I’ve been an avid admirer of Channel 4’s popular archaeology series Time Team for several years now. It’s an unlikely form of escapism, watching academics trowel through centuries of muck to reveal ancient treasures.
But unlike most mainstream TV Time Team was intellectually engaging. I’ve long suspected that some people would find it unbearably dull, but the Time Team crew felt like a bunch of mates… The kind of people you wouldn’t mind inviting around for tea. Or, given the disproportionate number of beards and sandals on display, a few jars.
Imagine my chagrin then, after tuning into Series 19 (after a winter of heavy anticipation) and discovering that it’s utter crap. At first I thought it was just me, but three episodes in I knew something was badly wrong.
Where was Professor Mick Aston, that distinguished poncer-abouter in brightly coloured jumpers and mock Medieval head-gear? Oh dear… It turns out that Mick walked off in a strop after Channel 4 decided to reboot the series, axing many of the archaeologists and hiring Mary-Ann Ochota to co-host the show, alongside Tony ‘I’ve-moved-on-from-being-Baldrick’ Robinson.
Actually Mick does appear in Series 19 from time to time… But not much so far.
Now, I think Ms Ochota is very intelligent and obviously knows her onions; but she is also young, attractive and has been cynically deployed, ‘To replace some of those geeky older people who are turning the show into a drag.’ That’s the subtext to the whole thing, and I’m surprised at just how peeved it’s made me feel. I fear Time Team has been dumbed down.
Time Team is a long-running series and, while I know change is inevitable, this is the wrong kind of change. I enjoyed learning about how archaeologists forensically piece together the past from available evidence. I found the whole thing the perfect antidote to the endless dross which TV channels churn out for their apparently dopey viewers. Eastenders? Britain’s Got Talent? Shove off!
All that muck-sifting and revealing the many-layered past has given way to a theme park approach. During the last episode – a dig at Caerleon in Wales – a team member ended up dressed as a Roman soldier, running around waving a little wooden sword. I don’t mind a bit of that, but where was any real information about the actual dig? There was a little, but it was seriously marred by too much pratting around. I switched it off. I never do that…
I complained to Channel 4 and they said, ‘Not everyone is going to be happy with changes,’ making me sound like an antediluvian fogey. Change I can take – the denigration of what was once good and appealing, I can’t.
Much to Mary-Ann Ochota’s credit she’s quitting the show over Mickgate and won’t appear in Series 20. I shall miss Mick Aston; I don’t meet people like that here at home. Old he may be, but I found him somewhat interesting. And of course Phil Harding! We all love Phil…
>>This blog post<< says it better than I could.