Sadly, the first episode of In Search of Myths and Heroes, 'The Queen of Sheba', is not Wood at his best. It's not that it's bad history - I don't know the evidence for Sheba well, but nothing in the programme made me scream at the television. But there is a certain sense that they weren't sure what they were trying to do with this programme. Most of Wood's earlier television has been either history (e.g. In Search of the Trojan War, Domesday) or travelogue (e.g. his contribution to Great Railway Journeys of the World). 'The Queen of Sheba' tries to be both, a trick Wood previously pulled off successfully in In The Footsteps Of Alexander The Great. But it worked there because Wood was following someone else's journey. In 'The Queen of Sheba', Wood is following an artificial trail of the evidence, so the balance is not right.
But also there's just some quality missing that's been there in earlier programmes. I sense Wood's no longer quite as enthusiastic as he once was, perhaps feeling that he's a bit old these days for jumping in a Land Rover and zooming across the desert at the drop of a hat.
However, there was one fine moment at the end where he visited the evocative ruins of the mud-brick city of Marib, where for once one didn't feel that he was visiting locations that we've seen time and again in tv archaeology programmes, but was breaking genuinely new ground. And the article Wood writes on the website on Sheba is actually rather better than the programme.
Interestingly, one of the remaining three programmes will be on King Arthur, a subject Wood has already covered nearly a quarter of a century ago, in the original In Search of ... series. Rereading his chapter on Arthur from In Search of the Dark Ages, as I did last summer (the King Arthur film set me off in a brief flurry of Arthurian scholarship, in order to disprove to my own satisfaction the nonsense that was being spouted around it), I was struck by how dated it was. The concerns of people looking for the historical Arthur in 1981 are quite different from those they have in 2004. Not that there's any new evidence turned up, but fresh theory after fresh theory has poured out of word-processors across the world. It will be interesting to see if and how Wood deals with the (to my mind untenable) theory that Arthur's exploits are based on a Roman commander and his Sarmatian Knights in the second century AD.