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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Radio 4

The Day The Planes Came
Written by Caroline & David Stafford, Directed by Marc Beeby
BBC Radio 4 – UK
Reviewed by Dan Bond

September 11th 2001 is the most documented day in history. All forms of global media communication unified in the aftermath of one single infamous day to educate and inform the world of exactly what had happened. Therefore the worldwide sensitivity regarding that day has lead to a slight apprehension directed toward anything that even loosely associates itself with the events.


Whether it be in terms of film, television or radio, the overall moral acknowledgement of the story is toward the overall tragedy of the day presented through one point of focus that aptly reflects that. True, the benefit of moving image helps, in that the poignancy of those images often tell more than any word's could. Yet radio doesn't have that luxury, therefore any 9/11 associations must be dealt with even more sensitivity.

The Day The Planes Came revolves around the character of Sarah, a middle aged single mother accompanying her daughter Polly on a flight to America to visit her father on September 11th. As a result of the tragic events of that day, their plane, like hundreds of others, is diverted to the sleepy down of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. Aided by her adoration of the locals hospitality and two male characters, local man Gary and fellow passenger Chris, Sarah finds herself participating in a series of events far beyond what she is used to. Although, on face value, Sarah's story presents a somewhat believable plot, The Day The Planes Came fails badly in the aspects considered most important to a radio play.

The chemistry between the characters often leaves much to be desired, and the characters themselves suffer from a one dimensionality that hinders any believable aspect of the plot. For example, Polly, the rebellious teenager, is made to look rebellious by the fact she is a vegetarian, and Chris, the nerdy passenger, has all the stereotypical aspects of a computer geek, and not much else. Only the character of Gary is presented as having any sense of an interesting personality. Also, by selling itself as a romantic comedy, the play is already placed at something of disadvantage by juxtaposing the comic aspect of the plot against the serious nature of the 9/11 sub-plot. And as the play progresses, it becomes evident that the actual events of 9/11 have practically no relation to the main plot, and are often merely referenced in passing by the characters, or as a narrative device aimed at speeding along the main storyline.

Now I for one tuned in hoping for a somewhat interesting and original take on the events of that day, yet coupled with the fact that, as a romantic comedy, one would expect at least a small degree of romance or comedy, the listener is left hugely disappointed. This is down to the fact that the romance is, at best, reminiscent of excitable teenagers, manifesting itself in a series of awkward conversations between the characters that merely reaffirm the lack of any chemistry between them. And in regards to the comic aspect of the dialogue and overall plot, the writers once again rely on the aforementioned extremities of character to present comic situations, such as Chris's excitement at having 'wee'd against a tree' or a character named 'Crazy Pete' offering to stuff Sarah's fish, yet once more the character's are incapable of delivering the comic deliverance that the situation, and overall storyline, deserve.

Both the often needless acknowledgement of 9/11 and the way it seems to distance the main storyline from those same events, The Day The Planes Came feels like a naïve and arguably distasteful attempt to show a lighter side to what happened that day. By avoiding sufficiently referencing 9/11 or delivering the romance or comedy expected, the plot suffers from insufficient ammunition in terms of character or plot to save the play from miserably failing to deliver. It says something when the short examples of real radio clips used from the day regarding Gander are both more interesting and entertaining than the play itself ever manages to be.
© Dan Bond
Dan is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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