Without Limits: Vietnam review – six disabled people tackle Southeast Asia in this epic travelogue

This 900-mile journey along the Ho Chi Minh trail shows its protagonists are more than a homogenous group. Plus: Love Island meets Gladiator in Bromans

Without Limits: Vietnam (BBC1) is a programme about six people with physical disabilities embarking on a 900 mile journey, which gives the lie to the idea that disabled people are or should be treated in any way as a homogenous group. Vicky lost her leg two years ago in a rollercoaster accident, and the shock of it has been as much a life-changer as having a leg amputated. Charlie, set for life as a rugby pro until he broke his leg so badly he chose to have part of it amputated to free him from continued pain, feels “like a fraud” for leading a relatively unaffected life. Lou faces the complications that come from having an “invisible” disability – a degenerative condition that’s making her increasingly deaf. Steve is a wheelchair user paralysed from the chest down since he broke his neck in a fall. His main worry is “being the weak link in the group.” Pride, dignity and the conventions of masculinity are a complicated set of factors in constant negotiation. “You never want to coddle him,” says Charlie as they contemplate the challenge of crossing a particularly mountainous area, inaccessible by any vehicle, for which Steve will need the greatest help. “It’s a difficult dynamic, because someone like that doesn’t want help from someone like me.” Biker Andy lost his arm in a work accident, but it is the phantom limb pain that most constrains him. “It never stops,” he says, lying back despairingly after an acute attack. “It never leaves me.” Mary has dwarfism, though she identifies depression as her main problem in life, and at first feels alienated from the group because she has not been through a life-changing event: “I don’t know any different. I’m just living how I was born”.

As they travel the Ho Chi Minh trail, it becomes clear that - as campaigners have been trying to explain for years – that much of what we call disability is socially constructed. In a mildly modified jeep, it doesn’t matter how many working limbs drivers Steve or Vicky have. It only matters that reading directions is not Mary’s strong suit. It is the steps that slow Steve’s progress down to the river. If there had been a ramp, he’d have been faster than the rest of them. Strangers’ stares are a function of ignorance – again, an alterable state – while a frank inspection by children early on is a result of simple curiosity. Once they have understood what’s going on, they invite Mary to share one of their bikes, because she is the same size as them.

These points are never pushed, nor is the evident bravery of the group. Instead, their backstories are parcelled out gradually as the travelogue unfolds. It is altogether a rather beautiful, respectful and moving thing.

Without Limits: Vietnam BBC1
Without Limits: Vietnam BBC1 Photograph: John Livesey/BBC/John Livesey

Elsewhere, Bromans (ITV2) is not. Bromans is loud, stupid and potentially – if it dials down just slightly on the slo-mo shots of girlfriends running in their … uh, Roman bikinis – my new favourite thing. The premise is as simple as the participants, and the participants are very simple indeed. Eight “lads”, as they are referred to throughout, have signed up for a reality game show set in a mocked-up coliseum, in which the boys try to ape gladiators and their girlfriends cheer them on, and are occasionally used as ballast in chariot races. It is impossible to distinguish between them; they are sixteen permatanned, hairless bodies that look to have been moulded by Zeus himself. They have names but I have forgotten most of them. As best I recall, the girls are Chanterelle, Spotify, Labia, Babe, Babes, Hun, Epoxy and Joan. To keep track of the men I had to resort to simple labels; there’s the beefy one, beefier one, little one, Welsh one, tattooed one, posh one, northern one and another one.

They pull stuff through sand, get drunk, lose their pants, and wonder what life would have been like in the days of ancient Rome. “I’ve never lived that far back” says one of the guys. “I’ve only seen lampposts and pavements” “Did they have electric?” muses Labia. “No,” says Epoxy who, much like the sisters of Greek myth who passed their single shared tooth and eye back and forth, must have shared possession of the team’s single brain cell. “Wifi, though?” replies Labia.

“It’s like poetry, isn’t it?” says their dominus, played with increasing confidence by actor and comedian Tom Bell. “I can hear them on the wind.” I can hear Russell Maximus Crowe roaring. Are you not entertained? I certainly am. See you next week, Babes. See you next week.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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