The Terror – Terrible Tale of a Doomed Arctic Voyage

The Terror is Ridley Scott’s acclaimed horror drama inspired by a real life tragedy that happened in 1845.   Although we still don’t know exactly what really happened to the Royal Navy expedition to find the infamous North West Passage.   This was supposedly a polar ocean that would allow a huge short cut to the Pacific around the North Pole.  Unfortunately it doesn’t exist and the two ships – The Erebus and The Terror, plus the crew of 149 vanished without a trace while searching for this short cut!  The actual ship wrecks were located in 2014  south of King William Island in the Arctic sea and are now a Canadian National Historic site.

HMS Terror – Wikimedia Commons

No one knows exactly what happened to the real expedition, apart from there were no survivors.  The Terror is a fictional tale but many of the events depicted are believed to have actually occurred – certainly the starvation, the lead poisoning and possibly even the cannibalisation.

It’s taken a while to get to the UK and British TV, after having been premiered on US screens over three years ago but finally it’s been broadcast on the BBC.   Which of course means the full ten episodes are now available on BBC iPlayer and should be accessible on the archive until March 2022.   If you love period drama which is beautifully portrayed then you must watch it.  If  you love horror and supernatural themes as well then it’s a must watch series.

The detail and historical accuracy is breath taking, most of the characters depicted existed in real life.  There’s no Hollywood factor here, there’s been a real effort to try and portray the situation the crew found themselves in – their ships locked in the ice hundreds of miles from civilization while their supplies slowly dwindled.  The captains of the two ships were Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) and Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), the true leaders of this doomed expedition.


As you can probably see from the trailer, the production values are superb. The desperate situation grows throughout the show, probably portraying many of the same dilemmas faced by the crew at the time. There is a story telling aspect with a supernatural element to add to the tale. However it’s almost not needed, the growing horror of their situation is very evident in the screenplay.

This is no tale with a happy ending, there’s a sense of doom very evident from the beginning of the series. The reason that the drama is so gripping is the way it grows slowly and inevitably throughout the shows. Slowly their options are reduced and yet apart from the a couple of bad decisions initially, there seems little the crew can do to thwart their fate. It’s wonderful TV and shows how well horror can work in these longer adaptions. It could have been a great film too, yet the story works much better with the slow burn approach. You can even see Captain Crozier slowly sinking into alcoholism as he drinks whisky partly to keep out the cold but also to numb the hopelessness of their situation.

It’s well worth watching, and I’m sure many will enjoy it. If you did miss it in the USA, then you can stream the BBC using a VPN easily enough.  If you want to read more about the real story of the Erebus, Michael Palin wrote a book about the history in 2018 called Erebus: The Story of a Ship. The book was also dramatized on Radio 4 but unfortunately is not currently available on BBC Sounds but should be at some point in the future.

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