From left to right: Prof Gregory Parton (Hugh Bonneville), Dr Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham), Dr Ben Ergha (Adrian Lester) and Viv Davis (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)
|Created by||Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||6|
|Original channel||BBC One|
|Original release||8 July 2008 – 12 August 2008|
It was written by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. It was produced by Michele Buck and Damien Timmer of Mammoth Screen Ltd and co-produced with Monastic Productions. Archaeologist and Bristol University academic Mark Horton acted as the series' archaeological consultant. Adrian Lester has described the programme as "CSI meets Indiana Jones [...] There's an element of the crime procedural show, there's science, conspiracy theories—and there's a big underlying mystery that goes through the whole six-episode series."
Much of the series was filmed in the City of Bath, Somerset, with locations including the University of Bath campus (which does not offer Archaeology courses). Additional locations included Brean Down Fort and Kings Weston House (both for episode 2), Chavenage House for episodes 5 & 6 and Sheldon Manor.
- Dr Gillian Magwilde – the team's head archaeologist, played by Julie Graham. Magwilde, a powerful, confident women is not afraid to take charge. When it comes to her relationship with the team she is less domineering, and goes with her instincts. Her attitude to Viv is a little waspish but as time progresses, it is obvious that she sees a lot of herself in Viv which is why she pushes her so hard.
- Vivienne "Viv" Davis – young and promising archaeologist played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Her eagerness to work and learn always seem to be checked by Dr Magwilde. Her potential is flourishing and her capabilities are equal to any of her teammates. The only thing holding her back is experience, the one thing that she is forced to gain fast.
- Dr Ben Ergha – played by Adrian Lester is a main character. Ergha is a young, established archaeologist in the group. He is more welcoming of Viv to the group, compared to the others he is the only one prepared to help her fit in. As a prominent character, much of the plot is seen through his eyes.
- Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton – the experienced and older male archaeologist played by Hugh Bonneville. Parton is the voice of wisdom and insight. At times he keeps to himself while working away, but gets involved when needed. Parton is highly respected, laid-back and valued member of the team who will step in to focus the group in important situations.
- Professor Daniel Mastiff – played by Michael Maloney.
|#||Title||Writer||Director||Guest actors||UK air date||Viewers|
|01||"Army of God"||Matthew Graham||James Strong||Paul Rhys, Paul Nicholls||8 July 2008||6.99m|
|Developers discover an Arab coin (dirhem) on ground marked for a housing development. The archaeological team find this mysterious as the site is a very long way from the Crusades. The subsequent adventure involves modern Knights Templar, a fanatically racist Christian evangelist and the True Cross.|
|02||"Warriors"||Ashley Pharoah||James Strong||Benjamin Whitrow, William Hope, Eamonn Walker,
Doreen Mantle, Frances Tomelty
|15 July 2008||5.23m|
|When the bodies of presumed slaves are found in the Bristol Channel, matters take a turn for the worse for the team as they encounter a conspiracy involving Maroons, the Siege of Yorktown and a man intending to be the first black President of America.|
|03||"The Eternal Fire"||Matthew Graham||Sarah O'Gorman||Shauna Macdonald||22 July 2008||4.67m|
|After tremors can be felt through an ancient Roman Bath site, the team go to check what is causing it. This leads to the discovery of the true arsonist, responsible for the Great Fire of Rome, and to a love affair concerning Boudica herself.|
|04||"The Cradle of Civilisation"||Matthew Graham||James Strong||Silas Carson, Darrell D'Silva, Vicky Hall, Matt Rippy, David Ryall, Nina Sosanya, Frances Tomelty||29 July 2008||4.25m|
|Kahmil Hammadi, an Iraqi archaeologist and Gillian's former love interest, arrives in Bath with a cultural delegation to reclaim a Babylonian relic looted during the Iraq war. Gillian is suspicious of Hammadi, believing he has a different reason for visiting, and her suspicions are further aroused when an antiquities dealer is found murdered. |
|05||"The Lines Of War"||Tom MacRae||Nick Hurran||James D'Arcy, Burn Gorman, Adam James, Patrick Monckeberg, Gabrielle Scharnitzky, Philippe Smolikowski, Sam Spiegel, Frances Tomelty||5 August 2008||3.94m|
|A British First World War tank containing the burnt remains of six bodies is uncovered in France, as the team of archaeologists uncover another compelling mystery. The tank has been buried since 1917 and the discovery ignites an international archaeological feud between Professor Gillian Magwilde and her German counterpart, Dr Becker, while bureaucratic French official Monsieur Luc struggles to remain neutral. |
|06||"Follow the Gleam"||Matthew Graham||Iain B. MacDonald||Jeremy Bulloch, Dexter Fletcher, Tobias Menzies, Vicky Hall, Frances Tomelty, Rick Warden, David Oakes||12 August 2008||4.38m|
|Professor Gillian Magwilde risks her reputation, friendships and even her life on a quest for her deepest obsession, Excalibur, the greatest sword in history, in the final episode of the series. This obsession is steeped in Arthurian legend and the poetry of Tennyson, and it drove Gillian's mother, Karen, mad. Now Gillian needs to end this quest. She must come to terms with her relationship with Viv and the mysterious man who has been trying to contact her, Henry Timberdyne. |
According to unofficial figures, the first episode of the series was watched by 6.8 million viewers, achieving a 31% audience share. This fell to 5.2 million viewers with a 24.3% share in the second week, and 4.6 million with a 21% share in the third. And week four fell again to 4.2 million, a 20% share. Week five dropped to 3.8 million. The final episode saw a slight increase in viewers to 4.3 million.
First night reviews
The series debuted to broadly negative reviews. The Guardian's Gareth McLean described the show as "mind-bogglingly dreadful", with "lame characters delivering abysmal lines", David Chater of The Times thought it "rubbish", and The Independent's Thomas Sutcliffe found it laughable and full of absurdities, while also observing that "Professor Magwilde's approach to archaeology is unconventional. She likes to squat at the edge of the trench and mutter urgently, 'Come on! Give up your secrets!'" In BBC Two's Newsnight Review, the author Kate Mosse asserted it would be "great for teenagers", while the academic and critic Sarah Churchwell said the "execution [was] appalling" and that it was "beyond silly"; John Mullan likewise criticised the show's absurdities, saying that "Hokum has to have its own logic". The New Statesman described it as "dramatic goo". Some reviews were slightly more positive - Patricia Wynn Davies of The Telegraph wrote that while lacking in subtlety, the episode had an "action-packed conclusion", and Lucy Mangan in the Guardian criticised the episode as "arrant nonsense" and "a clattering bag of madness" and found its characters too "shouty", but praised Paul Rhys and overall concluded that the episode was "utterly bonkers but curiously satisfying" and that, as for the series, "keeping the faith for a few more weeks might well pay off".
By the end of the series several newspapers were giving it muted praise of the "enjoyable hokum" type.
In line with the broadly negative reviews, the reception amongst the academic community was mixed, with different complaints around technical accuracy. Mark Horton, the academic advisor to the script, answered criticisms on the BRITARCH e-mail list.
A scene in the first episode which depicted a Muslim's beheading by an extremist Christian drew 100 complaints. The BBC expressed "regret" that some viewers had found the scene "inappropriate", but defended the decision to show it.
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