RogerBW's Blog

Royal Navy School 05 January 2017

2016 reality television, 7 episodes. The series follows recruits through the ten weeks of selection for the Royal Navy at HMS Raleigh.

This is apparently what it takes to get me to watch reality television: a subject I find interesting and the chance to get a perspective that differs from my usual sources'. (And real tests rather than arbitrary challenges and popularity contests.) Even so, I don't plan to repeat the experience. I don't like an excess of tension, and each episode sets out to work up more and more of it with some new variant of the eternal question: will this particular recruit succeed or be thrown out? (Although the first instalment begins with arrival at Raleigh, and the last emphasises the final days before passing-out, they're not otherwise particularly time-bound; each episode deals primarily with particular recruits, and ends with subtitles describing the ends of their stories.)

Every episode drills in what I think is the crucial point of the whole business, though they talk around it rather than coming out and saying it: the reason for requiring such very exact standards of clothing, hygiene, discipline, and such like, stuff that people are told about but then have to get on with on their own, is not that those particular skills are important; it's that in a ship everyone from your mates to the Captain needs to be able to rely on you to do what you've been told, in the exact way in which you've been told to do it, even though nobody was watching over your shoulder after giving you the instruction.

Apart from the basic hard exercise, the whole business doesn't look all that difficult. Presumably they have something more than physical training, drill and laundry to do, but we never see it, except for a bit of the HAVOC damaged-ship simulator in one episode. Because of that lack, it's hard to feel sympathetic when people start fouling up, for what seem like really easy things not to foul up (like "don't use your phone in the messdeck" when it's allowed in lots of other places). The lesson that "choices equal consequences" does seem to be something that some of the recruits have never met before, whether they're school-leavers or "old men" in their thirties.

Everyone who's interviewed starts off pretty keen, but some of the recruits really seem as if they shouldn't be here, and by the end of the course I'm not convinced that they've all changed. Of course, this is television, and when they've got ten weeks' worth of footage for however many people agreed to be filmed, obviously they're mostly going to go for the ones with Big Emotional Moments rather than the ones who worked hard and sailed through without any problems.

Although it's never explained, there's clearly a multiple-level system of warnings and penalties in use, and reading between the lines those in charge seem to have fairly broad discretion as to what level they apply in a given situation; so they probably can keep in or throw out nearly anyone they want to as long as the errors aren't too blatant… but of course they don't tell the recruits that! Some recruits are clearly "scared straight" by a sufficiently intimidating warning; others aren't.

This has given me some ideas for NPC ratings in one of my current RPG campaigns, Wives and Sweethearts, which was really my purpose in watching it, so: mission accomplished. The programme's web site is within channel4.com and episodes are still available at the time of writing, but only to Flash users.

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