UK TV review: Around the World in 80 Days
James R | On 26, Dec 2021
David Tennant travels from escapade to escapade in a flying vessel in a handsome BBC production. Stop us if that sounds familiar. But Around the World in 80 Days is at once perfect for people looking for a more grounded piece of adventuring to fill the Doctor Who void and also refreshingly its own thing.
Tennant plays Phileas Fogg, the explorer who winds up going on the titular Jules Verne voyage after a gentleman’s wager gets out of hand. That, in itself, sounds like the egotistical beginnings of an unliveable British chap, but Tennant plays him with a faint note of desperation, as he tries to find a way to assuage his own self-esteem and bolster his feeble reputation but also justify his own purpose, both professional and personal.
That’s enough to make Fogg a rather endearing fellow, as he half-fumbles his way through each new challenge and half-devises some genius problem to each new issue. Writers Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars) and Caleb Ranson (Child of Mine) waste no time in lining up a string of set pieces that are at once extravagant and low-key, thanks to a priority of rooting each one in maths and invention. Within the first two episodes, there’s been a foiled assassination attempt and a sequence involving a railway bridge that’s genuinely nail-biting.
The production values are polished throughout, allowing for some convincing jaunts through a range of international locations. But it’s the cast that keep things moving along at a decent pace, with Tennant joined swiftly by the charismatic Ibrahim Koma as the agile, chameleonic Passepartout and Leonie Benesch as forthright journalist Abigail “Fix” Fortescue, who is determined to chronicle their exploits and prove herself to her sexist father.
The result is a fun, family-friendly outing that’s got genuine suspense, laughs and peril, all served up with a sparky message of self-belief and problem-solving.
Around the World in 80 Days is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2023