Wednesday, 15 August 2012

WDYTYA series 9 opener - review

*Warning - if you haven't yet seen the first episode, this contains spoilers*

The first episode of the ninth series of Who Do You Think You Are kicked off with actress Samantha Womack (Janus). For me the series has its ups and downs, and in the last couple of years, certainly more ups than downs, getting back into the swing of things as it once did in its earlier runs. Sadly, for a series opener, this night's episode for me was like the televisual equivalent of watching paint dry.

Note the phrase 'televisual equivalent', as opposed to the 'genealogical equivalent'. There was a story to tell here - OK, two stories to tell here - but as a piece of television I found it unbelievable tedious. There was the never ending lengthy sequences sitting at a computer using Ancestry - except, as it's the BBC, newbies toying with the idea that there is such a website will not be any the further forward in trying to work out what the site is or where it is online, as the Beeb's compliance rules will never allow the name of the site to be seen (something the NBC series never had a problem with, being sponsored by Ancestry!).

Then there was the first 20 minutes, where the actress goes from London to Glasgow to Plymouth to view three service records, meeting one expert who deduces from consulting an album containing a photo of a person with the same surname as her ancestor, and in the same battalion, that he must somehow be a brother (errr...). A prison register is then examined to look at a period of incarceration for a later misdemeanour, but the date seems to be slightly off - cut immediately to the narrator suddenly proclaiming that Samantha has now discovered evidence of two crimes, though omitting to provide any explanation as to how. All I saw was a slightly different date, clearly I missed something - or the programme did.

There were some good moments - the story of the orphanage was quite shocking, and Else Churchill at the Society of Genealogists proved once again that there is a series waiting to be made out there somewhere with her name on it. But as a piece of television, this was scrappily put together and visually very dull - and I must admit, I was never quite put off by Samantha Womack, but I did feel at the beginning that I was watching an actress, though to be fair, that did disappear further in once she had some genuine situations to get to grips with.

As a celebrity fest, it wasn't brilliant and it wasn't a disaster. As a structured programme though, an hour's entertainment on prime time TV - sorry, mehhhhh....

Another nine celebrities still to come - here's hoping for just something a little more for future instalments. Will Patrick Stewart say "Make it so" when it is suggested that he visit an archive? Fingers crossed! :)


Check out my Scotland's Greatest Story research service
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)


  1. That "same surname/same battalion" linkage would not hold water with me either. I have a spot in a collateral family where the same patronym in the same *house* are not related by blood.

    Still, I'd be rooting for a finger-pointing "Engage!" :)

  2. Bear in mind Patrick Stewart was once assimilated into the Borg. That's a lot of family members to research in one hour! :)

  3. Actually, I always love WDYTYA. The celebrities don't bother me, I actually didn't know who Samantha Womack was, as I never watch Eastenders, but I don't care, it could be the ancestry of Joe Bloggs from up the road, as long as they show the methodology (more or less) of how they reach their conclusions. Maybe it's because I do this as a major hobby, but holes in the story/conclusions they reach never bother me, I know that some hard working genealogist/record agent HAS put the pieces together, it would just be too boring to show that slow and painstaking process on TV. Anyone trying it for themselves will soon find out, you couldn't find out all that information in a couple of days. I think people watch this programme to assure themselves that, rich or famous they may be, but celebs have just as many skeletons in the closet as the rest of us! And yeah...Patrick Stewart...bring it on! :-)

  4. Would love to say it held my attention.... but I fell asleep half way through! I think I've missed the most interesting bits though, will need to catch up this evening :-)

  5. True, but are the Borg Collective's adoption records closed? :)

  6. Probably, though I think the Enterprise can travel in time if it slingshots around the sun at maximum warp...! :)

  7. Very shallow research and Samantha Womack irritated the heck out of me. Very hammy acting. The (apparent) inability to read legible records. Good story behind all that though.

  8. I pretty much agree with your review. There were some genuinely interesting stories in there, but it really felt like they were stretched out to fill the hour whilst at the same time at lot of things were glossed over. I saw a suggestion on Twitter that the line of French ancestry was researched but didn't pan out and can imagine that the material presented was not originally intended to fill the entire programme.

    I did find Samantha Womack pretty irritating and the fact that all the experts ended up explaining things to her as if she was a child. However, when the 'celebrities' have a less emotional response, they get accused of being bored and uninterested so I guess they can't win!