'Michael Palin: Around the World in Eighty Days' - TV Review

In 1989, the BBC broadcast Michael Palin's attempt (on their budget) to circumnavigate the world, following in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg (from Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eighty Days). The primary rule was "no flying." He did get to have a Passepartout (the assistant from the book), although in his case "Passepartout" was actually a crew of five people. The series ran to seven 50 minute episodes, and the DVD included a 20 minute interview with Palin some 15(?) years later.

The journey starts well enough with Palin being seen off by his family and a couple of old Monty Python chums (including Terry Gilliam). They set him a couple tasks to fulfill to prove he's achieved his task. And, like Fogg, he leaves from the steps of the Reform Club in London. The first stretch of the journey is on the Orient Express, a well-heeled way to travel across Europe ... except Palin almost immediately runs into problems as he's slowed by a rail worker's strike in Italy.

Because he has only 80 days and cannot fly (although that limitation, as it turns out, doesn't apply to Passepartout), the vast majority of the trip consists of him on various forms of transportation. The most unusual (setting aside deliberate novelty things like dogsledding and the hot air balloon) was the dhow from Jeddah to Dubai, to which they give an entire episode. In the hours he's not traveling, they often have him doing weird things: in Guangzhou he went to a restaurant that specialized exclusively in snake.

The end product is mildly interesting, but because his schedule demanded so much of his time be spent traveling (rather than at actual destinations), it's more about methods of transport and the people on those ships and trains than it is about the places he buzzed through. This is good, in that it's definitely not like most travel documentaries, but bad if you were hoping to see the places he visited.

I wasn't really aware of this, but apparently this series was what launched him on a significant part of his career as he spent the next 10 or 15 years as a travel writer and film maker.