More Doctor Who than Jules Verne?–Tennant shines in latest Around the World in 80 Days adaptation

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been missing the David Tennant from Doctor Who–he regenerated 11 (!) years ago into Matt Smith–and series like Broadchurch and Good Omens don’t cut it, and you don’t like your Tennant fix as a nasty villain as in Jessica Jones, then your series has finally arrived.  BBC and PBS Masterpiece’s new adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 science fiction adventure Around the World in 80 Days isn’t your father’s or father’s father’s or father’s father’s father’s Jules Verne.  But it is very much Doctor Who.  It’s David Tennant in the lead role as Phileas Fogg acting his most emoting, put-upon, and frenetic Doctor Whovian.  It even has two companions to accompany him on his journey, a journey already booked for two seasons.

It might be the most we’ve seen Tennant in this kind of rollicking role since his last turn as the 10th Doctor.  Created by Life on Mars creator Ashley Pharoah, the production is sharp, as we’d expect from the BBC, with costumes, trains, and set pieces quite up to snuff.  However, purists will quickly find only the through-line follows Verne’s then unheard of idea to travel around the planet so quickly–hence the science fiction label.  The scenes, the locales, the motivation, the characters, are all mostly concocted for a 21st century fantasy audience that wants to see more Tennant in Doctor Who.

The series, now airing Sundays on PBS in the States, could easily be Quantum Leap or The Incredible Hulk.  Each week looks to be a new story in a new location with a new supporting cast of characters.  This time it’s Tennant’s fish out of water, a bored, reasonably wealthy Brit gentleman who sports an Edgar Allan Poe moustache and needs some kind of spark to get active.  So he makes a wager and then he’s off.  Ibrahim Koma (Sous le soleil) plays his companion from the novel, Jean Passepartout, and in the first episode he’s already caused Fogg to be looped into a plot to kill the French president–not a feature of the original story.

Abigail Fix, played by Leonie Benesch (The Swarm), is his other companion, a combination character pulling pieces from other Verne characters and some of the real-life journalist Nellie Bly, who in 1889 first made the trip envisioned by Verne, completing the journey in 72 days.

The series, another pandemic delay, is directed by Steve Barron (Coneheads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman).  It features an adventure-themed score by Hans Zimmer (Sherlock Holmes, Muppets Treasure Island, Pirates of the Caribbean series, Blade Runner 2049), and production art and design by Paul Savulescu (Murder on the Orient Express, Solo: A Star Wars Story) and Sebastian T. Krawinkel (V for Vendetta).  But it feels like a Doctor Who episode–especially something like the David Morrissey episode “Jackson Lake.”  What is Doctor Who if not an excuse to travel to historical places in historical times?

They’ve already found a hot air balloon to escape Paris in the first episode.  Keep an eye out for actors Shivaani Ghai (Batwoman, London Has Fallen) and Anthony Flanagan (Life on Mars, Doctor Who, Wild Bill, Humans).

Catch Around the World in 80 Days in the U.S. on PBS Masterpiece Sundays at 7 p.m. Central.  The UK airing is an episode ahead, airing Sundays on BBC One.


Leave a Reply