I watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who last night with some degree of trepidation. I loved the series as a kid (despite the fact that it scared me silly and resulted in lasting phobias), so I worried that they would wreck it by making it too serious and slick. I needn't have worried. There may be spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it yet, don't read on.
I think that the first thing they got right is the casting. Christopher Eccleston is terrific as The Doctor. He injects just the right mixture of mad, manic, funny and dangerous into his character. The Doctor should be a bit dark and unpredictable under his jokey exterior, and I think he showed that perfectly. He reminded me a little of Tom Baker in that respect; Tom always seemed to be teetering on the edge of madness, and you could never predict what he would do next. Billie Piper — as his companion Rose — also surprised me. It might be a little early to tell, but she seems to playing Rose as the non-screaming, non-bimboid variety of companion, which is very refreshing. She and Eccleston seem to also have great chemistry together which helps a lot.
The second good decision was in not trying to keep up with the quality of the special effects in feature films. The first episode at least featured reassuringly rubbery monsters and cheap locations. The trick is to do it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour. There was a fantastic scene in the first episode when the disembodied plastic arm of one of the animate, killer shop dummies — the Autons — leapt out from behind the sofa and tried to strangle the Doctor. On the one hand, it was very funny and reminded me of Eric Morecambe doing his bit from behind the curtain where he pretends to be strangled, but on the other it was actually quite creepy.
The episode was a partial remake of a much earlier one shown in the 60s (and repeated several times) in which shop dummies come alive and start shooting people with guns concealed in their hands. I'm pretty sure that this episode was responsible for my phobia of shop dummies throughout childhood. I couldn't walk past them without being terrified, and there was no chance of going somewhere like Madame Tussaud's without me totally freaking out. So thanks, BBC, you seem to have revived that particular fear again. I'll be avoiding walking past shop windows for a little while, I think.