Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week review – BBC2 proves it’s just not tough enough

These are some of the deadliest Special Forces in the world – but making sense of this new reality series is laughably difficult

In the mountains of Wales, 29 of the fittest men and women in Britain are shaking in their civvies. They’re about to be put through basic training by six of the nastiest special forces units in the world, from our Embassy-storming SAS to those go-to video game baddies, the Spetsnaz from Russia.


First up though, our brave recruits are placed in the hands of Ray Care and Woodie Mister.

They might sound like they should be running a yoga retreat, but don’t be fooled: these former US Navy Seals are properly unpleasant, taking delight in sharing their knuckle-dragging doctrine with the cameras.

Care stares placidly, going through the reasons why women aren’t man enough for him. “Like I’ve told women before: stay in your lane.”

(Female) Recruit Miller, the group’s assigned leader and clearly the coolest recruit in camp, has the right idea: “I just hope that during this contest I might learn some fighting skills so I can kick them in the right place.”

She’s not the only one wanting to give Ray ‘Care Bear’ a good kicking. Recruit Brooks is quite put out at finding he has become property of the US military: “Nothing too physically demanding. Just the arduous task of having to put up with Americans for the next 48 hours,” he chuffs. Presumably he would prefer the cosy liberalism of Israel’s counter-terrorism force the Yamam? Don’t worry, that comes later.

Sadly, Brooks proves a bit of a lightweight, calling it quits almost before sundown. All the rest at least survive until the ludicrous beasting known as ‘Breakout’, where the green recruits are woken at one in the morning to the sound of grenades and gunfire and hassled into freezing paddling pools. Takeshi’s Castle in pyjamas, basically.

From here it’s off to Rhossili Bay, a beautiful stretch of coastline in south Wales made miserable by Care’s habit of screaming pagan rituals into a megaphone.

“We’re going to PAY RESPECTS to the OCEAN until the SUN GOES DOWN TONIGHT,” he incants. “LINK ARMS.”

Off they go down the sand dunes, flopping fully clothed into the surf like a family of Edwardian seaside holidaymakers. “I’ve never been this cold in my life,” chatters one recruit. Should have gone to Gower instead of Greece for your holidays then.

If this sounds an overly flippant way of talking about a horrible 48 hours, it’s only because this programme makes ‘feeling the pain’ laughably difficult. Former cricketer Freddie Flintoff has been enrolled to act as presenter/mentor, and every now and then gently pats recruits on the shoulder, like a militarised upgrade of Sue Perkins on Bake Off.

“It’s brutal in’t it?” Yes Freddie, it is. Where’s a pedalo when you need one?

Some recruits shine while others fall by the wayside. Miller sticks everyday sexism in the eye, and Care Bear and Woodie nod with cyborg satisfaction after “breaking” these flabby humans. Job done.

But, because this is well-fed, well-rested BBC2, shouldn’t we be working a bit harder? Couldn’t we at least raise an eyebrow at the fact that psychological torture is a basic requirement for the deadliest fighting forces in the world?

Instead, this feels like a BBC2 executive trying to work out how to deal with a soon-to-be post-BBC3 age, where the channel will once again have to serve everyone from Carol Klein flower fanciers to wannabe Snog Marry Avoid POD-sters. This is the type of thing the kids will want, right?

Wrong. Look again at BBC3’s astounding Our War, which we assumed had dispelled the myth of unquestioning He-Man militarism for good. Clearly not.

The way armies turn civvies into soldiers is continually fascinating, but that’s asking too much of Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week.


For some it will be sadistic, sandy, soggy, sexist, sapping fun, but is it tough enough? Hell no.