The Quest for Bannockburn – 8pm, BBC2
When Neil Oliver first arrived on our screens in 2002, it was as a battlefield archaeologist in a sort of military version of Time Team called Two Men in a Trench. His co-presenter then was Tony Pollard, and the pair reunite for this two-part series about what, for many Scots, remains the biggest battle of all: Bannockburn.
Few in Scotland would need reminding of the story, but for the rest of us this does as good a job as you could hope for of rehearsing the 700-year-old history and attempting new finds. There’s one catch: where was the battle fought? The general area is known – and we get a great sense of how Robert the Bruce used the landscape to gain advantage over Edward II’s superior force – but the series hopes to find evidence of the exact spot.
Along the way we get insights into the warfare of 700 years ago. If you’ve never witnessed a trebuchet – a giant slingshot – do its stuff, it’s well worth seeing.
Futurescape with James Woods – 8pm, Discovery
We’ve had Morgan Freeman go through the wormhole to explore the universe; now it’s James Woods’s turn to tackle the life scientific in a documentary series. And he makes a surprisingly good fist of it as presenter in this mind-boggling first episode, which looks at the advances being made in robotic technology.
We caught a glimpse of the progress being made at the start of the World Cup, when a young paraplegic man made the first kick using a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton – and the science behind that is explored here. But there’s much more than just science going on; if we can, somehow, develop a fully functioning robot, complete with emotions and morality, does it become “human”? But does augmenting our own abilities – with cochlear implants, robotic limbs etc – make us less so? It’s a real brain-tickler.
Arena: the 50 Year Argument – 9pm, BBC4
After films on Bob Dylan and George Harrison, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi reunite to pay homage to The New York Review of Books. Established in 1963 in response to what founding editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein felt was a lacklustre culture of book reviewing in America, the NYRB went on to become a leading source of intellectual discourse.
The film mirrors the Review’s famed long-form essays as its story slowly unfolds, but does not mirror them in arguing against perceived wisdom; this is hagiography. As literary giants line up to explain the pleasure of writing for Silvers and Epstein, it’s a diverting trip through a bastion of highbrow values.
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