This article contains mild spoilers for Episode One and some details from the book.
Around The World In 80 Days is a new adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel that will appeal to nerds and geeks who may have stopped watching MASTERPIECE after Sherlock said goodbye. David Tennant steps into Phileas Fogg’s famous traveling shoes for a series filled with natural wonders and dangers. While period drama and classic lit nerds probably don’t need much convincing to watch, science fiction and fantasy fans may need a bit more persuasion. If that’s you, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t miss this show:
1. New adventures & characters expand book canon while preserving the story
Those who read the original novel or the older film adaptations will notice two main characters have been remixed for modern sensibilities. Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), Fogg’s butler/translator, is now a Black Frenchman who moved to London for employment. He takes on the job accompanying Fogg to run away from some personal conflict with his last employer. This is an example of color-conscious casting as his backstory was changed to give additional context to 1870’s French history. Some may argue it is problematic or demeaning to cast a Black man as a butler, but domestic service jobs were common occupations for men of color during this era. Passepartout’s character will also be in a good position to counterbalance the novel by addressing or challenging racism, colonialism, and British imperialism tropes in later episodes.
Fix, the dogged police investigator in the novel, is revamped as Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch), a female journalist who is assigned to document Fogg’s adventures. Fix’s change is inspired by Nellie Bly, a female journalist and contemporary fan of Verne’s novels. She balances out Fogg’s view on the world while being relatable to audiences in a more active way: in an interview for PBS Books, screenwriter Ashley Pharoah said women would be half the target audience for the new series.
Fogg’s character motivations remain the same to balance out these character changes. After years of missed opportunities, he wants to prove his fellow Reform Club members wrong. The advantage of having eight hours to tell the story versus two is that the series starts by depicting Fogg’s progress on the boat to France whereas the novel begins on the Red Sea steamer. In the following episodes, Pharoah added details based on what was happening in 1872 at each stop on the trip, or expanded on location details Verne didn’t spend a lot of time describing.
2. We need an escape to places beyond our couches
Many of us have been stuck at home unable to take a vacation, let alone travel outside of the United States, because of the pandemic. Around The World In 80 Days reflects on our own unfulfilled wanderlust. Fogg, Passepartout, and Fix take audiences to France, Italy, Egypt, and more. The antique methods of travel pose more risk than today’s options, but the struggles are still relatable. The cinematography and set design are made to immerse audiences in the places Verne described. Chances are very high viewers will end up planning their post-pandemic travel based on the locations Fogg, Fix, and Passepartout visit.
3. David Tennant is indeed fantastic
Whether you love Tennant as the Doctor or Crowley, or were scared by him as Kilgrave, there’s going to be an element of his Phileas Fogg that will appeal to you. Tennant brings out the best of Fogg’s curiosity from the novel, as well as his tendency to turn minor conflicts into major situations. Although Fogg does not admit to Fix and Passepartout his desire to make up for previous cowardice, Tennant still portrays the hidden depths of the character. His performance is sure to win over fans of previous adaptations.
4. The adventures have vaguely Doctor Who vibes
Phileas Fogg and several Doctor regenerations have a key detail in common: throwing themselves into risky situations with no clear plan. Fogg is convinced the journey will only involve making connections between different railways and the occasional boat ride. He’s obviously wrong. Passepartout and Fix have a companion-Doctor relationship with Fogg, but it’s clear that both have knowledge and skills that give them the upper hand. There are equal shares of humor and situational peril as Fogg, Passepartout, and Fix have to quickly figure out the safest way to exit a dangerous area or overcome an obstacle to travel progress. Fogg also shares with the Doctor a belief in technological progress. It’s very good timing that the series begins during a scheduled Doctor Who hiatus.
5. The series has already secured renewal and a spinoff series is in the works!
The wounds from Firefly and other fan-favorite cancellations remain sore spots for fandom. The good news is that Around The World In 80 Days has already secured a second season based on advanced screenings in the UK and European critics’ praise. In addition, the producers are working on a TV adaptation of Verne’s other novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. While it is not clear at this time what point in the novel screenwriter Ashley Pharoah decided to end this season, it is clear that viewer time and emotional investment will pay off.
In conclusion, I hope many of my fellow Doctor Who fans are convinced to check out Around The World In 80 Days. The characters are in Victorian costume, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of action and adventure: this series bridges the gap between the fantasy and sci-fi fandoms and period dramas quite nicely. GBH Drama will have more reviews, recaps, and features about the series throughout the season. The first episode of Around The World In 80 Days premieres on January 2 at 8pm on GBH 2. If you’ve cut the cord, the series can be streamed via GBH Passport and the PBS Video App.