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A series of historical documentaries originally broadcast on BBC Two, but more recently airing on BBC Four.

Genres: History
Station: BBC Four (UK)
Rating: 0/10 from 0 users
Status: Running
Start: 1982-09-29

Timewatch Air Dates


S2017E01 - Decoding Disaster Air Date: 13 July 2017 21:00 -

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From earthquakes to tsunamis to volcanic eruptions, natural disasters are both terrifying and fascinating - providing endless fresh material for documentary makers. But how well do disaster documentaries keep pace with the scientific theories that advance every day?

To try and answer that question, Professor Danielle George is plunging into five decades of BBC archive. What she uncovers provides an extraordinary insight into one of the fastest moving branches of knowledge. From the legendary loss of Atlantis to the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, Danielle reveals how film-makers have changed their approach again and again in the light of new scientific theories.

While we rarely associate Britain with major natural disaster, at the end of the programme Danielle brings us close to home, exploring programmes which suggest that 400 years ago Britain was hit by a tidal wave that killed hundreds of people, and that an even bigger tsunami could threaten us again.


S2017E02 - The Vikings: Foe or Friend? Air Date: 18 July 2017 21:00 -

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On June 8th 793 Europe changed, forever. The famous monastery at Lindisfarne on the Northumbrian coast was suddenly attacked and looted by seafaring Scandinavians. The Viking Age had begun.

Professor Alice Roberts examines how dramatically the story of the Vikings has changed on TV since the 1960s. She investigates how our focus has shifted from viewing them as brutal, pagan barbarians to pioneering traders, able to integrate into multiple cultures. We also discover that without their naval technology we would never have heard of the Vikings, how their huge trading empire spread, and their surprising legacy in the modern world.


S2017E03 - Dictators and Despots Air Date: 25 July 2017 21:00 -

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In recent years the world has become an unsettling place, from the mass movements of refugees to political upheaval, both in this country and abroad.

Disturbingly, history shows that it's at unsettled times like this that dictators can rise - leaders who promise they can solve every problem, if only they're granted supreme power.

David Olusoga examines fifty years of BBC documentary archives to try and discover why dictators can have such a powerful appeal.

David uncovers the surprising optimism felt by the West towards men like Gaddafi and Mugabe early in their regimes, and examines the events that turned this optimism into horror. He questions why such men continue to fascinate us regardless of their actions, and asks whether, especially in an age of mass media, our fascination has fed their power.


S2017E04 - Explorers: Conquest and Calamity Air Date: 01 August 2017 21:00 -

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For centuries the story of exploration has been packed with incredible tales of adventure, but the last fifty years has seen a dramatic shift in our attitude towards explorers.

To find out how television has reflected this, Prof Fara Dabhoiwala delves into the BBC television archives, revealing that the pace of this change was faster than you would imagine. In the 1960s the BBC was still making programmes showing Christopher Columbus as an uncomplicated conquering hero. Barely a decade later, it made a documentary that delved into museum storerooms packed with artifacts brought back to Britain by Captain Cook, focusing on the perspective of the explored rather than the explorer.

As the story of exploration became as much about social calamity as conquest, television has been forced to find new ways to portray explorers. By the 21st century this included everything from focusing on adventurers like Ernest Shackleton, famous not for conquest but for saving the lives of his men, to using new technology to demystify exploration by making programmes from material shot by the explorers themselves.



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