Review: Alton Towers – A Rollercoaster Year

Wicker Man, Alton Towers
2.5 star review

It is the latest behind-the-scenes look at a theme park, but Alton Towers: A Rollercoaster Year is based around what only something in 2020 can be.

This Channel 4 documentary, bundled into a late-night 10:15 pm slot, centres around the effect of COVID-19 on the park’s operations.

Alton Towers was prevented from beginning its season in mid-March due to the government imposed restrictions around the coronavirus.

A Rollercoaster Year sees the park receive the go-ahead to open in early July, with less than two weeks notice to get everything ready.

There is a slightly overemotional introductory music with edited speech segments from staff used to present a gloomy backdrop.

We soon meet the staff on camera, with many having worked at Alton Towers for many years. They genuinely appear to love their job, including Tom in particular, who can’t imagine working anywhere else.

The documentary’s official synopsis describes it as a “warm and insightful” look into Alton Towers, while the park’s media representatives described it as a “risk” to let the cameras in.

In reality however, A Rollercoaster Year reveals very little that is controversial, but for the non-enthusiast some of the issues with operating rollercoasters would possibly be of interest.

Admissions manager Tansy is seen telling off both staff and guests for not social distancing, in what is probably the programme’s only moments that don’t seem doctored or polished in some way.

The documentary frequently implies that the park’s very existence depends on a successful reopening. This might have been fitting for a small independent theme park, but Alton Towers is owned by a private billionaire company and its future as a result of COVID-19 has never seriously been in doubt.

A great moment is where we meet Will, who has been recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He’s delighted to be back at the park for his weekly visits accompanied by his mum.

We do gain some insights – the park has eight gardeners, up to 40 wasps nests discovered a season, and the capacity at re-opening was a mere 4,000 guests versus the usual 28,000.

On balance, A Rollercoaster Year is slightly skewed to the sensational and exaggeration, but it’s done not altogether interesting way. The late-night slot was probably justified.