My first thought is about the look and design of the program. It's absolutely state-of-the-art...for 1995. The CGI effects are quite terrible in the two episodes I watched, "Rose" and "Dalek," and the series appears to have been shot on not-very-high-definition video. Also, the acting is almost universally hysterical. By that I don't mean funny...I mean literally hysterical. Characters run around screaming insanely in a constant state of crisis and angst, snapping silly lines at one another in staccato, machine gun fashion.
But - let's be blunt - Doctor Who was never really about special effects or about acting, either (anyone remember Colin Baker? Peter Davison? Sylvester McCoy?) Although this new series is set after a mysterious "Time War" it actually plays as a full-throated continuation of the low-budget BBC show that lasted for twenty-six years and was cancelled in 1989 (when Sylvester McCoy played the Time Lord). The TARDIS exterior is the same, as are the dematerialization effects, and the Daleks also look very similar to their BBC ancestors.
Some changes have been made for the better, of course. The new TARDIS control room doesn't look as though it's constructed of cardboard and Styrofoam, and furthermore boasts a genuinely alien feel. And the menacing Daleks can now hover up and down staircases, though they still screech "EX-TER-MI-NAAAAAATE!" in annoying electronic voice. Also, the Dalek toilet-plunger arms are now capable of literally "sucking face" and the metal suits open to reveal the yucky little beasties inside. And that's all fun. Also, I can't deny that shivers of pure joy and nostalgia careened through me as I first heard the modified (but faithful) series theme music.
Until I heard that theme music, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed Doctor Who. It was always one of my favorite shows (at least the Hartnell, Troughton, Tom Baker eras...) and I soon realized watching "Rose" and "Dalek" that the producers and writers have taken special care to give us the same Doctor Who...only cheekier and giddier than before. These episodes seem to run on pure adrenaline and momentum, and have a low-budget energy and zeal that I find appealing in the buttoned-down age of CG and green screen. The humor is tongue-in-cheek, and even if the stories I saw were pretty damn weak (another Earth invasion story...jeez!), this new incarnation has already provided the franchise with a classic character: Billie Piper's: Rose. Quite simply, how can you not fall in love with her? She's adorable and sweet and very, human.
I admired how "Rose" began, with several views of modern human life (in London) moving at fast-motion, as Rose endures her hectic but repetitive life (signified by the close-up shots of the alarm clock clicking over to 7:30 pm). Then, once Rose is on the job, time seems to slow down and can't move fast enough. I think this is how many of us feel about our existence: that we're always rushing to and fro, but once we get where we're going, life feels as slow as molasses. We're especially susceptible to this feeling, I'd say, in our late teens and early twenties, and that's precisely where Rose is as this episode commences.
Since Doctor Who plays with the concept of time, it's only appropriate that the series begin thusly, by gazing at time as relative: sometimes slow, sometimes fast. No wonder that the Doctor calls us "blundering apes." Unlike humans, he can stand still - and, in "Rose's" best scene - feel the gravity of the Earth spinning around the sun. He's not so susceptible to vicissitudes and deceptions of time and space, I guess, and this was a bold and interesting interpretation of the long-lived character.
In the two episodes I saw, I found Christopher Eccleston's Doctor to be a little busy, a little silly, but again that's par for the course, I guess. People could have said the same thing of Tom Baker thirty years ago. There are scenes in each episode that could go either way, into horror or comedy. For instance, the scene in "Rose" in which the Doctor was forced to wrestle with an Auton's severed arm played like comedic homage to Evil Dead 2. But was it supposed to be comedy, or anxiety-provoking, or both? Later, a scene with Rose's boyfriend and an ambulatory garbage bin played only as comedy...and pretty stupid comedy at that.
The new Doctor Who views its titular character as an immortal legend whose "constant companion" is "death" and it establishes Eccleston's incarnation at the Kennedy Assassination, near the Titanic in dock, and at Krakatoa before the massive volcanic eruption. I liked all this historical material, especially because Rose tracked it down by using the Internet...an instrument that wasn't really around back in 1989. But, I would have enjoyed seeing references to the Doctor in his other previous incarnations. But maybe that would have been too much for "new" fans to absorb.
After two episodes, I began to get into the helter-skelter vibe and over-the-top rhythm of this shamelessly exuberant Doctor Who and found the experience was pleasant. Although the material has been updated and rendered more humorous, I don't feel that every change in the format was designed as a poke in the eye (see: Battlestar Galactica) to established fandom. On the contrary, this show - down to its tacky special effects - feels like a love letter to all the Whovians who miss their favorite time travel. Watching the new show, one senses not that creator Russell T. Davies dislikes and is embarrassed by the original material (like Ron Moore?) but rather that he is amused by it for all the same reasons we are.
I look forward to future episodes.