I saw the first episode of Matt Smith's turn as the Doctor the other week (I, uh, have really good eyesight) and I was very impressed.
The opening scene of the out-of-control TARDIS is well-enough done. I've seen some nitpicking about how it's not exactly the same situation/position that everything was in at the end of The End of Time, but really, I'm not going to fault them for not showing us exactly how they got from Point A to Point B. It's obvious that some small amount of time has elapsed. Some people are taking "pick up exactly where we left off" a little too literally.
The proper beginning of the episode--the little girl praying to Santa and then finding the police box on its side--is just fucking brilliantly done. The little aside references to other rooms in the TARDIS, with only brief glimpses of the wardrobe given apart from the control room, pay off wonderfully in the image of the Doctor having to climb his way out of an upended TARDIS with a grappling hook. The "let's establish how weird and funny I am" scene is sort of a mixed bag. I'd call it fail, except for the way it's used to transition into the "that must be one hell of a scary crack" line. Matt Smith is blessed with a somewhat alien demeanor that previous Doctors have lacked, which also makes scenes like that work well.
Observation on the observation of the scary crack: the stethoscope and brainy glasses are gone, the psychic paper stays. Of course, the fact that he immediately improvises a listening device might just be a bit of continuity thinking ("The stethoscope was in his jacket pocket, he lost the jacket") and so a replacement could turn up in a later episode, but I'm happier believing that they're thinking "That's Ten's schtick, Eleven doesn't need it." Note that I loved the stethoscope. But it was part of David Tennant's character.
Likewise, while they do show Eleven licking something to determine its age, I enjoyed the bit where he stared up at the sky as if looking for/at the invasion fleet and the visualization of "What's wrong with this picture?" when he spotted the nurse who was filming the man with the dog. I've seen other people criticizing that as jumping on a trendy bandwagon with shows about hyper-observant folks using such visual gimmickry, but I like to think of it as establishing that while Ten led with his nose, Eleven's all about his eyes. As with the lost stethoscope, time will tell if this becomes a consistent theme or if it was a one-off.
Highest and unabashed praise goes for the episode's true denouement, after the local and comparatively trivial threat of Prisoner Zero has been dealt with and the Doctor takes it upon himself to deal with the extinction-level threat of the Atraxi. I hope that Big Damn Doctor moments like this don't become too common, but... it needs to happen sometimes. The Doctor, as Moffat has previously observed, is the thing that monsters under little girls' beds are scared of. He routinely wipes out entire species, though never as a first resort... always as the second one. When he tries to avoid a conflict, sometimes it's because he's feeling merciful.
"I'm the Doctor," he says. "Basically... run."
I whooped and squeed like a schoolgirl at that moment. And then I watched it over and over again about twenty times, with the same reaction. (Uh, really good eyesight.) This is the first first episode of any new Doctor's tenure that I would not hesitate to recommend as a starting point without adding "and then also watch ____________". I think this episode will be a great jumping on point for entirely new fans.
I like the new Doctor's incredibly poor sense of distance traveled through time. I hope that's not dropped now that he's ostensibly gotten his bearings. It's a great touch. Ten was almost too good at navigating the TARDIS. That I can recall, he only ended up elsewhen when the TARDIS itself took direct and obvious control in response to the anomaly of Jenny.
The TARDIS redesign is a bit much. It's like someone said "The fans really like the mallet and the pumpy thingy. What else can we stick in there?" I do appreciate that you can see the elements of the previous "desktop theme" in it.
The fact that they redesigned the screwdriver doesn't mean much to me except that it gives me hope that the other changes I observed will hold steady throughout the season.
I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the season. Moffat wrote my favorite episodes of the previous seasons. I think he's got a handle on the character and the show, and what they both need.
- A random quiet moment to process my thoughts on Doctor Who.