Earlier this year ITV3 gave long term Emmerdale fans a real treat by airing classic episodes of the show weekday afternoons. Starting in 1989 as the Tates arrived and made their mark on Home Farm, the classic episodes have been a great watch for old and new fans alike.
Recently the infamous 1993 plane crash aired, an event which changed Emmerdale forever, and currently airing 1994 episodes, ITV3 viewers are reliving the aftermath. The plane crash was a huge event for Emmerdale and for the soap genre, but those who watched it on ITV3 recently will know it still stands the test of time.
So what made the plane crash so good? And what could modern day Emmerdale take from its success? Here are a few of its successes that would benefit any big modern-day stunt.
1. Losses that impact almost everyone
For its time, the plane crash had a huge death toll. These days in soap a big death count can often feel like a desperate ratings grab rather than something with purpose, but the key to the deaths after the 1993 crash were their overall impact. Each death had a ripple effect on almost every family, rather than just shock value and meaningless casualties.
Kim Tate lost her horses, later leading to an emotional breakdown over her guilt for grieving when she hadn’t lost a family member; the Sugdens lost Leonard (Annie’s husband) and Mark (Joe’s stepson) – affecting Rachel and Joe’s relationship in particular; Lynn lost her house; Elizabeth Pollard’s death impacted her children and husband Eric; and Archie – a friend and babysitter to Nick and Lynn and Seth’s dear pal.
Deaths like Archie and Mark felt particularly cruel – good guys in the wrong place, at the wrong time – and Elizabeth’s demise triggered a whole new path for Eric as he tried to evade Michael’s suspicions that he’d murdered Elizabeth. I don’t know if these characters were chosen for the chop because they were unpopular or seen as easy fodder, but the impact of their deaths ricocheted around the village. Compare that to say, the death of sweet natured Ruby in 2015’s helicopter stunt, whose – despite working for years in the café – only managed to bother the Spencer unit.
2. A long-lasting aftermath
Weeks on from the plane crash and the aftermath of the disaster was still being felt in Emmerdale. Not just in the injuries and destruction and characters reacting to the trauma, but longer-term problems arising.
Journalists, interfering tourists, insurance issues, job loses – the aftermath managed to create stories of its own. While the night of the crash itself spanned three episodes, giving the scenes an unbearable claustrophobic tension, the aftermath continued for weeks, with Annie Sugden not waking from her coma until April 1994!
With modern day Emmerdale airing six episodes a week, there’s plenty of opportunity to prolong the tension of a life-changing stunt. Keep those characters in peril a little longer and make that stunt count!
3. Life changing injures
One of Emmerdale’s biggest shock moments after the plane crash has got to be the discovery of Chris Tate in the rubble of the wine bar. Episodes later his father, Frank Tate, would learn that Chris’s injuries meant he would never walk again. Long term fans will know Chris best as the bitter, wheelchair using businessman. No miracle cures for Chris! This was a huge change for the character and one rarely seen in soap these days.
Granted, the explosion at Mill Cottage in 2016 saw Nicola’s arm become paralysed and it took three years for some soapy magic physio to give her arm back its movement, but that’s the closest recent Emmerdale has come to a long-term injury. Even the victims of the Hotten Bypass were up and about within a few episodes, and Debbie escaped the helicopter crash without much more than a scratch. If Emmerdale are prepared to take the risk of a long term injury, then that would raise the stakes and create interesting future storylines.
4. Impact on the children
Trauma rarely affects kids in soaps, which is probably a good thing considering how dramatic their everyday lives are. Even now, two years on, Emmerdale has just begun a story about Arthur’s trauma following his dad’s death, but what about someone like Kyle, caught up in the helicopter crash of 2015?
In 90s Emmerdale the children also felt the impact of the plane crash, even though some of them weren’t directly involved. There was little Robert, crying because of his fears that the school was haunted by the bodies of the deceased, young Alice trapped under the rubble for days, Scott wetting the bed and drawing violent cartoons – even needing counselling.
Getting the children involved is a great way to widen the effects of the stunt and gives it that authentic feel. With a modern cast full of great young actors, trauma is definitely worth exploring.
5. Real world grounding
As mentioned above, the great thing about the Emmerdale plane crash in the 90s was the way they made it feel so real. It wasn’t just a stunt taking place in its own little bubble. There were news crews, radio reports, even tourists coming to look at the damage.
In more modern times Emmerdale have made use of real ITV news presenters and that adds to an impressive impactful feeling. When big and explosive stunts cause death and destruction it seems only right it should be grounded with an “outside” perspective of the real world and not just something that affects a small few in the village.
6. Helpful new characters
It’s always tricky introducing new families into a soap, especially when familiar characters and families are so beloved. During the plane crash, Emmerdale had recently introduced the very middle-class McAllister family and Londoner family the Windsors were still bedding in.
Bernard McAllister was able to offer his help as a doctor and the Windsors were right by Kim’s stables when they went up in flames. These scenes made the newcomers both useful and heroic, giving them real purpose and embedding them into the village community. Rather than it feeling like these characters were used just to make them likeable and putting them in danger for that reason, it worked instead to throw them into the action from early on. Could this be a good method of introducing new families in future?
7. Missing characters with fates unknown
With the aftermath of the plane crash spread over multiple episodes, there were lots of questions from both characters and the audience. Not every villager was accounted for – some were missing, injured and some we just hadn’t seen.
There was something especially exciting not knowing the fates of certain characters. There was Seth, for example, missing and not seen for days – most of the villagers assumed he was dead. Chris, whose shock reveal came days later, Nick, who the audience had seen blinded and wandering the moors alone looking for Archie, Mark whose watch was found before his body.
With the mix of characters in the dark and the audience left in suspense, this was a clever way of keeping the stakes high. Much like the way Emmerdale left us wondering which of the three Bypass crash characters were going to die, but on a much larger scale, perhaps future stunts shouldn’t rush to give us the whereabouts of missing and injured characters.
8. Mystery and panic
Disasters and stunts set at night always have more of a dramatic feel to them. Visibility is poor, characters get lost and confused and panicked and generally there is more danger. An aspect of the plane crash that worked successfully was the mystery involved. Only as time passed and debris emerged did the villagers even know a plane had crashed.
The characters were drip fed information through finding parts of the plane and tension was high thanks to there being blockages in the road, confusion and the power being down. It’s not every day you can crash a plane on a village, but adding more darkness and confusion to a disaster like this could be a great way of increasing tension.
9. The redemption of “bad” characters and morally grey actions
Life-changing disasters are a good way to make character reassess or have a change of heart and we’ve seen this plenty of times in modern episodes too.
During the plane crash we saw Frank Tate take charge to try and rescue the trapped and injured and he even found a dead baby – a grim detail that shook Frank to the core. The crash bought Frank and Kim back together again and managed to soften him into someone who was more than just a cold-hearted tycoon.
But the plane crash didn’t bring out the good side of everyone. Attention grabbing Lynn Whiteley tried to take the limelight and sold sob stories about the victims to the papers and bitter and estranged young mum Elsa tried to use Nick’s injuries against him in the battle for custody of their daughter. Almost every character – even those who weren’t personally involved – was plunged into a story that was related to the aftermath, or affected by the plane crash, and that’s exactly what huge stunts should be used for – maximum consequences, maximum drama
So, a plane can’t crash into the village every year, there can’t be a headline grabbing jaw-dropping explosion each October, but current Emmerdale can take the best elements of the aftermath, even in a small way to increase the impact of the stunts they do choose to run with.