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The Sahara. Great big lump of desert, piles of sand, occasional camel, tribe or two, more sand. The end.

Prior to watching Michael Palin’s Sahara the review might have ended there.  Except I now know that only a fraction of the Sahara is the dunes we see in books and on TV.  It has so much more to offer.

Michael Palin has had a few holidays; between him and Judith Chalmers you could probably get to the moon on the air miles alone.  Michael has so far managed to travel Around the World in 80 Days, from Pole to Pole and gone Full Circle. For those who don’t know what I’m blabbering on about those were his previous journeys.

What's it called again?
What did he do this time then?

The Programmes
The 4 episodes, each an hour long, is presented here as shown on the Beeb chronicling Michael’s journey across the Sahara.  Crossing the Sahara is no mean feat, it’s not exactly well served by roads, the railways are sporadic and it’s also pretty darn hot.  Sahara follows Michael Palin and his intrepid film crew as he travels the 12 miles from Gibraltar to Africa and beyond.  Starting in Tangiers with a quick camel ride (told you there were camels) before making his way through the Moroccan cities of Fez and Marrakech and on to our first proper bit of desert as we meet the Sahawari people.

On his travels Michael visits Timbuktu, Dakar and for film buffs Casablanca and the infamous Kasbah.

Russell Crowe was 'ere
Michael’s enthusiasm for these places and the people he meets is infectious and you find yourself wanting to be there. You then remember it’s 150ºF in the shade and are kind of glad Michael went for us ……

All told, the journey takes in Gibraltar, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia and sees Michael meeting scores of interesting people along the way, each with their own stories to tell.  You really get a sense of the warmth these people have for visitors and they seem genuinely overjoyed that someone wants to find out about them, their customs and their lives.  There are two episodes per disc.

The DVDs are presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic video transfer, and the quality is quite breathtaking. The colours, contrast and detail are impeccable and considering the conditions in which the filming actually took place I fail to see how they could have done better.  The sites and sounds of the Sahara really come to life on screen and at times you will find yourself missing the narration while your breath is simply taken away by the imagery.

Pretty innit
Just ye olde Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack here but then the subject matter hardly leads itself to a surround sound solution.  The sound consists of narrative, dialogue interspersed with suitable music and atmosphere.  It all works really well. Alas for our non-English speaking readers, subtitles and soundtrack are English only.

Each episode comes with the obligatory chapter guides that are made available on a rather attractive menu system.  

Disc One contains Michael’s Video Diary, which offers a more personal look at how Mr Palin was thinking throughout his Journey.  Some interesting insights are to be gathered here and it really does add to the Sahara Experience.  The Video Diary comes in at about 25 minutes and is presented in standard 4:3 but does have the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack.

Is anyone in the AA?
Disc Two has half an hour of Deleted Scenes which, as Michael explains throughout the sequence, were cut out purely to keep to the 4 hours the series was scheduled for.  The sound and picture quality is the same as in the actual series presentation and one wonders if the BBC could have just made the series longer, but I suppose the cynical among you would say that would leave nothing for the DVD.  Finally we have an Interview with Michael where he talks about his experiences now that his Sahara trip is in the past and he’s home again, safe in good old Blighty.  He talks with genuine affection for the trip and hints that the travel bug may again bite him and send him off in search of adventure, and no doubt he’ll be packing a film crew in his suitcase if he does.

I really enjoyed the series both on television and again when I got the DVD set I enjoyed it at least as much the second time round.  Being a fan of Michael’s work the extras make a really worthwhile addition and I recommend that, if a fan of travel or of Palin, then you must buy this set.