The former, who has been dragged into a crime caper with Kate Bishop, wants to enjoy the holidays with his family, while the latter has placed a wager that he will circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days, which should see him arrive back by Christmas Eve.
But that’s the extent of the comparison. There’s no Tracksuit Mafia or one-eyed, pizza-loving golden retriever to speak of in this latest adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, although there are camels, so it’s not without some four-legged companions.
Instead, this series shares more in common with David Lowery’s The Green Knight, which stars Dev Patel as Gawain, a young man who is deeply concerned that he has no story to tell and sets off on a quest to create a legacy that will enshrine him in the annals of history.
In the first episode of ATWIED, Fogg is rattled when he receives an unsigned postcard, which contains one singular word: “Coward.”
And those around him also share that sentiment.
He’s described by Bernard Fortescue (Jason Watkins), his friend and editor of The Daily Telegraph, as a “timid, unprepared man” – hardly words associated with the exploring greats. When he informs the men at the Reform Club that he intends to travel the world in record time, he is met with bemusement, mockery and a firm lack of belief.
Fogg himself also seriously doubts his own capabilities, and while that isn’t the most hair-raising hurdle he encounters on his journey, it’s a paralysing force that haunts him at every opportunity. And yet, he pushes on, determined to make a name for himself, which is in no small part thanks to his two travelling companions.
He’s accompanied by new character Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch), Fortescue’s daughter who has aspirations of becoming a respected journalist herself and certainly has the ability, but is hampered by her status as a woman. Fogg’s odyssey is an opportunity for her to not only see the world but cement her reputation as an esteemed member of the press once and for all.
French actor Ibrahim Koma features as Fogg’s ‘valet’ Passepartout, a temperamental waiter who uses his cunning to join our protagonist on his expedition. Like Fogg, he also keeps his cards close to his chest when it comes to his internal emotional landscape.
The three of them encounter a vast and varied array of challenges on their adventure, with every episode throwing up a fresh test that they must ace or die in the dirt, literally. They are swept up in a revolution in Paris, must solve an impossible engineering conundrum near Brindisi in Italy, and find themselves at the mercy of the desert in West Yemen, with its deadly serpents and sandstorms.
It’s certainly not short of activity and yet, it all feels a little flat. The cast do their best with the material they’ve been dealt – Tennant, Benesch and Koma are convincing in their roles – but after watching the first three episodes made available to critics, we were quite happy to leave it there, which is troubling because we should be itching to know if the central trio succeed.
It’s not the lack of jeopardy, per se, that is a problem – it’s a given that Fogg, Fix and Passepartout will all wriggle out of whatever hurdles they come up against. This series is more concerned with how they overcome the odds rather than the challenges themselves, although that does render expressions of terror and cries for salvation as somewhat throwaway.
But we’ve seen this all before, albeit with a few new additions sprinkled here and there. While shows don’t always need to break new ground to engage and entertain, there is nothing that dazzles or takes us by surprise and as a result, it’s lacking that crucial spark.
ATWIED is entirely serviceable Christmas fare, but it could learn a trick or two from Mackenzie Crook’s Worzel Gummidge, which has been given a new lease of life while retaining the elements that people love so much about the books and the Jon Pertwee series. By comparison, this most recent adaptation of Jules Vernes’ novel, even with various tweaks, is too familiar.
We should add that we’ve only watched the first half of season one and a second season has already been confirmed, so there’s certainly plenty of scope for invention ahead. But perhaps, given the sheer number of adaptations out there, it’s time to leave Fogg and his story firmly in the past.
More on Around the World in 80 Days:
This year’s Radio Times Christmas double issue is on sale now, featuring two weeks of TV, film and radio listings, reviews, features and interviews with the stars. Looking for something else to watch? Check out the rest of our Drama coverage or take a look at our TV Guide.