INTERVIEW: The Tunnel creator Ben Richards on how new series takes inspiration from recent plane disasters and Europe referendum
Sky Atlantic hit The Tunnel was praised by both those who had and hadn’t seen inspiration series The Bridge when it premiered two years ago. The award-winning first season, which borrowed heavily from the events of the Scandinavian drama, was praised for a faithful but intelligent adaptation, plus the phenomenal acting from both series leads – Game of Thrones‘ Stephen Dillane and Harry Potter‘s Clemence Poesy.
It is back for a second series, featuring a completely different plot to season two of The Bridge, next Tuesday, April 12. That’s not to say the new series doesn’t kick off with a similar bang to the boat disaster that took place at the start of The Bridge‘s second outing – in The Tunnel: Sabotage, one of the world’s most ardent fears is brought to life before our eyes – a graphic, horrifying (but utterly compelling) depiction of a passenger plane being remotely hacked to its doom across the Channel.
At a recent sit-down with The Tunnel: Sabotage creator Ben Richards in London to talk about the new series after watching a press screening of the first episode, we felt compelled to ask about the inspiration for the jaw-dropping scene (which takes place towards the end of the first episode of the second season): “It’s really interesting. I have an absolutely morbid obsession and fascination with plane crashes and listen – in a horrified way – to transcripts of the last words of pilots. I was particularly obsessed with the Air France crash from Brazil to France, because I used to live in Latin America, so I would travel and [take] that flight fairly frequently from Rio.
“[The crash] was truly terrible because it was pilot error rather than hacking, but basically the guy just made this really fundamental mistake. He tried to avoid bad weather, so he climbed and climbed and climbed. He climbed to the point where the plane stalled. When a plane stalls, the engines keep going, so they didn’t really know what was going on, but they were just falling back into the sea. Then I thought, how do we create that effect of not being able to control your plane?
“There’s been quite a few stories I read about in the press where they were frightened that computer hackers could actually take control of a plane. We started doing some research on it. It’s not an unfamiliar trope, but it is actually getting closer now.”
We had to ask about the truth behind that spectacle of a scene. Is remotely hacking a passenger jet even remotely possible? Richards’ answer was troubling: “For me, when I’m writing, you can go into the 1% of possibility because it’s a drama. As long as it isn’t physically impossible to do, then I think you can do it in a drama. What [the experts we spoke to] said was you can’t do it right now without a bridging device, but you can theoretically do it.”
He went on to scare us further: “They also said – this is the scary thing – air traffic controllers have long pioneered a way of remotely taking control of a plane. As a safety effect. They sort of abandoned it, precisely because they were frightened of the consequences of being able to control a plane from the ground being used negatively.”
With the ongoing political panic surrounding #Brexit and The Tunnel being an Anglo-French coproduction, we felt it only fitting to ask if any of these issues were covered in the new series: “Because of the time lapse, we started writing this series before it became as prominent. The Euro Referendum was a long time away, but those issues were definitely there. As a dramatist, you have to let those issues inform and feed into the show, rather than try and make an issue driven show.”
There has been some criticism of the first series of The Tunnel for being identical to the source material, which is something Richards admits he finds frustrating: “The interesting thing, just in terms of the genesis of it, is that I got sent The Bridge series one by Jane Featherstone, who was in charge of Kudos at the time, she said look there’s this amazing Scandinavian show, no-one’s gonna watch it, let’s do a remake of it. This is why I got really pissed off when people say why did they make a remake of a hugely successful Scandinavian import? It wasn’t a hugely successful Scandinavian import at the time. Like Homeland and the Israeli show [Hatufim], no-one had heard of it before they did the remake.”
“There was sort of a bit of horse trading really, because I wanted to go further away from it than the broadcasters did which made me doubly pissed off when people say it’s too like the original.”
The Tunnel: Sabotage is available from 12th April at 9pm on Sky Atlantic, with all episodes available the same night via Sky Box Sets.