Doctor Who - Documentary s10e06 Episode Script

Mary Celeste

In 1980, you have to consider we're right at the end of the Ship Age.
So we're beginning to think in a very nostalgic way about ships and the Steam Age and so on.
If you think that, by 1980, this is the end of the decade where international air travel has become very available, accessible to many people, and now we're beginning to think about boats in this very nostalgic way.
We've just lost the Cod War, so we've lost much of our fleet and so on.
We're beginning to think very nostalgically.
On the other hand, we're just about to reignite our naval past in the Falklands War, in some ways, so we're beginning to think about this in quite an interesting, nostalgic, nationalistic kind of way.
IAN MURPHY: The Poet was a relatively old ship.
It was built, I think, during World War II, so it had a long life.
Although ships were structurally very sound by that point, the sea could easily overwhelm a vessel very quickly.
If water got on board, if there was a structural defect within the ship, or any kind of corrosion that caused hatches to be lost or a loss of structural integrity, a ship can still go under relatively quickly.
A disappearance of a ship is like a blank space, so we begin to fill it with narrative.
We have to.
It's a human compulsion to want to fill these kind of blank spaces.
And those blank spaces change according to our historical moment that we're looking at.
So if you think about the S.
S.
Poet in 1980, it's at the height of people's obsession with the Bermuda Triangle.
There was a best-selling book in 1975 by Charles Berlitz which made the Bermuda Triangle a very famous story, and of course, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters brings elements of the Bermuda Triangle into it, so the famous disappearance of the pilots in 1945 is featured in Close Encounters.
There were theories put forward as to the fact that the ship might have been carrying things like armaments or contraband And that it was a conspiracy by the Republican government, possibly Ronald Reagan, possibly George Bush Sr, who was the head of the CIA at the time, who were sending out arms to Iran, precisely to stop the hostages being released, who were famously being kept in the US embassy in Iran at the time, so that they could win the election.
Of course, famously, Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 election because of the Iranian hostages.
So anything around that time gets bound up with a conspiracy.
What we think now is that the ship was just overwhelmed, potentially by rough seas, by the kind of stormy weather that was sort of around at the time.
The sea world in 1963 is a really interesting moment, I think, because on the one hand, we've got It's almost the classic age of that arrival by Atlantic boat, the huge romance of that.
At the same time, this is a moment of massive anxiety about the sea, so we've got the Cuban Missile Crisis happening, there are Russian boats, possibly with missiles, converging on Cuba.
This looks like we're at the very end of the world.
Containerisation was becoming more popular, but still wasn't the main form of moving goods around.
A lot of goods were still transported in the traditional manner where everything's packed individually.
You also had tankers and whatever, for carrying bulk goods in terms of grain or oil or chemicals.
The Sulphur Queen was lost off the southern coast of Florida in 1963.
All hands were lost at the time, with just a few bits of debris left to show that the ship had sunk at all.
The Sulphur Queen was a converted tanker that was being used for transportation of sulphur, as the name suggests.
Again it was a converted World War II ship, so it was fairly old and had had a lot of modifications made in order to meet its new demands as a sulphur carrier.
The sinking of the U.
S.
S.
Sulphur Queen is another moment of mythologising, again, about an accident which is catastrophic and yet totally inexplicable to many people.
It's famous, really, because it's the first boat to be mentioned in connection to the Bermuda Triangle, which was first coined by a journalist called Vincent Gaddis in 1964, and his famous article starts with the case of the U.
S.
S Sulphur Queen.
This is a moment of mysterious disappearance.
The sinking of the Sulphur Queen provoked a case where the relatives of the men lost on the ship prosecuted the owners of the ship, trying to hold them liable for damages in terms of corporate responsibility.
The Sulphur Queen had had so much work done on it, in terms of altering it to meet its new role, that there was a strong feeling that it wasn't up to the task that had been set.
Now, if you know anything about the Sulphur Queen, you know that it's carrying molten sulphur at 124 degrees centigrade, and that it was constantly breaking into fire.
The T2 tankers notoriously had a kind of weak spot on the keel, almost like a bad back, which could easily be affected by corrosion, of which the Sulphur Queen was found to have quite a lot.
The most likely cause for the Sulphur Queen's sinking was that either bad weather or a structural defect overwhelmed the ship.
You could almost argue that the Sulphur Queen was an accident waiting to happen, in terms of the condition of the ship.
Corrosion and all the structural alterations that had been made to it in the past had rendered it susceptible to being damaged in a way that would lead it to sink very, very quickly with rough seas.
In 1918 we are right at the end of the First World War, of course, and this is one of the wars which begins to introduce the submarine and great losses of life on the oceans at that time.
The Americans have just come into the war in 1917, so there is this sense of a new navy just beginning to emerge.
The U.
S.
S Cyclops was a coal carrier for the US Navy.
It had been built just before World War I, originally to fuel the fleets around America, but it had been used off the coast of France during the war.
It was travelling from Brazil, up towards Baltimore, with enormous amounts of manganese ore, which were about to be used for weapons.
But it stopped off in the Caribbean to make a few alterations or a few repairs on its route home.
The ship was lost around the fourth of March.
Three hundred and six lives lost, disappeared.
No one knows what happened to them.
And it was the largest loss of life in the US Navy outside of military action.
I think it still is today.
Very, very soon a paranoid story begins to emerge about that ship.
Captain Worley was someone who perfectly fits a long, historical, centuries-long narrative about evil, drunken captains.
The captain was incredibly unpopular.
There were thoughts that there could have been a crew mutiny.
They were also transporting German passengers, there was a thought, because the captain was Dutch, although he's sometimes referred to as a German, mistakenly.
He changed his name from Winkmann to Worley.
And the US Consul in one of the Caribbean islands begins to suggest that perhaps, since there so many German-looking names in the crew, that perhaps this is someone who has become a conspirator with their enemies.
There were governmental enquiries into the loss of the ship, which seemed to focus on the captain.
But the ship had been built to carry coal but it was carrying manganese ore.
It was carrying a cargo that the crew weren't used to handling, and it was noticeably overloaded at the time.
They'd also had problems with their engine, so the combination of all those factors all make for a much more likely scenario as to why the ship would have actually sank.
Travelling at sea in the 1870s was always perilous.
You didn't have the kind of radio communication or tracking technology that you have today, so that once a ship left port, the crew were basically on their own, they had to be very self-sufficient and use their own skill and judgement to survive, to deal with any kind of unexpected problems that the weather or the sea conditions might throw up at them.
Things like storms and high tides and earthquakes, seaquakes, tsunami Cargo could also present problems if it wasn't stowed correctly, if it shifted during its voyage.
Ships could be taken by pirates, there could be mutinies on board.
The Mary Celeste was an American ship registered at New York.
And it was an ill-fated vessel from its very first voyage.
Its captain died on its maiden voyage, and people, I suppose, thought at the time that it was gonna be one of those doom-laden vessels that would pass into history with all sorts of horrors attached to it.
So after a few uneventful voyages, it was charged with taking about 1,700 barrels of alcohol, commercial alcohol, to the Mediterranean.
The Mary Celeste left New York in 1872 under Captain Benjamin Briggs.
Captain Briggs was an experienced sailor, and he'd been across the Atlantic many times, and on this particular voyage he was travelling with his wife and his young baby daughter.
And he also had a large consignment of sailors and seamen to help him take the vessel across the Atlantic.
And they were all experienced sailors, they'd been on many voyages before, so everything was set fair to be an uneventful, calm voyage across the Atlantic.
The Mary Celeste left New York in November, 1872, and it was destined for Genoa in the Mediterranean, and it was gonna pass through the Straits of Gibraltar here.
And in early December 1872, it was found about 600 miles west of Portugal, with no crew on board, entirely unmanned and abandoned, adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.
It was discovered by a ship captained by a friend of Captain Briggs', the Dei Gratia.
Discovered completely abandoned, and yet as if the crew had only been there seconds before.
So, famously, all of the hatches were open, the windows were open, the ports were open.
All of the sailors' gear was still left in place and they would never go anywhere without their heavy weather gear or without their pipes.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that they found warm cups of tea and unfinished breakfast on board.
People came up with all sorts of theories, from mutiny among the crew There was a theory that the crew that found the ship actually murdered the crew and family on board.
There was a theory that pirates may have intercepted the ship.
There was also the theory that the captain had faked his own disappearance as part of an insurance scandal.
The Attorney General in Gibraltar was absolutely persuaded that there was some foul play that must have happened.
Come on, sir! Come on! He was persuaded, for example, that he'd found a sword which had blood on it, although, in fact, it appeared to be rust to many other people.
There seemed to be blood stains on the deck, there were mysterious score marks on the deck as well, and all of these, for him, pointed towards foul play, murder of some kind.
The kind of theories that get thrown up relate to the concerns of the time, so the main concerns of the Mary Celeste's disappearance, the main theories, were piracy and dastardly murder in the way that you might get with a kind of Victorian melodrama.
- Captain Briggs! - Yes, Mr Richardson.
Captain, there was a thing just down on the lower deck.
What are you talking about? There are famous stories about a kraken, a giant squid, that might have come up from the deeps and simply dragged all of the people off the deck, hence leaving all of these score marks.
Had perhaps the ship been involved in a shark attack, and that all of the crew were watching a sailor being attacked by a shark and they all mysteriously fell into the water at the same time, only to be devoured without trace.
The Mary Celeste is also, with some creative stretching of the corner of this triangle, brought into the Bermuda Triangle as well.
Perhaps also it was run aground on what might have been a mysterious reappearance of an island that then mysteriously disappeared.
Perhaps even Atlantis itself.
The White Terror! The White Terror of Barbary! Lots of outlandish explanations for what might have actually happened to the Mary Celeste, but pretty certain, however, that it wasn't the Daleks that intervened and caused everyone to jump overboard.
(ALL YELLING) (SCREAMING) The most likely outcome for the disappearance of the Mary Celeste is that a problem developed with the cargo that it was transporting.
The alcohol was very strong commercial alcohol, to be used for strengthening, for fortifying Italian wines, and this particular consignment of alcohol, most of it was in white oak barrels.
The nine barrels that were empty were in red oak barrels, which apparently allows more evaporation.
There's been various experiments to kind of determine whether the vapours caused by the leaking barrels might have caused an explosion on board which resulted in the crew temporarily abandoning ship.
The crew of the Dei Gratia, the ship that found the Mary Celeste, got on board and found a completely deserted and abandoned vessel, but there were some small clues as to what might have happened, what the fate of the crew might have been.
So they found none of the papers of the ship on board, they were all missing.
The sextant and other navigational instruments, that they would have used at this time to navigate their way around the ocean, they were missing too.
They also couldn't find a lifeboat on board the ship.
And the rope that was used normally to hoist the main sail, that was missing.
But instead of that rope, they found a rope that could have been that hoisting rope, tethered to the ship and trailing into the ocean behind the Mary Celeste and frayed at one end.
For a captain to abandon his ship, he would have to think that there was something pretty catastrophic either happening or about to happen, and he would want really good evidence of that.
The general rule of thumb, really, is that the best lifeboat is the ship that you're already on.
So you want to leave that only as a last resort.
You can imagine Captain Briggs, with the safety of his crew at heart with his wife and young daughter aboard, might have suggested that everyone abandon ship, get into the lifeboat, which was then tethered to the ship, the Mary Celeste, waiting for the explosion had it happened, or for the danger to pass.
Once they're in a smaller boat being towed by the larger one, they become separated from the main ship, the Mary Celeste.
In rough weather, they'd have much less chance of survival in the smaller boat than they would if they'd stayed on board.
We can only surmise what happened to them, that they were all lost at sea in 1872.