So, I appeared on a podcast! A few weeks ago I dropped in to Huntingdon Community Radio and recorded an episode of the Fencast, a podcast that is all about the local history and legends of the Fen region. I was there to talk about Hereward the Wake and the siege of Ely; I’m not an expert on that, but it’s my period and I think we had a fun conversation during which I made at least one pretty decent point.
In any event, you can find it by just searching for Fencast in your favourite podcast app, or you can download episodes from their website. If you’re interested in folk tales and local history, definitely check out the other episodes too!
Over the last few days, I have been preparing for an upcoming talk to a historical society in Essex. It’s about witch trials — of which Essex has plenty — and it is thoroughly depressing.
Depressing but interesting! I remain endlessly fascinated by the weird thing about people that witch trials exemplify. There’s this strange habit of being attached to legal procedure while simultaneously acting like a bunch of pirates. I don’t know how else to describe it, but you see it in lots of these times of political and social crisis. It makes the trial transcripts fascinating reading, examples of the ways in which people use the tools they have to deal with the situations they face. The result is that weird conflict — you can’t either go “oh those primitives” or “they’re just like us!” and that’s the thing about history I find really entertaining.
I’ve mentioned before that my pal Jesse and I have been working on a podcast about classic Doctor Who. We’re currently five episodes in to our first season and if you like the classic era I think you will enjoy our show. You can find all the previous episodes here.
One of the things that’s been really interesting about this process is the way in which Doctor Who is a little showcase of the traditions of historical fiction.
And one of those traditions, of course, is being cleverly self-referential. If you look at a lot of early Who episodes, you’ll see that they’re not even so much about going into different historical periods as they are about exploring different genres of historical fiction. So for instance The Gunfighters isn’t about going back to 19th-century Arizona, it’s about being in a Western. The Romans has elements of farce — really weird, murdery farce. Most of the rest of the historical episodes are more or less straight old-fashioned historical adventure fiction.
Fair enough, right? But in our most recent episode, The King’s Demons, the reveal hinges on the fact that the Doctor and his companions turn up in 1215 and find King John acting like … well, like Bad King John. In some episodes, this would just be his characterisation, but in this one it’s a clue that all is not as it seems, since the Doctor “knows” that the historical King John wasn’t like that at all. As it happens, I don’t agree with his assessment of what the historical John was like, but that’s another story.
So which is it? Is this an anthology show of adventure fiction or a witty deconstruction of it? With Doctor Who it’s sometimes both.
As I mentioned earlier, pal Jesse Merlin and I recently started a podcast in which we talk about classic Doctor Who. It’s called Pledge Break and I can’t figure out how to embed the Libsyn player for some reason* but you can find it here.
We are both big fans of old-timey Who, of course, but we tend to have “specialties” on the show — that is, Jesse knows about acting and TV-making, and I know about history, so we each talk about our special areas. The thing is that of course the historical and historical-influenced episodes bounce around all over the place. So far on the show I have had to talk about:
Saladin, his family and the origins of the Ayyubid Dynasty.
Medieval castles and warfare.
The Renaissance, broadly, including its dating.
King John and Magna Carta.
Iron Age houses and farms.
Arthurian myth and legend.
Historical weapons and armour.
The 1066 campaign.
The dynastic politics of 11th-century northern Europe.
The Jacobite rising of 1745 and Jacobites in general.
And that’s for the first season-and-a-bit, i.e. the bit where we have still have many episodes to choose from and don’t have to talk about some stuff I really don’t know anything about, like the French wars of religion or something.
It’s actually pretty good for the brain — one of the nice things about having done as much of this stuff as I’ve done is that I’m usually able to grasp new information pretty quickly. I’m sure I will know a fair amount about religious conflict in France by the time we’re done.
To summarise: listen to my podcast, it’s good. Although the intro’s a bit fuzzy; sorry about that.
I know things have been quiet around here over the last few days, but it’s because I’ve been working away on a new project. Old friend Jesse Merlin and I have a shared love of classic Doctor Who, and our new podcast, “Pledge Break,” is all about that.
But it’s not just two guys reminiscing about old Who — a lot of it is me talking about history and historical fiction, while Jesse, who you may remember from such films as Helen Keller vs Nightwolves, is an actor as well as a hardcore Whovian. Our first episode is the partly-reconstructed The Crusades, and you can check it out in a number of ways: