I was flicking through the TV Channels recently and happened upon the Discovery Channel series Legend Detectives. I decided to see what it was about, given the fact that the programme was presented by Ronald Top, a fine actor and someone I got to like firstly through the TV series Industrial Revelations.
But the programme was also to include Massimo Polidoro, well known sceptic and debunker of pseudoscience and assorted woo. This was starting to look promising.
Next up was Tessa Dunlop, historian; so, this was beginning to look like something I would naturally be interested in – something more serious than Ancient Bleeding Aliens or some other pseudo-scientific claptrap. This series of programmes was going to be investigating some of the historical legends we are all familiar with, but from a seemingly sensible perspective and in which some well-informed people would be trying to tease the facts from the myths of famous stories – Robin Hood, The Man In The Iron Mask and others. Just the sort of thing I like to get into.
And then they had to go and spoil it all by informing their viewers that the fourth member of “the team” would be Tony Stockwell, alleged psychic, who would be using his “powers” to find out what actual history researchers could not. [*Facepalm*]
I have seen only two episodes of the six made, but I don’t think I will bother to watch the others. The first I saw was about Robin Hood, and the second was about The Man In The Iron Mask. What was significant for me was that the four-person “team” never appeared as one group. Top, Polidoro and Dunlop are seen all together during the programmes, but Stockwell does not appear with them in the same group. Stockwell appears with Top as they go into a dungeon together, for example, trying to elicit information from the past using Stockwell’s supposed psychic abilities.
And then this programme suddenly assumes the mantle of any typical paranormal pseudo-documentary: we have been told that Stockwell has been given no prior information about what it is all about, and it is up to him to tell the presenter, Top, what was going on there hundreds of years ago, and bingo! Our psychic comes up with vague but seemingly relevant information that can be construed as a major validation of what historians already knew anyway. Amazing, isn’t it?
It reminds me of the TV series Psychic Detectives when Stockwell appeared with Colin Fry and TJ Higgs, supposedly solving past crimes and mysteries. I remember one episode where they were trying to discover the facts of what happened to a young man who disappeared and committed suicide. As I was watching that episode, I typed the man’s name into Google and a whole list of links came up, including newspaper reports of the time and so on, so I opened numerous tabs for many of those links. And, I have to say, Stockwell and his psychic colleagues got all of the details of the case exactly right! It was all there on the internet! How do you explain that, then? Some people might think I am being cynical when I point out that the information was there long before that programme was ever made, but that’s just me, perhaps. Maybe I am just one of those pseudo-sceptics that the believers carp on about.
Then things suddenly got worse. After a brief internet search I found out why Tessa Dunlop seemed familiar to me: she has also presented another “history” show, Paranormal Egypt, with another supposed psychic, Derek Acorah! In that series, she and Acorah were seen exploring ancient tombs with Acorah trying to contact the ancient Pharaos, no less. And if I remember correctly, there was an outcry later from officials in the Egyptian authorities who had not been told that what was proposed as a history documentary was, in fact, another programme of paranormal piffle, with Dunlop doing the screaming instead of Yvette Fielding from Most Haunted. For me, Dunlop’s credibility as an historian is now totally shattered.
Although I saw a brief scene with Top, Polidoro and Stockwell together on a boat as they travelled to a location, I did not see Polidoro actually in conversation with Stockwell, so I can’t say what Polidoro made of it all, but he must (surely) have been aware of what was going on. In any case, the summing up at the end of the episodes I saw did not include Stockwell with Top, Polidoro and Dunlop. I don’t know if that was any different in any of the other four episodes.
Things get even stranger, though. I tried to find out more information about the series, but there is almost no detail even on Discovery’s website. The Internet Movie Database is no help either; it lists the series title and three directors (for “unknown episodes”); there is no cast list, and no other details. The only factual thing I could find out is that the series was made in 2005. It’s almost as if no one associated with Legend Detectives wants anyone to know about it.
I just can’t work out what is going on here. I like the idea of a TV programme that looks at legendary characters and situations, even though the likelihood of arriving at definitive answers seems remote; there’s nothing wrong with some scholarly speculation and there might always be some new findings coming to light. The idea of using a psychic in a serious programme, though, is absurd. The show might have been more interesting if part of it had included something like the sceptic challenging the psychic, maybe, but that just wasn’t going to happen here. And an historian who thinks that historical information can be retrieved through a psychic channelling long-dead characters? No, I don’t buy it.
I guess this series of only six episodes made over a decade ago probably didn’t get great ratings when it first aired, so it might have just been quietly set aside, waiting to be rediscovered when there wasn’t much else available to fill the schedules. If they had ditched the psychic, or kept the psychic but had some confrontation between him, the sceptic and the historian – a discussion moderated by the presenter, perhaps – the whole thing could have been much better. But that didn’t happen, of course.
Overall, I have to give Legend Detectives a resounding thumbs-down.