This was a LOT of fun. Let’s start with the reasons it shouldn’t have been.
First there’s the new title sequence and the slightly different theme tune. They’re both shite. Though it could be worse: look at Caprica.
Then there are the overly familiar Moffat tropes: the girl visited by the Doctor at different, capricious times in her life, who falls in love with him immediately and is troubled by deadly creatures lurking in her home.
Then there are the overly familiar new Who tropes: giant space fleets, casual chats with world leaders, ominous foreshadowing catchphrases (“Silence will fall”), and of course goofy personal catchphrases. “Geronimo!” is no worse than “fantastic!” or “allons-y!” but it’s no better, either, and the self-conscious bit where the new Doctor tries out “Who da man?” is only narrowly saved by his reaction to it.
Then there are the usual confusing questions: what was the monster doing for 12 years? Why does Amelia live alone in that house? And why do 20 minutes matter if you’ve got a time machine?
Then there’s the new ersatz Tyler family: Amy’s aunt, the uncharismatic smart Rory, the hot dumb Jeff (if you average the two you get Mickey). Then there’s the corny new TARDIS interior like some steampunk nerd’s bad high school art project for the Mixed Media / Collage unit.
Finally, and worst of all, there’s the “I am the Doctor and you don’t wanna mess with me” bluff that resolves the final conflict, which makes the writer’s mistake of thinking you need to stack the deck in favor of your new actor and assert his authority. I don’t particularly like a Doctor who has to bully people with his reputation. I like the one who solves problems with his wits, which is how he got his reputation, the one (to be fair) we see for all of the rest of the episode.
None of that really matters while the episode is on, because the script is terrific and well-paced, the dialogue is crackling, the direction is spot-on and tight as it’s ever been, the new companion’s great fun (sexy too, natch) with an already-established rich history with the Doctor, and the new Doctor is practically perfect.
I’d really been worried about Matt Smith, not because there was anything obviously wrong with him as an actor, but because he’s following one of the best-loved Doctors in the show’s forty-seven year history, and I didn’t think he had a hope of distinguishing himself. And it’s true that there’s some Tennant in his performance — the comedy, the glibness, the glee, the “no no no no,” the “what what what what,” perhaps other elements I’ve stopped noticing because they’ve become part of the character’s personality as it’s been developed over the past 5 years. But he’s unmistakably his own man, and to be honest, I already like him just as much as the last two, if not more.
Hate the bow tie, of course. But I did say practically perfect.
Goodbye, David Tennant. Hello, everything!