Back in June of this year the BBC did a three part series about the Spanish Armada and how (astonishingly) England wasn't conquered by Spain in 1588. It was billed as "part dramatisation, part documentary" so I was a bit concerned in advance that it wouldn't be my cup of tea. But it turned out to be on the right side of the line for my tastes - a selection of set pieces but mostly a straightforward documentary series.
William the Marshal is one of the men responsible for the Magna Carta as we now know it. His seal is on the re-issuing of the charter in 1217 by Henry III, in his role as Regent for the king. His statue stands in the House of Lords behind the monarch's throne defending the monarchy as he did in life.
Shakespeare's Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman was partly a biography of a specific woman - Mary Arden, the mother of William Shakespeare. But there's not really enough surviving detail about her life to get the full picture from, so the gaps were filled in with more general information about the sorts of lives women (and men) of the time lead. The presenter, Michael Wood, did a good job of stitching the two sorts of information into a coherent whole, so it didn't feel disjointed or patchy.
Cleopatra: A Timewatch Guide was on BBC4 back in February as part of a short run of programmes cobbled together from old Timewatch footage interspersed with some narration by a current presenter (and modern footage of talking heads) tying it all together. The presenter in this case was Vanessa Collinridge, who I'd not seen present anything before (which is a shame for her, as I'm judging her based on this ...).
Andrew Graham-Dixon has done several series for the BBC about the art of various places - one of the more recent was about China and we watched it earlier this year. He covered the art of this vast and long-lived culture in chronological order, so the series also provided an overview of the history of China.
Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty was a Channel 5 series about the Plantagenets, presented by Dan Jones. I've been vaguely aware of Jones as an author for a while and I've heard good things about him, but not read any of his books. So despite my dubiousness about a Channel 5 documentary series I took a chance on recording it - it did turn out to be a pretty fun watch, even if nothing earth shatteringly new. It was part Jones walking around significant sites, and part re-enactment.
I must confess when I read the blurb on the BBC for their new Tutankhamun programme, Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered, I was not entirely impressed. It talks about "new scientific research" and how "presenter Dallas Campbell [...] carries out unique experiments to get to the truth." and then proceeds to talk about stuff that sounds like a re-hash of the 2010 Hawass et al paper ( JAMA. 2010;303(7):638-647). So I was sceptical going in about the likelihood of it being anything new.
Swallowed by the Sea: Ancient Egypt's Greatest Lost City was a one-off programme presented by Lucy Blue about the city of Heraclion which existed at one of the mouths of the Nile for around a thousand years. It vanished beneath the waves in the 2nd Century BC, and in modern times it was thought to be purely mythical. However at the beginning of the 21st Century a team of French underwater archaeologists discovered the site off the modern coast of Egypt and have been excavating it ever since.
Jungle Atlantis was a two part series about the medieval city of Angkor, in modern day Cambodia. This is the city that contains the temple complex Angkor Wat, whose ruins have been known to the western world since the 19th Century. The programmes focussed on recent archaeological work in the area, which has been making use of the new technique of LIDAR. This involves an aerial survey of an area using technology similar to RADAR which can accurately map the topography of the land underneath whatever vegetation cover is present.
In Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities James Fox picked three different cities each in a single year of the 20th Century, and looked at how each was the focal point of cultural developments at the time. The first episode covered Vienna in 1908, the year Sigmund Freud revealed his Oedipus Complex theories. Many of the most notable artists or musicians of the day were in the city - Klimt, Schiele, Schoenberg.