I’d remembered this as being a bit of a dud the first time I saw it, but on second viewing it’s actually not terrible at all. There’s not a lot to it, is all, but there are worse crimes.
As has been well documented, we’re repeating the pattern set out by the first season and due to be repeated with slight variations in the next three seasons after this: crisis on present-day Earth (“Rose,” “The Christmas Invasion,” “Smith and Jones,” “Partners in Crime,” “The Eleventh Hour“), Earth’s future (“The End of the World,” “New Earth,” “Gridlock,” “Planet of the Ood,” “The Beast Below“), and then celebrity pseudohistorical in Earth’s past (“The Unquiet Dead”, “Tooth and Claw,” “The Shakespeare Code,” “The Fires of Pompeii,” and “Victory of the Daleks“). Queen Victoria seems slightly more convincing to me than Charles Dickens did, and as I recall she also beats Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, but since I’ve never met any of those people I’m hardly qualified to judge.
The pre-credits Matrixing with the slo-mo kung fu monks was probably what turned me against this one the first time round: it’s less effective than it would have been at normal speed, and really I don’t think you can do this kind of thing anymore unless you’re Timur Bekmambetov, and even then you’re pushing your luck. It immediately makes you aware of the camera and that there’s someone behind it who really wants you to notice the acrobatics rather than be caught up in the swift brutality of the action. Then again, we’ve never really seen this kind of thing in Doctor Who before, and it’s easy enough to forgive since it doesn’t recur.
I’d remembered the alleged horsing around on the part of the Doctor and Rose as being unlikely — a result of RTD writing the characters with the emotions he felt (excitement at their adventures) rather than what they were likely to feel (terror at their life-threatening situation). Why, I thought, would the Doctor suddenly become jaded to danger now, after so many years of taking it seriously time after time? It turns out to make more sense after seeing the rest of his arc with Rose, and the Tenth Doctor’s arc overall. He’s come away from the Time War with a new seriousness, and instead of picking up and putting down friends with little attachment, he perhaps unconsciously realized it’s time to get serious about someone. We see the signs of it at least as far back as “Father’s Day,” and it’s happening even more rapidly now that he’s been through hell with her and is refreshed with a new face, closer to her age at least in appearance. He’s falling in love, and nothing around him is feeling as real as the bond between the two of them. He sees what’s happening through her eyes as much as his own now. He’s still pretty damn sober about the important things, and it’s not as if we’ve never seen him delight in danger before…but it’s different now, and unfortunately it doesn’t go unremarked.