Time Team Digs - A History of Britain Review
Channel 4's long-running Time Team is probably the UK's most watched history programme. Each week millions of viewers tune in to watch Tony Robinson and the rest of the 'Time Team' investigate archaeological sites around the UK. Each dig has a strict 3-day time limit to uncover and piece together as much evidence as possible and to build a picture of the people living in Britain through the last 6000 years and it works well. What could be a very dry subject is given a much more accessible format with a tight core team of experienced archaeologists working against the clock.
Even the most mundane digs are given an extra dimension as we're taken through the highs and lows - some digs start out well with hundreds of finds and then peter out with little conclusion while other digs may throw up only a few pottery fragments yet still manage to build a rich picture of a thriving pre-historic culture. And, that's by far one of the most appealing aspects of Time Team as a series - it's wonderful to be taken on a journey that starts with a seemingly plain field, and ends up with solid proof that it once was home to a Roman town or Bronze age monument. Unfortunately, it's also the one thing that this new DVD release lacks.
Time Team Digs - A History of Britain attempts to show a full chronological history of life in the UK starting in the Bronze and Neolithic age right up to Medieval times - and it does that very well. Each of the eight episodes takes a different epoch and using the finds of Time Team digs produces a brief outline of life at the time. However, we lose the sense of discovery that makes the television show what it is - instead of revealing a hidden past, each episode here just goes through the motions of presenting a number of finds and digs and runs through them at break-neck speed. There's no sense of anticipation.
Where this release does excel is to provide a concise breakdown of the history of the UK and to then show through the finds some of the items used through time. It's a good primer and would be well suited as an introduction to history in a school, but as home entertainment, I'd much rather tune in to see the team produce some meaningless blobs through Geophysics and then try to make sense of them, or see Phil Harding lose his rag when one of the TV crew steps into a newly cleaned trench - it's the roughness of the show that gives it it's charm. Also, while we're used to seeing Tony Robinson learn about archaeology as we do through the digs, here he's solely presenting the facts from previous programmes and is far drier as a result.
Still, it's still an interesting eight hours and will definitely appeal to fans of the series.
The DVD Presentation
The picture is 1.77:1 and has been given the obligatory anamorphic transfer. The DVD exhibits varying degrees of quality depending on the age of the material and the change to digital video of the later clips is quite a contrast to the slightly grainy analogue of the earlier segments. The DVD transfer is faithful to the television broadcasts with no sign of unnecessary image manipulation.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is functional but entirely un-noteworthy. The best thing I can say is it's accurate to the original broadcasts, but there's never any need for it to be more than that.
Each disc starts with an introduction by Mick Aston - these are only short snippets with him in his library wearing his familiar striped jumper (someone should really give him some wardrobe advice!). They're nice introductions to the discs, but hold no really valuable content.
In addition, the set also apparently features the full 1997 and 1999 Christmas specials, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the series and an interview with Tony Robinson.
We have not seen these features yet so are unable to include further information in this review. The rating to the right is a judgement call given the type and quantity of extra material on the discs.
Time Team Digs - A History of Britain is an interesting, if somewhat flawed release. As a quick tour through Britain's forgotten past it works well, the clip format really loses a lot of the charm of the television series. The DVD release is worthwhile with good presentation but the lack of extras is a bit of a shame.
I'm still holding out hope for a full series-by-series or best-of release some time in the future.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:50:43