Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ONCE THE Vikings roamed the whale-road in their longships, seeking new lands and strange adventures, plunder and a good death. It was in that spirit that, in Secrets of the Ancients (BBC2), Robin Knox-Johnston and a crew of Norwegian archaeologists set sail in the longship Borgundknarren across the North Sea to Shetland - trusting, like their Viking ancestors, to the winds to drive them, the sun to steer them. Plus, obviously, an engine for when the wind was in the wrong direction and a satellite navigation system for when they got lost.

You could sympathise with this: as Knox-Johnston pointed out, the Vikings had a lot more practice at this sort of thing and, as he didn't point out, his crew didn't have the option of recouping their expenses with a quick spot of pillage. And after all, do you really think that the Vikings would have have sailed to Vinland to fight the red-skinned Skraelings, sold their swords to the Emperor in Constantinople, burned kingdoms and built new ones in their place, if satellite television, Pot Noodles and comfy slippers had been available?

All the same, it was hard to see the point of this half-hearted historical authenticity, with spectacles and what looked suspiciously like muesli for breakfast. We already knew that the Vikings could sail from Norway to Shetland; showing that this was roughly how they might have done it, if you took into account the fact that they were much better at it - well, it didn't seem like much of a victory. There were some striking shots of the longship dwarfed by a modern ship and all but smothered by its swell. But, I don't know - couldn't they at least have burned a church down?

That was followed by another programme which was, in its way, about the quest for authentic experience. Talking Cure (BBC2) is a six-part series about psychotherapy as practised at the Tavistock Clinic in Hampstead. The Tavistock was set up to help shell-shocked soldiers after the First World War, and now deals with people shell-shocked by everyday life. The building appeared, aptly, wrapped in fog: "The raw theory of psychoanalysis," advised the commentary, "is, to say the least, difficult for the uninitiated. But the Tavistock believes that once applied to the real lives of real people, it can help."

The question with Jan Gale was whether he was a real person at all. Since a car crash 10 years earlier in which another man was killed, he said that he had felt more and more detached from reality. At his initial sessions, the therapist, Caroline Garland, swiftly became impatient with his detachment: she told him off for smoking too much pot, for messing around with abstract painting, for smiling nicely instead of thinking about what she was saying. He thought she was probably right: "But look, you're just agreeing with me." "I know." "And this is part of the problem, isn't it?" "Yeah..." "It's almost, whatever I said, you'd agree with me." "Yes..."

She stopped short of telling him to get a haircut and pull his socks up, but you felt it was a near-run thing. And, to be frank, she would have had my sympathy. That probably wasn't the reaction the programme was after. Still, fun is fun: I enjoyed it.

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