One of the exciting things about the Doctor Who television series was how it managed to reinvent itself every few years. Premiering in 1963 it was initially meant to be a show that melded time travelling science fiction with historical education as the Doctor, a mysterious older man living in a time machine that was huge on the inside but looked like a 1960 British police box on the outside, jaunted through different eras along with human companions who were there to witness events.
After 3 years however, two things became readily apparent. One was that the science fiction episodes were far more popular than the historical ones and the second was that the original Doctor, one William Hartnell, was no longer physically up to the job. So, in a stroke of brilliance, the writers had him "die" only to be enveloped in a flash of light and emerge as a different man played by Patrick Troughton. It was later established that the Doctor's race, the Time Lords, could do this twelve times in total (leading to thirteen incarnations). After three years, Patrick Troughton handed the reins to Jon Pertwee and so it went until 1989 when three substandard actors along with shoddy writing and confusing plots led to the series cancellation a season before the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, was due to complete his run.
In 1995 American television tried to bring the series back with a made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately this incarnation, while staying faithful to the original series by showing McCoy regenerating into Paul McGann, went too far to the left in trying to appeal to an American audience that was mostly unaware of the Doctor's extensive history. Plot twists that made no sense, a rewriting of the canon and finally an ending that didn't lead anywhere sent the series back into hibernation.
And then the trend that brought Battlestar Galactica back from the dead struck Doctor Who. Russell T Davies, along with a gaggle of fans of the original series and armed with a real budget for special effects (the original series was famous for how badly those were done) brought the series back from the dead with a new ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccelstone. I will admit I was hesitant at first because, like Battlestar Galactica, any reboot runs the risk of taking a few choice elements of the original show and then mucking it up with post-20th century cynicism and sexuality.
And while I wasn't quite wrong in my fears, there has been enough since then to justify my continued watching of the show.
Yes there were changes from the original other than a drastic improvement in special effects. The Tardis control room, always a simple white room with a futuristic console in the original series had morphed into a giant coral reef-style room with a console that had no recognizable buttons. The Doctor, instead of remaining aloof from his companions, seemed to get romantically involved with each in a way that really detracted from the show. I was watching to see Daleks and Cybermen get massacred, not the Doctor making google-eyes at some tart from a district housing project in London. In addition, despite being patient, we still have not been shown how the Time War ended and the regeneration from McGann to Ecclestone.
Finally, what started to annoy me after a while was how often certain enemies kept showing up in the series. Every season seemed to have 2-3 appearances for the Daleks and 1 for the Cybermen. Yes, they're the most popular enemies the Doctor has ever had but what does it say for the imagination the show requires? The third Doctor never even encountered the Cyberman and the Fourth only ran across them once. Daleks also were not a regular occurence although they would appear once a season for some Doctors. And what does it say that no new perennial enemy has been introduced to the show since the Master made his appearance in 1970?
On the other hand, one of the weaknesses of the original series was its complete lack of continuity. The history of Earth in the future constantly morphed from season to season. Plots in one story would completely contradict those in others, sometimes during the same season. One of the strengths of the new show was the idea of the meta-plot with each season building to a huge climax and the finale of the fifth bringing together buried hints from the previous five years together for an amazing end to the tenth Doctor's reign.
And now the eleventh Doctor has taken the stage. Matt Smith, the younger actor ever to play the role, has shown himself to have a good start albeit in a way eerily reminiscent of Ecclestone's early episodes. It's too early, of course, to decide on what will make his Doctor unique and he is following in the huge footsteps of David Tennant who made the best doctor since Tom Baker's fourth.
There is also the underlying concern that there will only be thirteen doctors in total which means after Smith runs his 3-4 season the producers will seriously have to look at how they intend to end the series, assuming they don't suddenly decide to give the Doctor a whole new set.
All in all an exciting season ahead with lots of potential. But then, they said that about the fifth Doctor and he wound up being a total dud.