlooks causing friction, and the inexperienced yet bolshy Captain James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) stirring the pot.

In tonight’s opening episode, we see James Ross (Richard Sutton) speaking to a Netsilik man in a tent who encountered the expedition’s last survivors, under the leadership of Captain Francis Crozier. He informs Ross they were being pursued south by a creature called ‘Tuunbaq’ and are now ‘dead and gone’.

Four years earlier, in September 1846, Captain Franklin’s Royal Navy expedition aboard the Erebus and Terror are attempting the first crossing of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Archipelago. The expedition runs into difficulty when a collision with an iceberg damages Erebus’s propeller.

Crozier becomes concerned about becoming stranded in the pack ice through winter, and recommends to Franklin that they shift all men from Erebus to Terror and steam south to avoid becoming trapped. Franklin overrules Crozier’s concerns and presses the expedition further west in the belief that the ships can complete transit. It proves to be a bad gamble, and soon both ships become irretrievably stuck.

Then, in the second part of the opening double bill, it’s June 1847, and after eight winter months stranded in the ice, Erebus and Terror remain stuck.

Franklin sends out parties to find leads (open water passages) through the ice, and while those that trek east finds nothing, the group heading west travels into very dangerous territory. They encounter Inuits, including a woman whom they call Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen) – as well as a very sinister force.

While The Terror was first airing in 2018, it was announced that it would be turned into an anthology show.

A second run, subtitled Infamy, about a Japanese-American community haunted by mysterious unexplained deaths during the Second World War, followed in 2019 – but whether or not the BBC will be be showing that is much like the plight of crew of Franklin’s crew – still unknown.

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