ONE can only imagine the conversation that took place in Pyongyang. “Comrades, we’ve had another request from a capitalist running dog country to do a travelogue. Bin?”

“To a capitalist running dog country? No. It’s not allowed.”

“No, shall I put it in the rubbish bin?”

“Who is making the request? Not Judith Chalmers again?”

“Michael Palin.”

“Why didn’t you say? Send him a visa NOW.”

It is testament to the Python’s legendary geniality that Michael Palin in North Korea (Channel 5, Thursday, 9pm) did not come as much of a surprise. If anyone was going to be given an “unprecedented opportunity” to visit a country largely hidden from the world for 70 years it was going to be him, rather than, say, a news reporter. For a certain generation, Palin’s travelogues were the TV equivalent of a student starter pack from John Lewis: nice, comforting, and they did the job.

But how would even the steady Palin fare in a nation where it is not the wise thing to put a foot wrong? He took matters carefully, noting that filming was taking place under constant supervision. When he arrived in the DPRK it was an hour before he could get off the train because of security checks, the guards asking him at one point whether he was carrying a bible. Palin, wisely, judged it better not to attempt a joke.

He woke at 5am next day in Pyongyang to music blaring out over the city. It sounded weird because it was. Other surprises awaited, such as the elegant metro system, and the swish, state-run health spa. In a school he visited, a girl recited a poem with disturbing intensity. Everything was intense, including the gestures of the young, female traffic police. But when it came time for a day off, North Koreans took to the parks to drink, dance and relax.

Palin was in a difficult spot. He was understandably reluctant to quiz his young handlers too much lest he get them into trouble, yet at the same time he was frustrated at being kept at a distance when he wanted to get to know the “real” North Korea. By the end of the first of two episodes, even his patience was wearing thin. Fascinating, and very topical, but one could not help but wonder, given the restrictions, whether he should have gone in the first place. Is half a picture better than none?

Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain (BBC2, Monday, 8pm) was at the other end of the travelogue scale. Being the presenting debut of two former University Challenge competitors, it had to be. Eric and Bobby, the Monkman and Seagull of the title, took in such delights as the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport in their search for scientific/quirky things to cover. The latter included Brian “Poodle Hair” May’s mower, which Eric, the Canadian bespectacled one, got very excited about. There was little they failed to get excited about as they traded facts like two kids trying to outdo each other. “Anything can be interesting,” said Bobby. Can it, though? Even at just half an hour, and with a narration by Simon Callow, this was thin gruel.

The new kids on the documentary block had better shape up if they want to stay in the game as long as Kevin McCloud, who was back with a new series of Grand Designs (Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm).

The build your own home show started in 1999 and the format never alters. Kev finds a family with a mad dream, he watches them go half crazy trying to bring the project in on time and within budget, then he comes back at the end, once all the cool furniture is in, to hear them say it was all worth it.

This week, the couple in question were an architect and his wife who wanted to restore a folly in Buckinghamshire built to look like a mini castle. It was tough, expensive going, even though he was an architect. Kev almost had to act as marriage counsellor to the couple, especially after their second child was born (did I mention the wife was pregnant?). It was lovely when it was finished, but I’m not sure it was worth it for what was a two bedroom house. Oh, and Kev had a joke for us. “How many conservation officers does it take to change a lightbulb? To which the answer is, ‘What do you mean, change?’”.

Never change, Kev, and don’t ever take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

The crime thriller Killing Eve (BBC1, Saturday, 9.15pm) is acquiring quite the following, and why not? Spys, assassins, designer togs to die for and leading women of the calibre of Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer playing pursuer and pursued, the latter so bendy she can hide in a medium sized suitcase if required. Bet Michael Palin can’t do that.