Pick of the week: Erebus: Operation Overdue

Hearing the final words from the cockpit of Air New Zealand Flight 901 is chilling. Nearly 35 years ago, on November 28, 1979, in the middle of the day, the captain, commentator, flight engineer, and first officer had a three-minute conversation about their uncertain location, lack of visibility, worsening conditions, and were clearly uneasy about the possibility of high ground in the area.

Tragically, they were about 40km from where they thought because of incorrect co-ordinates, and as the ground proximity warning system tells in the final seconds of the cockpit recording, they were in fact flying straight at Mt Erebus, and had no idea they were about to crash until impact, resulting in the immediate death of all 257 people on the flight.

Many New Zealanders know the broad details of the disaster, and remember the subsequent inquiries, and may have even seen the 1988 miniseries Erebus: The Aftermath, which focused on the controversial investigations and findings, but until recently, very little attention has been paid to the team sent on an unenviable mission to Antarctica to recover the bodies and return them to their families.

Eleven New Zealand police officers, along with 10 mountaineers and five US Navy personnel, spent nearly two weeks on the inhospitable and often terrifying slopes of Mt Erebus, and this documentary, which recently premiered at the Documentary Edge Film Festival, sweeping several awards, revolves around the recollections and reflections of those police officers, mixed with compelling dramatisations and re-enactments.


Stuart Leighton who, at 22, was the youngest policeman sent on the mission, and Greg Gilpin, a more senior officer, anchor the story with emotional interviews, and Tama Jarman and Edwin Wright respectively play them in the dramatic segments.

They recall their intense apprehension at being put on a plane to Antarctica so quickly and sent on a mission they had no idea if they had the capabilities to fulfil, or whether they would return.

None of the police officers were trained in any kind of mountaineering or had any experience of the Antarctic conditions which faced them, and none of them had encountered the scale of destruction and death that this disaster had wrought.

It was intimidating, overwhelming, and intensely stressful as they had a limited time frame in which to get the bodies home -- the pack ice was slowly melting, making it hard for the Air Force Orion to land at the base.

The cold, wind and blizzards were head-rattling, the endless daylight was exhausting, the birds infuriating, the crevasses dizzying and digging the bodies out of the wreckage and the ice was an enormous task.

They worked in two teams doing 12-hour shifts, their woollen gloves blackened with the grease and fat of the bodies, trying to separate the all-engulfing awfulness of the situation from the task at hand.

The newly filmed re-enactments (cleverly done near Lake Tekapo in the Roundhill ski area) go a long way to conveying the harsh challenges the recovery team faced, but it's the interviews with four police officers, representing a group who remained unacknowledged for decades, and who carried the burden of the experience on their own, which hit home.

Erebus: Operation Overdue
When: Sunday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Overdue recognition for those who brought everyone home.

Thriller pick: Resurrection

Something is up in the small town of Arcadia. Dead people are returning - and no one knows why. That's the premise of Resurrection, a new TV2 supernatural drama series that examines the results of an unexplained mystery and asks, what the hell would you do? The show's opening moments revolve around Jacob, an 8-year-old who wakes up in a rice field in China 32 years after supposedly drowning. Tasked with finding his family, immigration agent J Martin Bellamy discovers his parents are an ageing elderly couple who have no idea how or why their son has come back. Then more people start returning. Resurrection is eerily similar to last year's cult French hit The Returned, but this is based on a book by Jason Mott, and it adds complex layers of character drama to its supernatural elements. Reviews have been good - the first eight episodes contain "solid hints of an engaging series," wrote Newsday - and so have ratings: Resurrection earned itself a second season which goes into production soon.

When: Wednesday, 8.55pm
Where: TV2
What: Dead return in mystery-drama

Supernatural pick: Witches Of East End

It's been 15 years since Charmed started screening, so it's about time we had another supernatural drama series about a houseful of witches. There's been a lot of vampires/werewolves/zombies of late, but as JK Rowling knows so well, there's something very appealing about having magical powers to wield - especially when you mix in a good dose of sisterly humour. Based on the book of the same name by Melissa de la Cruz, Witches of East End tells the story of Long Island single mum Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond), who's been around a long time, and is apprehensive about her adult daughters Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) discovering their witchly powers. Matters get even more confusing when her fiery long-lost sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) turns up with some disturbing news, and settles in to try and ward off whatever is coming for them, and also become the zany aunt to Freya and Ingrid.

Witches Of East End
When: Sunday, 9.30pm
Where: Four
What: Winding family comedy into supernatural drama.

Drama pick: Ray Donovan

Battered, bruised, burnt out and splattered with blood, the finale of the excellent, Sopranos-esque first season of Ray Donovan ended with Ray and his family relaxing on beach chairs. That followed a season of increasingly calamitous events centred around Liev Schreiber's Ray, a silent but violent Hollywood fixer who spent most of his time running from one disaster to the next. Much of the show's drama is derived from Ray's troublemaking dad Mickey (Jon Voight), who was released from prison, sparking tension within the Donovan family. Ray's rocky relationship with his underappreciated wife doesn't help, and neither does his job, a sorter-outer for A-list celebs and sports stars who've done something dodgy they want covered up. So, what does season two have in store? Ray has his daughter facing drug charges, an FBI agent hot on his heals, and a reporter trying unsuccessfully to research the Donovan family for a new book. Additions to the cast include Hank Azaria as FBI Bureau Chief Cochran, and Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland from The Wire).

Ray Donovan
When: Wednesday, 8.30pm
Where: Soho
What: Family drama gets deeper, darker

Legal drama pick: The Escape Artist

Poor David Tennant. He only just left our screens as hard-working, haunted-by-his-past DI Alec Hardy who had to piece together an awful case in Broadchurch, and now he's back as Will Burton - a criminal defence lawyer who specialises in getting people out of tight corners. Maybe that doesn't sound so bad, but unfortunately his legal brilliance is about to come back to bite him. Having never lost a case, Will is in high demand - there's a promotion to Queens Counsel on the cards, and he's doing well balancing his home life with a loving family. But then his next client arrives. Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell, Black Mirror) is charged with the horrific murder of a young woman, and the evidence against him is overwhelming, but Will manages to get him off on a technicality. Except then he starts to question the morality of his work, and his relationship with Foyle turns cold. Which doesn't bode well, because now Foyle has been released, and his serial killer attentions turn to Will and his family.

The Escape Artist
When: Wednesday, 9.30pm
Where: Soho
What: When the client turns on the lawyer

- TimeOut