Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3/5
Around the World in 80 Days is one of those quintessential adventure stories that everyone has heard of. Even if you’ve never read the original tale, the journey of Phileas Fogg circumnavigating the globe in 80 days is well-known.
Over the years there have been a fair few adaptations that have been a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s fitting then that BBC’s latest offering hits all three of these categories, eventually nestling itself somewhere in the realm of indifferent mediocrity. There’s nothing inherently awful about this adaptation (unless you’re expecting a faithful book adaptation, in which case run a mile!) but likewise, there’s nothing great either.
The story here is generally the same as the original tale, in the sense that Phileas Fogg makes a wager and tries to travel the globe in under 80 days, but the tone here is distinctly darker and more serious, with a lot more political and social messaging to boot.
Joining Fogg on his misadventures is female journalist Abigail. She documents Fogg’s journey while Fogg is accompanied by his “manservant”, a Frenchman by the name of Passepartout. Together, the trio travel the globe, intending to make it back to London by Christmas Eve. Only, Bellamy (one of the gentleman from the club) tries to stop him at random points across the globe.
Instead of frolicking, swashbuckling adventures and exciting tales fit for the whole family, Fogg’s journeys are a mixed bag of cynical digs at Fogg’s ineptitude (more on that in a minute) or episodic explorations of flawed cultural issues of the time. Adventures are in short supply here; this is a grim, gritty tale where our trio wade through treacle to get to where they need to go.
The biggest problem with this adaptation though comes from Fogg himself. Given I read this book back when I was a kid some 25 years ago, I may be mistaken but Phileas struck me as a confident and charismatic gentleman who used his wits to get out of situations. Here though, Phileas Fogg is dragged through his adventure by Passepartout and Abigail. He’s a bumbling, arrogant, ill-equipped man who’s both insensitive and at times incredibly childish. And this is our protagonist we’re supposed to be rooting for.
The amount of times Abigail and Passepartout bail Fogg out of tricky situations undermines his credentials as an adventurer, especially late on when Americans gush over his achievements. It also takes way too long to warm toward Fogg, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people turn this off before they see the positive changes in his character later on.
Visually the show does look good and there’s some really nice set design and costume work here. The music is (oddly) whimsical but works surprisingly well, despite the dark tone this one takes.
Plot issues aside, this is an aesthetically impressive series and the location work is absolutely on the money. Speaking of on the money, David Tennant brings a good deal of charisma to his character, doing his best to portray Fogg’s theatrical persona. Without him, this show would arguably fall flatter than it does.
In the end, Around the World in 80 Days is just about good enough. It’s a different interpretation of the source material, with plenty of additions and omissions to distort and twist this into something that almost resembles the book but feels original enough to see where the journey takes Fogg and co.
A few of the chapters do stand out – like episode 5 where the trio are stuck on a desert island – while other inclusions – like Bellamy’s lackluster threat – feel half-baked and add nothing to the show.
Around the World in 80 Days is worth checking out if you’re desperate for something to watch. There’s certainly some excitement to be had here but it’s also forgettable enough that when the TV schedule picks back up, you won’t really miss this one.
Verdict - 5/10