"You have hero material inside you."
-- David Spangler in The Call

Around the World in 80 Days is an eight-part television series based on the 1873 novel by Jules Verne. There have been a handful of film and television series based on this rowdy and rousing drama of the coming-of-age of a middle-aged Englishman named Phileas Fogg. This wealthy businessman bets a friend that he can circle the globe in 80 days.

Michael Anderson's 1956 version of this adventure tale starring David Niven won an Academy Award for Best Picture and featured cameos by Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, and Buster Keaton. A television adaptation of the classic aired on television in 1989 with Pierce Brosnan playing Phileas Fogg. A less heralded movie version of Verne's classic was released in 2004 with Jackie Chan.

Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, David Tennant as Phileas Fogg, and Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fortescue.

In this new television version, Phileas Fogg is played by David Tennant, who achieved fame when he played the Doctor in Doctor Who. We first see him here as he is relaxing with his mega-rich buddies at the Reform Club in London. After seeing an article about the possibility of traveling around the world in just 80 days, he declares that he will do that -- much to the surprise and amusement of his friend. One of them bets that he can't do it, and Phileas doubles the bet and declares he will begin immediately. He must make it back to the club by Christmas Eve.

Fogg is fortunate to find two other adventurers to join him on this arduous journey. Abigail Fortescue (Leonie Benesch) is a plucky journalist who has a yen for taking risks and finding new ways of breaking down the barriers set by chauvinists. One of her goals is to convince her father (Jason Watkins) who owns the newspaper that a new style of writing is called for that a offers a critique of colonialism.

The third member of the team is Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma). He is a free-spirited Black man who has many practical survival skills that come in handy as they face one obstacle after another.

Why have so many adaptations and versions been made of Around the World in 80 Days? Clearly, people enjoy watching people take on big challenges and triumph in the end. This production graphically depicts the adventures and frequent bickering of the three lead characters. They get caught up in the violent protest in Paris. They come up with a plan to prevent a train from crashing off its track into a gorge in Italy, thus saving a boy's life. They nearly die while trying to cross the desert in Africa. They defend a soldier who deserted his regiment to get married in Italy. They play detectives in Hong Kong. They barely escape isolation on a deserted island. In the Wild West they come face to face with murderous white racists.

Crossing the desert

Steve Barron directed five episodes of the series and helped develop storylines shedding light on themes of gender, race, and the gap between the rich and the poor created by colonialism. Although there is plenty of action in the adventures of Fogg, Abigail, and Passepartout the overarching theme is the power of love.

"We can learn that the essence of love is not to use the other to make us happy but to serve and affirm the ones we love. And we can discover, to our surprise, that what we have needed more than anything was not so much to be loved, as to love."
-- Robert A. Johnson in Love's Journey by Michael Gurian