I have been a huge history nerd for as long as I can remember, to the point where there was a time when I actually wanted to be a historian and was the first idea of a career that really stuck with me; before then my ambitious tended to fluctuate, on Monday I wanted to be a dentist but on Friday I wanted to be an Armenian tax inspector. Because of my interest in history, I gorged myself on documentaries and books but there was one show that I really liked and sometimes watch today.
Time Commanders (2003-2005) features a team of four people playing a video game that re-creates famous battles of the ancient world. At the beginning of the show the team is split into four generals and four captains/lieutenants, and are introduced to two resident experts Dr Aryeh/Lynette Nusbacher (senior lecturer in war studies at Sandhurst who had a sex change in 2007) who appears in every episode and joined on a rotating basis by Mike Loades (a weapons experts and author who also advises on films and documentaries), Professor Saul David (a military historian), Mark Urban (a former soldier and journalist who is currently the diplomatic editor for Newsnight) and Dr Adrian Goldsworthy (a historian specialising in Ancient Rome). Contestants take command of an army and usually participate in a skirmish before the actual battle begins, at the end of which the experts tell them where they went wrong or right and how the battle happened in real life. The first series was presented by Eddie Mair and the second, which was half the length of the first, was presented by Richard Hammond.
Time Commanders is stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but the premise is essentially four people playing a video game. If it wasn’t for the lighting, the music and the general serious tone then the show would be totally ridiculous and unwatchable but Time Commanders succeeds in making itself look better than it actually is… Well, for the most part. The opening can be pretty overthetop when you realise it’s four people playing Rome:Total War and the fact that the show is ostensibly filmed in a “21st Century command center” does add to the pretentiousness of it all. The format is enjoyable and, like other reality tv shows like The Apprentice and Dragons Den, it can be fun to think what you would do in such a situation. The contestants tend to vary between suprisingly competant and horrifically idiotic so it can be fun watching a group of people with little to no experiance of video games or military history attempt to defeat Hannibal by sitting on a hill and claiming it a brilliant tactical move because they saw it on telly once.
Almost as bad as the time one team accidentally attacked the left flank of a Roman army with a grand total of eight scouts…
The resident experts are all likable with great knowledge and passion. Watching the two of them recreate how the battle actually happened at the climax of the show clearly shows how much these guy’s love their subject and Mike Loades childlike excitement while demonstrating ancient weaponry is incredibly endearing. The experts insight is always fascinating and they often get some funny moments; including one surreal moment where Dr Nusbacher goes on a minor tangent about the psychological effect of barbarian genitals. The only major issue I have with the show is Eddie Mair, presenter of series one. Richard Hammond is excellent in series two, bringing the same childike energy that he demonstrates so vividly in Top Gear, but I find Eddie Mair intensely unlikable. His manner is cold, his jokes are cruel and awkward; I find him so intolerable that it gets to the point where it has put me off watching series one.
Apparently Eddie Mair has alcoholic tendencies which is perfectly understandable. I would drink too if I was Eddie Mair.
Aside from one unlikable host there isn’t much wrong with Time Commanders. I definitely recommend it if you like history and can over look the admittedly silly premise and somewhat pretentious introduction.