Review: ‘New Explorers Special in the Footsteps of Dr. Livingstone’

The most intriguing part of this TV trek by the great-grandson of medical missionary David Livingstone is the display of what's happened to southeast and central Africa since Dr. Livingstone investigated the area in the mid-1880s. Poverty, poachers, overpopulation and AIDS have taken a toll, and if Lake Tanganyika remains unpolluted, the forest, the animals and the splendor have been eaten away. It's a sad retracing of Livingstone's third and final exploration.

The most intriguing part of this TV trek by the great-grandson of medical missionary David Livingstone is the display of what’s happened to southeast and central Africa since Dr. Livingstone investigated the area in the mid-1880s. Poverty, poachers, overpopulation and AIDS have taken a toll, and if Lake Tanganyika remains unpolluted, the forest, the animals and the splendor have been eaten away. It’s a sad retracing of Livingstone’s third and final exploration.

The docu may not be dull, but it does meander. Explanations of territorial name changes are at best minimal, and other adventurers, such as Sir Richard Burton, are unmentioned.

Scotsman Dr. David Livingstone Wilson, now retired, eagerly greets African natives along the way and appreciates the monuments to his forebear, but the good doctor is soon overshadowed by the exuberant co-founder of an environmental org that explores the area with Wilson.

A side trip involves visits to Jane Goodall’s sanctuary for chimps and to a day school run by Irish nuns for youngsters whose families have been devastated by AIDS. There’s the sight of the magnificent falls between Tanzania and Zambia, and of sunsets Livingstone must have enjoyed.

Livingstone spent 13 months searching for the source of the Nile and discovered Lake Victoria; his encounter with American newsman Henry Morton Stanley was the source of one of the great understated quotes of the 19th century: Lost, failing in health, out of touch with European civilization for months, the explorer was given up for lost when the intrepid Stanley met him in Ujiji and said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Much of the Livingstone details are passed over, though the great man’s final weeks and death in Ujiji in 1873 are touchingly recalled. A history of all of Livingstone’s background and more of his mission as well as what he actually did to halt slave trading would seem as applicable as hearing about how the environmental group’s co-founder suffered a lost toenail.

Brief clips from the 1940 Osa Martin production “I Married Adventure” indicate how animals at one time roamed the territory; thanks to two-legged animals, both native and foreign, exploitation has done in such vistas forever.

To punctuate the point, a mangy, underfed lion wanders disconsolately behind the final crawl. Dr. Livingstone, so beguiled by the natural wonders of Africa, would be appalled.

The show airs locally tonight and nationally on PBS Feb. 23.

New Explorers Special in the Footsteps of Dr. Livingstone

(Wed. (16), 9-10 p.m., KCET)

Production

Taped in Tanzania, Burundi and Zambia by Kurtis Prods. Ltd. and WTTW/Chicago. Exec producer, Bill Kurtis; exec producer, WTTW, Ed Menaker; series producer, Barry Stoner; producer, Molly Bedell.

Crew

Music, David Huizenga.

Cast

Host: Bill Kurtis.
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