Even with the 1996 TV movie to pave the way, it was still somewhat jarring to see 'Doctor Who' entirely filmed and not on cheapjack videotape. It also took a bit of getting used to with the quickened pace, which, when combined with the live-wire intensity of Christopher Eccleston as this Ninth Doctor, made my head spin while trying to keep up. There was one scene as Rose and the Doctor walked down a street (more of a large driveway?) where I thought I'd succumb to vertigo, it was so dizzying. (Trying to grasp the accents at the same time certainly didn't help.)
At first I was put off by Eccleston's raw energy, stripped down to being just pure adrenaline with a non-stop face-splitting grin. It was as though he had been awake for a week, subsisting on a diet of Jolt Cola and Pop-Rocks.
That doofus of a grin was particularly irritating. I began to fear that this was the only level at which he could play the role; wiped clean of any nuance. And it seemed to be reflected in his choice of clothing - nothing more than a "jumper" (his leather jacket), black t-shirt, and black pants. The Doctor as the Fonz - no eccentricities, just the minimum requirements to satisfy decency laws.
But then it occurred to me - the Doctor was in...sane. I figured him to have only just recently undergone regeneration from the Paul McGann model. It was only later we learned the cause of his grief-driven madness....
As for Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, no one is going to replace my fondness for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, no matter how out-dated her portrayal might seem as the years passed. (The whole "Perils of Pauline" riff is a bit politically incorrect, I guess.)
But Rose follows closely behind. Billie Piper gives us the template for the 21st Century companion. In fact, she's the ultimate hero in this first episode as she saves the day as well as the Doctor with classic swashbuckling panache. (And it serves as a premonition of the future.)
I'm not yet a completist in my Who-viewing. My record is spotty at best, but I do have about fifteen books at my disposal if I need to seek out a particular reference.
So because the Nestene Consciousness as the villain of the piece had escaped my notice before this, I started in with the research.
Apparently, it is a gestalt intelligence. The Nestene had cast off their physical forms to become an aggregate of energy, something like a coral reef of pure thought. They travelled the universe in small egg-like meteors, linked together by their communal mind. (I suppose in that way the Nestene might seem like a compilation of the Q Continuum and the Borg Collective. Sounds like a trilogy of Robert Ludlum novels!)
[EDITED: EN ERRATA]
While doing a Google search on "Nestene Consciousness", I found a website that theorized that the Nestene is actually Shub-Niggurath, one of the "Old Ones" in the Cthulhu Cycle by H.P. Lovecraft. It can't be proven at this time, but if it was true, they would link 'Doctor Who' to a vignette of 'The Night Gallery' - "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture". (Peabody angered the "Old Ones" by invoking their names during his class.)
Finally, this episode also introduces us to Rose's boyfriend Mickey and her mother Jackie. Since the series will periodically revisit them, Russell T. Davies is fleshing out the concept of the Companion, to show that running off to flit through Time with the Doctor isn't a clean break from one's past. There are people and commitments and issues left unresolved which become the baggage carried on board the TARDIS. It was nice to see a Companion did leave behind a life and then follow up on the ramifications of their "disappearance".
Next week, we look at "The End Of The World". And I'll just say this about that - it ranks right up there as one of my favorite episodes in the run.