blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Around the World in 80 Days (2021) s01e04

While it’s not the concept episode I want (an hour of David Tennant, Ibrahim Koma, and Leonie Benesch waiting for a train), this episode does a fine job introducing new elements to the show while still sticking to the “formula.” Though calling it, a “formula” might be stretching it. The episodes cover salient experiences during their trip “Around the World in 80 Days.” Unfortunately, there’s just no audience for “Fogg After Hours.”

This time, the trio is stuck in India, thanks to Tennant assuming the cross-continental Indian railway was completed. He read about it in Benesch’s article, but she wasn’t writing a travel guide, instead a feature on technology. It’s day twenty-eight of eighty, about nine days since the last episode. Seems like Benesch’s inaccuracies could be a go-to trope.

In what’s either a Temple of Doom reference or just how the British tell stories about India, Tennant and company come across an Indian kid who takes them back to her village. Reeya Gangen plays the kid. I don’t think her character ever gets named in the episode, but she’s going to have this gentle relationship with Tennant, who trips balls around her, and she thinks it’s funny in a caring way.

There are quite a few guest stars in the episode, which has them interrupting a wedding celebration. Or trying to interrupt a wedding celebration. Matriarch Shivaani Ghai isn’t giving Tennant a guide to get him to their next point of departure until the following day, no matter how much Tennant complains or tries to be a British aristocrat. Her daughter, Rizelle Januk, is the bride-to-be. The groom is Kiroshan Naidoo, a soldier in the British Indian Army. Charlie Hamblett is his commanding officer, who Naidoo told everyone gave him leave to get married, but Hamblett very much did not.

After Hamblett arrests Naidoo, Ghai says she’ll give Tennant a guide if he white guy talks Hamblett out of prosecuting. Except Koma’s really upset at how selfish Tennant’s being about the trip and decides to take matters into his own hands, dosing his tea with a sleeping agent. Except it’s too much, and Tennant trips out, beginning in his meeting with Hamblett.

Meanwhile, Benesch and Januk bond, partially over Januk’s problems, partially over just being women.

There’s a grand finale with Tennant laying bare parts of his reserved British soul. There’s a lot of good acting in the episode, whether Benesch and Januk becoming friends, Koma’s disappointment, anger, and regret, and Tennant and Ghai’s polite but honest conversations. None of it compares to Tennant’s monologuing at the end. It’s excellent writing throughout, especially on that monologue (because it’s got to account for a lot of Tennant’s colonizing bullshit too). The script’s got four credited writers Ashley Pharoah, Claire Downes, Ian Jarvis, and Stuart Lane.

As usual, really good direction from Steve Barron. There’s pretty much no action and a lot more comedy (Tennant’s trip), but also lots of dramatic tension for everyone at one time or another. Barron does it all quite well.

There are seven main actors in this episode—the trio, bride, groom, mom, British officer—all give phenomenal performances. Any single one of the guest star performances would be enough to put it over, so having all four be stellar is, frankly, special. “Around the World in 80 Days” is a spectacular success.

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