In Search Of… S01E20 The Loch Ness Monster

We open on a ruined castle before the Loch, and an electronic attempt to approximate bagpipe music. Oh, yeah! Drink it in, this is the good stuff. Nimoy gives a beautiful narration over artsy close-up shots of the loch's surface. There's a particularly nice touch when we see what looks like the Monster's reflection in the water, but as the ripples clear we see that it's a swan. So good!

Loch? Discovered. Ness? Discovered. Monster? We'll get back to you,
Loch? Discovered. Ness? Discovered. Monster? We'll get back to you,

In the studio, Nimoy makes an entrance from behind a picture of a Mayan pyramid and introduces himself. I get the feeling that this was meant to be the first episode? He tells us that there were hundreds of sightings of Nessie over hundreds of years, which is a bit of a stretch. He then tells us that recently we have seen compelling evidence. Well, we'll see about that, no doubt.

Nimoy gives us a nice travelogue over some nice helicopter footage of the loch. We're told some people live here, while others come purely to see the Monster, and the point is illustrated with shots of tourists pointing cameras at the loch. There's a nice little fakeout, where we see some bubble rising to the surface, but then it turns out to be a scuba diver. Next up, some footage of various expeditions into the lake by various scientific organisations.

Now, Nimoy is narrating the story of how St Columba founded a monastery on the shores of the loch. The monastary's Father Gregory -- who seems like a nice young man -- tells the story of how a the Saint drove off a giant serpent who was attacking a man near the loch.

This story comes up a lot when discussing Nessie. Then, as usual, we jump forwards to the 1930s. No evidence of a Monster pre-St Columba, then no further evidence for a millennium. Anyway, we’re talking the 1934 'surgeon's photo', the most famous photo purporting to show Nessie. You've seen it before, so don't worry about it. There's also a nice picture showing the supposed humps of the creature from the 1950s, which I hadn't seen before. We also see a photo by an unnamed 'American scientist' which frankly just looks like a pattern of bubbles, an movie that shows some unusual ripples on the surface of the lake.

Father Gregory also tells his story of seeing Nessie. He claims to have seen a neck extending about seven feet out of the water and remaining out for some time. The friend he was with at the time was scared, but the priest tells the story in such a cheerful, matter-or-fact way that it costs it something in the way of tone.

Next up is police officer Sgt Henderson. He the requisite Scottish accent that just adds so much to Nessie anecdotes. Again, though, tells it wrong. He sounds like he's delivering evidence before a magistrate. He tells of seeing two fins which were out of the water, submerged, rose again and submerged for good.

Another gentleman, Alex Campbell who used to work on maintaining the area's salmon stocks. Now, this guy gets it. Accent, head, neck, huge humped body thirty feet long. He tells of hearing two trawlers coming towards him, and as soon as they hove into view, the creature submerged with a huge upsurge of water. And that's how you tell a Nessie story, folks.

Next up is some dramatic music, pictures of pleisiosaurs and Nimoy intoning the theory that Nessie is a modern pleisiosaur descendant. But, Nimoy says, proponents of this theory need proof.

Ted Holiday is interviewed next. He's a man with what looks like very good camera, and Nimoy tells us that he's looking for clear, sharp focused pictures of the beast. And good for him! However, his 'I saw Nessie' story involves him having left his camera behind when he was interrupted in his observations of the loch. His story involves a three humped creature moving quickly along, which submerged before he could get his camera. He tells his story in a breathless, excited manner which almost makes up for his lack of cool accent. Bonus points for 'I left my camera behind', a critical plot point for cryptid sightings.

More footage of the loch. You know what? Loch Ness is really, really pretty. I could watch footage of it for hours, as long as Nimoy was narrating. Why isn't that a show? You could do one lake an episode. Nimoy does Loch Ness, Christopher Lee does Lake Como, Morgan Freeman does Lake Ayre, Ian Mackellen does Lake Taupo... I'd watch the Hell out of that show.

Now Nimoy's telling us that many cameras would be looking at the lake that summer, including the camera from In Search Of…, which would 'capture a most exciting event.' How exciting? Most exciting!

Next up, we see a floating observation platform being set up Robert Ryans of the Academy of Applied Sciences. Ryans became interested in the hunt for Nessie after a sighting of his own. He has an appalling comb-over, but tells his story pretty well. He saw a giant hump in the water which changed direction before submerging. He and his friends took turns with telescopes to try to see it again, without success. He then recorded his own notes and those of his friends.

After Ryans comes Adrien Shine, who is looking for Nessie at Loch Morrar, near Loch Ness and where there have also been monster sightings. Shine looks like a cross between a hipster barrista and Leon Trotsky, but sounds like he's the pilot of a Lancaster bomber. He's putting television cameras in Morrar, which has clearer water than Loch Ness.

There's some nice diving footage, while someone watches the underwater camera footage in a tent. It looks like the most fun camping holiday ever.

Moving on, the sonar-and-camera based expedition of the National Geographic Society. Their people are in a dinghy, looking uncomfortable in the downdraft of the In Search Of…  helicopter. Their plan is to lure the monster to the cameras.

Now a talk about the shape of the loch, and how the glaciers that carved it might have left deep channels, where large animals might dwell. Dr Bob Ballard of the National Geographic Society talks about how he is focusing on these channels as a place the Monster might travel. He's thought things through quite a lot. Regardless of how likely their expedition is to succeed, the planning and execution of the expedition is still interesting.

The Emery Kristoff, the Nat Geo cameraman, talks about theories of what sort of creature Nessie is. He rules out mammal, and that leaves reptile, amphibian or fish.

Now, finally, things get weird. There's a comparison of the usual noise from the underwater microphones with a strange noise that they recorded, at the same time that the In Search Of… people recorded a long trail of bubbles on the surface of the loch.

To the strains of ersatz bagpipes, Nimoy proudly proclaims it the most convincing photographic evidence of Nessie that year. It’s a little underwhelming, and my guess is that the producers know, because its such a low key revelation.

Nimoy points out that there have been other lake monster sightings around the world and claims they all come from the same northern latitudes. Pretty sure that's not true. But we're past the point before it even has time to sink in, and we're talking to palaeontologist Dr Nick Hutton of the Smithsonian Institution.

He says that he doesn't think there's anything unusual in Loch Ness. But if there is, it could be giant eels, citing his colleague Dr Mackel. If (and he couldn't put more emphasis on the word 'if' if he tried) there is something in the loch, then probably it's something like that.

Back to Nimoy in the studio. He claims that there's a lot of data on the loch, and none of the researchers involved disputes the existence of a creature. The concerted search for the monster, they agree, will soon find proof of its existence.

Well, forty years later, not only has proof positive not arrived, but the lake has been far better mapped. The places where Nessie could be hiding have become fewer and fewer. And yet, many people, including trained scientist, keep on looking.

Why? What is it about Nessie that keeps people spending so much time, effort and money trying to find it when every previous expedition has failed?

I think in part it's because there's something benevolent about Nessie. There are never any stories of it attacking or killing anyone, or at least none this side of St Colomba. It's always this distant thing, huge and powerful and yet harmless. When I was a kid, Nessie was easily my favourite monster for just this reason.

Another thing is the plesiosaur theory. Well, how could you not want to see a prehistoric animal like that? It would be awesome! I mean yes, there are theories that Nessie is an amphibian or a fish, but they're just straight up unsatisfying.

However, I note that Dr Hutton rejects this idea, just as every palaeontologist I've ever heard interviewed about Nessie rejects the idea. People who would give their right hand to see a real live plesiosaur shrug at the idea of Nessie and go 'nah'.

Now, I don't believe in the Monster, but by I absolutely understand how someone could have back in the 1970s. Before decades of sonar surveys, before the rise of the camera phone meant that the odds of a daytime sighting going unrecorded faded into virtually nothing. And honestly, its kind of a pity that we never did find the thing. Could you imagine anything cooler?

Quotes

Nimoy: "Scientists by the expeditionful roam the lake."

I just like the imagery of this one.

Nimoy: "The murky waters have hidden a persistent and puzzling tale for 1400 years. The lake is called Loch Ness."

Doesn't look like much on paper, but try imagining Nimoy''s voice when you read it.

Summing up: Subject matter: 10/10, Nimoyness: 9/10, Electronic bagpipes: 8/10, Prettiness of loch: 9/10, Missing camera: 8/10. Overall: 44/50. High Distinction.

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