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One flat, dull Road for us

HOW many times in our lives are any of us, if we're not either professional sailors or enthusiastic hobbyists, going to be asked to climb the rigging of a boat's mast?

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say . . . none.

Yet climbing a ship's mast played a central part in the first episode of Two for the Road, a no doubt well-meant but rather dreary and meandering documentary series.

Two for the Road follows six celebrities and six people with disabilities while they take on various challenges in exotic locations. The idea is that the celeb will learn something of the day-to-day life experienced by their disabled companions.

Eamonn Victory, an amputee from Dunleer, Co Louth, who lost his right leg after a long illness, boarded the Lord Nelson, a sailing boat that's been specially designed to allow people with disabilities to enjoy a taste of life at sea.

His companion for the week was former rugby player Trevor Brennan. The idea was that Eamonn and Trevor, along with a group of other amputees, who remained little more than blurry background figures throughout, would spend a week sailing around the Canary Islands and learning the ropes of living and working on a boat.

Under the supervision of a professional crew, they had to swab down decks, clean toilets and do all the other things crew members do, including climbing that mast.

But 20 minutes after setting sail from Las Palmas, the vessel hit high winds, forcing Eamonn, Trevor and most of the other non-professional crew to take to their beds -- and their buckets -- with seasickness.

"I'm getting a helicopter as soon as we hit dry land and going home," grumbled Trevor, half-seriously. "And I'm not coming back on this bleedin' thing."

I'd like to have learned a bit more about Eamonn but it was Trevor whose large, loud presence was pushed to the forefront throughout the half-hour, as he continually cracked jokes containing the word "cripple".

You could see what he was at: trying to lighten the mood and break the tension with a bit of knowingly outrageous non-PC behaviour, and Eamonn seemed happy to be in on the gag. "If you were to stop jokes about disabled people, you'd have to stop jokes about able-bodied people," he said, gamely.

Nonetheless, Trevor's remarks came across as crass and much of the humour seemed to be hitting the deck with a thud like a wet mop.

Then again, this could be down to the distorting effect of the appalling editing, which was as rough as the choppy waters.

The weather eventually settled down enough to allow Eamonn to climb the mast, which he did with remarkable courage, given that he's terrified of heights.

Trevor, who encouraged and supported his new buddy throughout what was obviously an ordeal, made the climb wearing a leg brace to simulate what Eamonn was experiencing.

At the end, however, Trevor admitted that, even with the brace, he'd got little sense of the obstacles people like Eamonn have to overcome each day -- which kind of undermined whatever small, positive point this curiously flat programme was trying to make.

"Where is it all headed?" asked a character in Torchwood: Miracle Day. "I don't know," replied feisty heroine Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), "it's not like the old days of Torchwood."

Funny, but that's exactly what fans and critics (and I'd be both) have been saying for weeks, as Torchwood: Miracle Day wends its unwieldy way towards its climax.

It's been a long, long haul.

With eight episodes gone and just two left to wrap everything up, it's still unclear why much of what's been happening has been happening. Despite some bursts of brilliance here and there, the plot hasn't really advanced in a month.

Yet there's a grim and ironic fascination in watching a series about what happens when people suddenly stop dying going through a long, agonising death of its own.

two for the road HIIII torchwood: miracle day HHIII