Oh, how glorious Telly is again with the return of “Doctor Who!”  As sad as I was to see David Tennant deliver his final, emotional (though arguably long-winded) farewell in part 2 of “The End of Time,” I admit I was excitedly and cautiously awaiting the introduction to Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor.  Much has been said about the 27 year-old — the majority of the criticism leveled against the Northampton native has been his age.  At just 27, he is the youngest actor to portray the Doctor.  His acting credits — though impressive — was a shortlist, and I do mean a “short” list.  For some time, I stood in the camp that felt new producer Mr. Moffat was driving the series towards a collision course with the WB’s CW.  Pretty young faces, low substance, mediocre acting, but hey, nice-looking promo shots.  The news that former model turned actress Karen Gillan had landed the role of the Doctor’s companion only furthered this presumption.  While I adore red-headed women (and Karen is a beautiful woman), I could not shirk the feeling all this was going to end badly in April when the first of the New Who episodes would debut.

What kept me interested (and believing) was the steady hand of Mr. Moffat.  No doubt his scripts during the Eccleston (The Empty Child) and Tennant (The Girl in the Fireplace) eras were some of my favorite episodes, and he brought a markedly faster pacing to the stories and dialogue that was more poetic than expected.  While I admired Mr. Davies and his magnificent run, I was hopeful Mr. Moffat and his crew could inject into Doctor Who a bit of modern flare.  The youthful casting of Mr. Smith and Ms. Gillan suggested I might get my wish — though a small piece of me feared what we might all lose in the process (wit, satire, and deep character development).

After watching the “Eleventh Hour” and the “Beast Below” — both scripted by Mr. Moffat — I am happy to report that my fears have been misplaced.  Matt Smith offers a promising turn as the Doctor and Karen Gillan is no less charming and perfect as the Doctor’s new companion.  The two have an on-screen chemistry that was sorely missing between Tennant and Ms. Freema Agyeman; thus far, Smith-Gillan connect in a way that is at least on par with Tennant and Ms. Catherine Tate, the best pair since the launch of the New Who and the bar by which all future pairings should be measured against (I realize some of you may scream out Ms. Piper’s name, and I concur that her and Tennant (and Eccleston) were a solid pair, but everything Rose meant in Seasons 1 and 2 were dishearteningly reduced by  the rubbish of her return in Season 4; sadly, whatever chemistry there was between the two was nowhere to be found in Piper or Tennant in “Journey’s End”).

But enough about the past and more on the new.  The “Eleventh Hour” is easily the best of the recent three debut episodes featuring a new Doctor (“Rose” and “Christmas Invasion”).  Not only did it set the tone for an energetic and more bold Doctor, but it also suggested a much faster paced series.  Mr. Smith was clearly still finding his voice.  He channeled Tennant at times, but also the steady calmness of Eccleston.  Where Mr. Smith will eventually net out remains to be seen, but there is no doubt the man can project the character and that his acting skills — despite his age — are more than up to the task.  Indeed, after the end of “Beast Below,” I am won over by Mr. Smith’s potential — he has the makings of a great Doctor and could be as great as the ones that have preceded him.  The scene (below) in which he asks the aliens “what happened” to the others who have tried to conquer or destroy Earth is a heart-thumping, excellent touch.  Anyone who is even remotely a fan of the show got a kick out of that scene.  Whether he will become one will depend on how well the scripts carry on (I have heard that the third episode has been lacking).

I have similar praise for Ms. Gillan, who is an interesting character, to say the least.  She shares many of the characteristics found in Ms. Tate’s character (loneliness, a sense of nothing worth living for, bored), but I suppose I find her lack of connections a tad less believable than Ms. Tate’s.  Ms. Gillan is not to blame.  Her age, along with her beauty, makes the outsider story harder to swallow.  Now, Ms. Tate was also a beautiful woman in a very different way, but it is more her age and back-story that sold me.  Given how young Ms. Gillan looks, it’s harder to believe she is that bored or disconnected from those around her.  I suppose Mr. Moffat wants us to accept that some of this is due to the Doctor showing up when she was a little girl.  Not every plot device needs to work; this one may not but I’m perfectly enchanted by the set-up regardless, if only because Ms. Gillan has proven to be a capable and charming presence on-screen.  Her acting is her saving grace (I especially love the scene in which she asks the Doctor why he has chosen her (below) — it is innocent, genuine — and delivered with the emotional realism few could muster in a situation like that).

With two episodes down, and me smack-dab in studying mode for my final exams, I’m inclined to pass on the rest of the season for now.  This is NOT because I dislike the show.  To the contrary, I want to be able to sit down and watch all 13 episodes without the painful week-long hiatus in between each one.  I will certainly pick up this season when it lands on DVD or Blu-Ray.

For those who are fortunate enough to have BBC America, make sure to check out Mr. Smith and Ms. Gillan.  You can also watch the shows independently via Amazon on-demand. The new Doctor Who is as refreshing and as excellent as it ever was.  With Mr. Moffat and these great actors at the helm, my expectations are very high for an amazing season.

I do hope this new Doctor and his companion stick with the show a very long time.   This Smith era could be a real keeper.

Finally, here’s a little vidlet posted on YouTube by a user named iprobablyneurotic. A very well done piece.