I’ve always been fascinated with the search for the Northwest Passage. From Shackleton to Franklin, to those who didn’t make the history books, I’ve read countless depictions of the unforgiving terrain and weather. So I was thrilled–and had high expectations–when screeners for The Polar Sea came across my desk.
Those expectations were filled. This gorgeous, 10-part peek at human, animal and plant life in the north–as well as access to traveling the Northwest Passage–is incredible. Narrated by Gordon Pinsent and airing from Dec. 1 to 12 on TVO, The Polar Sea kicks off by explaining that global warming has advanced to the point the ever-elusive Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic is now open to traffic both tourist and business. Viewers are first introduced to Richard Tegnér, a Swedish architect and father of two who sets sail in a 9.5-metre sailboat named DAX together with his friends Martin Sigge and Bengt Norvik. Full of excitement, the trio make good time in their first part of their journey to Greenland before technical difficulties cause some delays. Richard marvels not only at how those early English expeditions stocked their war ships to the brim with three years worth of supplies while his trio did one traverse in just four days but at how those teams dealt with close quarters between over 100 men.
The journey Richard and his friends make are juxtaposed between two other ships attempting the same journey–a catamaran filled with a family and a high-end cruise ship packed with wealthy tourists. Some of the best footage in The Polar Sea is the jumping back and forth among the three boats illustrating the challenges faced by all on board them.
The Polar Sea isn’t just a triptych, however. Whole chunks of chapters are devoted to the scientists, biologists, geologists and researchers from around the world who are conducting studies across the Northwest Passage and Arctic, measuring the effects of climate change on glaciers, water levels and land. Dr. Shfaqat Abbas Khan, senior researcher at the National Space Institute in Denmark, for instance, illustrates how Greenland’s melting glaciers are actually causing the whole of the country to grow in height because the weight of the ice is no longer compacting the land. Yes, you read that right. The Polar Sea is packed with “holy crap” information segments–not to mention gripping views of glaciers–that are worth tuning in for.
TVO’s plan of getting the show out to as many viewers as possible isn’t confined to Ontario. The whole series is available on the network’s website on Monday while an accompanying website offers a stunning 360-degree view of the Arctic through the eyes of the Inuit and an online magazine is full of journal entries from those featured in the broadcast.
The Polar Sea debuts Monday at 9 p.m. on TVO and is available to the rest of Canada via the network’s website.