Tag Archives: bbc

The Normans – documentary by Robert Bartlett

A salutary trend in the BBC’s documentary programming is the production of intense, interesting, 3-part documentaries by the actual experts in the fields — such as Mary Beard’s excellent Meet the Romans and Thomas Asbridge’s The Crusades (no DVD, here’s the book). The first of these that I encountered was The Normans by Professor Robert Bartlett, Wardlaw Professor of Mediaeval History at St Andrews. When it was broadcast, I only caught the second episode, so I happily purchased the DVDs when they became available.

Most people really only know the Normans as the Frenchified Vikings who conquered England in 1066. Bartlett brings us into contact with them from France to the British Isles, from Italy to Sicily and the Holy Land — showing us not just their battles and politics but their art and piety as well. An expansionist power, the Normans were also great promoters of the arts, as Bartlett demonstrates — especially in the final episode.

The first episode of this documentary is called ‘Men from the North’. In this episode we learn of the origins of the Normans and their acquisition of Normandy in the tenth century. This episode takes us from Rollo to William ‘the Bastard’ (or Conqueror) in 1066. We see the ambitions of the early Normans, like Rollo, and their consolidation of power in the North of France, essentially independent of the French King.

We also meet Norman Romanesque architecture, elegantly displayed in buildings such as Mont St-Michel. A picture of architecture goes well beyond 1000 words attempting to describe it:

Episode two is ‘Conquest’ — 1066 and beyond. The details of the events leading to William’s conquest of the powerful and wealthy kingdom of England in 1066 are set forth for us, but the story doesn’t stop there (as it does in so many minds). The viewer is brought into contact with the Harrowing of the North, which subdued Saxon nobles who would not submit to William and ended with the Conqueror (or Bastard) feasting in the ruins of Yorkminster dressed in his full regalia, sent up from Westminster.

But conquest in the North did not end there. The Normans pressed westwards into Wales, and thence into Ireland. The local nobles resisted the Normans for centuries, but their eventual absorption into England’s domain demonstrates the forcefulness of the ambition and activity of the Norman kings and their successors, the Plantagenets (who are the subject of Bartlett’s next documentary series; also excellent — not on DVD yet). The Kingdom of the Scots did the best of Norman England’s neighbours — Malcolm III ‘Canmore’ (yes, from Shakespeare’s Scottish play) was clever enough to secure the fealty of Norman knights by making them into his own vassals instead of the Bastard’s successors.

The third episode, which I watched this morning, is ‘Normans of the South’. Here the story begins in the early 11th century with Norman mercenaries in Southern Italy. These men eventual become the major power of Apulia and Calabria, warring against the Byzantine Empire that still ruled in much of Greek Italy — and even against Leo IX, the first pope to take arms. From southern Italy, the Normans expanded to Muslim Sicily. The first King of Sicily, Roger II, made Palermo a centre of culture and exploited Sicily’s position as a crossroads of the three great Mediterranean cultures of Greek Christians, Latin Christians, and Arabic Muslims. His royal chapel looks like this:

The Normans of the South also participated in the Crusades — Bohemond (an enemy of the Byzantines they were meant to be assisting) established his own independent duchy of Antioch, while his more pious nephew Tancred was the first nobleman to enter Jerusalem and became Prince of Galilee. Duke Robert of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror, also came on Crusade, reminding us that the Crusaders were not all landless younger sons.

The DVD set also came with a doc called ‘Domesday’. I’ve not viewed it yet, but it claims to be awesome. Anyway, this was an excellent documentary series, and I recommend it to you highly.

The Development of the Doctor (Who) [there will be spoilers!]

We’d better keep an eye on him [the Doctor], he seems to have a knack for getting into trouble.
Ian Chesterton, companion of the Doctor, in Series 1, 1963

In ‘The Name of the Doctor’, the series finale for this, the seventh series of the rebooted Doctor Who, Matt Smith (Eleven) says that the name he chose, ‘Doctor’, was meant to be a reflection of who he wished to be, how he wished to act in his adventures in Time And Relative Dimension In Space (TARDIS). And there was a time when he acted out of keeping with the name of Doctor —

the Time War, when he destroyed the homeworlds and species of both the Time Lords and the Daleks.

But, wait? Is this what Doctor has always meant to our centuries-old Time Lord?

The answer must be no.

If we turn back to Classic Who, we realise that the Time War is not the only moment when the Doctor has acted unlike a physician (the dangerous sense of the word doctor in today’s English). We need look no further than the very first serial of 1963 to see the Doctor trying to kill a caveman with a rock.

Many will dismiss this, saying that they didn’t really know what they were doing with the show back in 1963. This is true. And this is an easy out for a lot of inconsistencies.* Nonetheless, we can’t actually escape so quickly.

What about ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (Series 12 [classic])? You know, that time when Four (Tom Baker) tries to kill every Dalek before Davros can finish genetically engineering them? That is, when the Doctor wilfully attempted genocide?

What makes Tom Baker’s failed genocide so different from …

ACTUAL SPOILER NOW. (Classic Who references don’t really count.)


… no, not the Master …


… John Hurt, as the actual Nine, when he succeeded at genocide? Because he committed a double genocide?

Nonetheless, in general, the Doctor is not a genocidal maniac. And we must admit that the President of Gallifrey was involved in sending Four to obliterate all the Daleks. So it’s not really the same as the Doctor of his own volition killing all the Daleks and trapping the Time Lords in the Time Vortex.

Back to One (William Hartnell). If One was around four hundred years old (it’s really hard to tell; the Tardis Data Core leaves me baffled as to how old the Doctor was in 1963) when we met him, and if this is something of an adolescent age for a Time Lord, AND if he had been in that first regeneration a bit too long, perhaps we can understand why he is how he is in 1963. He is both too old and too young.

So he is a trickster, a manipulator, a pompous man, the sort of person who is willing to abandon others in danger, the sort of man who trusts no one. But he regenerates, and becomes both younger and older, time and again, until, when he’s over 900, he’s the youngest we’ve seen him yet. He’s also spent a lot of time at Earth.

And perhaps this is what makes the Doctor change — his contact with Earth and humans. He goes from a pompous Time Lord (as many of them can be — indeed, we need not even consider the Master, when the President of Gallifrey himself intended to take over the entire universe during the Time War) to someone a bit more like us, with two hearts beating out of love for a young species still finding its way in the ‘verse.

If this makes sense, my theory (in sum) is that the Doctor has matured with time and through regenerations. He began not as a physician doctor but as a science doctor, but has found that the former suits his role in the cosmos — especially as the last (known) Time Lord — much better.

*How does Skaro exist again? Where did all the Daleks in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ come from?  Why didn’t reapers emerge in Series 6 (reboot) when the Doctor’s alleged death was averted, the way they did in the Series 1 (reboot) episode ‘Father’s Day’? How can so many other people time travel? According to ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ (Series 14 [classic]) and ‘The Two Doctors’ (Series 22 [classic]) it is very difficult to achieve and highly dangerous. I could go on; others could go on further …

Windy Edinburgh

Me, My hat, and Sir Walter Scott

I am a wearer of a hat.* My hat is a black felt cap with the added feature of ear flaps that can fold down if needed. I think this hat is awesome. The only trouble with wearing a hat in Edinburgh is that, well, Edinburgh is windy.

On Tuesday this week, for example, I was crossing Princes Street at North Bridge (meaningless if you don’t know the city, but whatever; google it). As I crossed, the wind grabbed my hat and tossed it into the middle of the intersection (if it wasn’t the wind, it was a fairy, goblin, or gremlin).

North Bridge hits Princes Street as a T-intersection at a statue of the Duke of Wellington. We pedestrians were allowed to cross because the cars turning right (like a left in most of the civilised world) had a green. My hat landed approximately three feet from the outside edge of the turning cars.

I watched as they all drove past my hat. Determining that no car would hit either me or the hat I approached the hat. Then I waited until a bus was turning and grabbed the hat while the bus was beside it. I carried my hat until I was across North Bridge and on the Royal Mile.

This was not an isolated incident. One time, my hat was snatched by the wind, and I turned to see it descending from at least a metre or a metre and a half above my head. Thankfully it landed on the pavement (sidewalk). Another time, at the intersection of Lothian Road and Fountainbridge, the fences that the city erected along Lothian caught my hat before it could be blown into traffic.

My hat is not the only victim of these winds, however.

I used to own an umbrella. A good, sturdy £16 umbrella. Bought it at Boots when we first arrived.** It was a rainy, windy September day, and I was on my way to study, so I had to go up Granny’s Green Steps. These (as in this photo) are a very steep flight of stairs that go right up the side of the craggy, extinct-volcano-hill-thing upon which the castle stands. In order to keep the rain from soaking me and the wind from snatching away the umbrella, I angled my umbrella into the wind as I mounted the steps.

And then the spokes that go out from the stick in the middle (I know nothing of umbrella parts), the ones that hold the umbrella open (yeah, those ones) — half of them collapsed. They bent the wrong way.

Most people get their umbrellas destroyed by the wind turning them inside not, not the wind collapsing and imploding them. But I am not most people, and the high-speed, North-Sea winds that blow into Edinburgh are not normal winds.

These winds are cold and, as you can see from the above, strong. So the BBC will tell you that it’s going to be 10 above. Great! That’s balmy for many Canadians. Aye, but then there’s that wind, eh? Cold, bitter, driving, cutting through everything but wool. Lots of wool.

No wonder Scots raise so many sheep.

So if you ever come to Edinburgh, come equipped for the wind and leave behind your umbrella.

*Not a wearer of hats given that I wear only one.

**Maybe my problem is buying umbrellas at drug stores; I dunno.