What Doctor Who could learn from David Tennant's Around the World in 80 Days

·4-min read
Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days
Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days

There's a moment in the first episode of the new BBC adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days that is just pure fun.

Having wagered he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, 19th-century gentleman Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) and his travelling companions, Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch) and valet Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), find themselves on the first leg of their journey.

After being chased through tunnels under Parisian streets by irate gendarmes, they then end up cornered in a courtyard dominated by a tethered hot-air balloon.

It's just one scene in a premiere episode that includes an assassination attempt, a robbery, a daring escape and – shock! – Phileas losing his hat to an English Channel breeze – and yet it contains more adventure and joy for the whole family than the recent Doctor Who: Flux managed over six episodes.

Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days
Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days

Of course, many Doctor Who fans are no doubt now angrily shouting that science fiction is serious, and the adventures of the Doctor and their TARDIS are for grown-ups, not kids and families.

But wouldn't it have been great if a show broadcast on Sunday evening wasn't so bogged down by lore that it was impenetrable to anyone who hasn't watched all the previous series, let alone to kids and parents looking for something to watch together (yes, that does still happen, apparently) that everyone could follow?

During both Russell T Davies' and Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunners on Doctor Who – which included Around The World In 80 Days star Tennant's 2005-2010 run as the Doctor – the stories had both long-running plot threads and standalone episodes that meant you could dip in and out of the show. Also, you weren't left completely perplexed if you missed one. (This came in very handy if you wanted to skip episodes featuring the Weeping Angels because they were too scary… for your children).

Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days
Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days

Yes, there were frightening moments – and occasionally head-scratching ones – in those years, and the series never talked down to or pandered to a junior audience. But everyone could get something out of most episodes – each was an enjoyable mix of adventure, laughs and excitement that really did appeal to all ages.

Unfortunately, the most recent series of Doctor Who, while featuring Jodie Whittaker's really likeable turn as the Doctor, has overall been a bit gloomy and dense. Certainly not the kind of show you'd watch with younger children – not because it was too scary, but because they wouldn't have a clue what was going on.

Thankfully, former TARDIS occupant Tennant has returned to the BBC just in time to reinvigorate family TV on Sunday nights – for a few weeks at least.

Photo credit: Tudor Cucu - BBC
Photo credit: Tudor Cucu - BBC

Romping across Europe and Africa like a slightly inept, stiff-upper-lipped Indiana Jones, he is infectiously awkward as novice traveller Phileas. And during this eight-part adventure (the first two parts are being shown on Boxing Day on BBC One), he is joined by two travelling companions who inject new life into the regularly-adapted tale that will both appeal to adults and kids.

Of course, traditionalists may recoil in horror at the changes that creators Ashley Pharoah and Caleb Ranson have made to Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, but they actually work really well for this serial adventure.

Detective Fix, the (male) investigator who pursues Fogg across the world in the book, has now become young female journalist Abigail Fix, an independent gal very much in the mould of Raiders Of The Lost Ark's Marion.

Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days
Photo credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days

Meanwhile, Fogg’s new valet Passepartout, who is a reserved white Frenchman in the novel judging by the original book illustrations, is now a Black Frenchman with a really interesting backstory that's explored when the group arrive in Paris.

Together, the trio bicker, bond and get into danger while trying to travel around the world in 80 days. With a potential baddie lurking in the wings, exotic locations (we'll ignore the occasional dodgy CGI backdrop) and numerous dangers ahead (the one involving a train in episode two is edge-of-the-seat stuff), it really is gripping, fast-paced and – yes! – fun throughout.

Thanks to Phileas Fogg and his friends, Sunday nights just got a whole lot more enjoyable.

The first two episodes of Around the World in 80 Days air on Sunday, December 26 from 5.50pm on BBC One.

You Might Also Like

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting