Small Screen Surfin'

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Small Screen Surfer by Wotchit

They say nothing good ever comes out of war. Well, they never say who 'they' are either
because most wars fought with a just cause create either technological or moral advancement.
Thanks to1
the Second World War, Japan became the technological super-power she is today and we got
rid of a few evil people in the process. If it wasn't for war, Star Wars would be a minor
spat, nobody would be asking 'What is the Matrix?', and those at Helm's
Deep2 would be wondering why they
hadn't invented umbrellas. My point of course leads to this week's *cough* review: BBC
2's 'Time Commanders'!

Starting with the gist, 'Time Commanders' has a re-enactment group come into the studio
whereby they play the role of general over an army of computer characters to see if they
can better or win historic battles from the past depending on whom they are assuming the
role of.

It was the BBCi homepage showing a picture of a battle march that grabbed my interest
and so put the show on but initial interest dropped as soon as the presenter started talking.
The way he spoke and sounded was as if it was going to be another history documentary but
that was not the case. There are some historical descriptions but these are presented in a
tone more tolerable for the average layman.

Split into two halves, the first 30 minutes concentrates on the four members of the public
deciding which two are generals and which are lieutenants, then (through two operators who
seem to be playing a PC game...) the Lt.s scout the battle layout, looking at the enemy's
position while relaying the co-ordinates back to the Gen.s whom place their own/enemy's
troops on a map and devise a strategy based on they think they could win. The catch is that
the generals have to believe the Lt.s have provided them with the correct positions as well as
that they have made enough notes on the pre-battle information. Romans have a different
style of fighting to the Celts for instance. Plus two resident experts (a Briton and an
American) are on hand to commentate and give insight into the team's strengths/weaknesses
and provide historical data. This would seem dull but they have such enthusiasm that it's

In the Roman/Celt example, a team member suggests during battle that they (the Romans,
overwhelmed by Celtic numbers) should be in a line ala Ben Hur. The expert in
weapons (the other in warfare) is quick to point out to us, not the team, that idea would be
perfect to use... if they had muskets. Something very hard to come by in 60BC.

The second half is the battle. This is the time that the team see if they have the right
idea. The sight of soldiers marching forward on the screen is impressive, especially by
numbers (think the attack on Helm's Deep) which would not have the same effect if
live-action. The show portrays each soldier as a sentient being capable of independent
thought. This is quite clearly not the case but does add the necessary level of realism that
suggests history could be changed!

The battle's finale is a let-down with a computer voice, however. Being thrown from 60BC
to 2003 is not good for the imagination! A minor detail. The experts then pop down to the
team to show how the battle was run in believed history while telling them how their strategy
was good, bad or the same compared to how it was really fought out.

An enjoyable romp in the right Thursday slot. Unless you're interested in the historical
aspect, it does appear to be one for the boys. A quality programme that has been well
thought out, something that is rare today, even if you're only interested in seeing the team
members blaming losses and mistakes on each other! 'Tis something that needs to be seen to
be fully appreciated but will not have deserved glory methinks.

Keep Surfin' people!

Small Screen Surfin'


18.09.03 Front Page

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1I am neither against or condone war for this column2From 'Lord of the Rings'

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