Who Review: The Eaters of Light

The TARDIS lands in second century Aberdeen, where Bill wants to prove a theory to the Doctor. The history books talk of the disappearance of the ninth Roman legion, but Bill is convinced they just vanished, or left. The Doctor counters that they were annihilated in battle, even though no physical evidence of their existence has ever been found. However, the missing legion soon comes to light. The Doctor and Nardole find their shriveled remains scattered across a field near the woods. Death by light deprivation. Meanwhile, Bill manages to find the remnants of the army: a small group of frightened teenagers living in underground caves. They rescue her from the mysterious monster that has been tormenting them, driving them into hiding. That strange creature with glowing tentacles wiped out almost the entire legion. And now it’s coming for them. The Scottish Picts are also living in fear. It was they that set the monster on the marauding Romans, but that monster is now loose, and, as the Doctor and Nardole explain to them, unless that monster is sent back to where it belongs, the sun, the stars, and life on Earth is doomed.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The big story with Episode 10 of Season 10 is that it was written by Classic Series writer Rona Monro–not only one of the few women to write for the Classic Series, but the woman who wrote the last story of the Classic Series, “Survival.” We’ve had Classic Series Doctors, companions, monsters, and directors, returning to the New Series, but Rona is the first returning writer. I don’t know why there’s been such a hesitation over the last 12 years to bring back Classic Series writers. Maybe they’ve all moved on and are not interested (some of them have, sadly, moved on permanently and are not able), or maybe the New Series production team didn’t think the Classic writers could handle the new style and new format. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see a familiar name, and I hope this is the start of a trend. There were some talented writers emerging in the late 80s, some of whom plied their skill post-TV Who in the Virgin and BBC book ranges. I think they would do well with the New Series. We’ll see.

That said, I was hoping “The Eaters of Light” would be the knock-out, best episode of the season. It’s good, very good, in fact. For a start, it’s an interesting premise for a story: settling a historical argument. After all, Bill just has to produce a Roman soldier to show they lived, and the Doctor just has to find a battlefield littered with bodies. And so they go their separate ways, not a care that they might be walking into danger. Which, of course, they are. The Doctor and Nardole end up with the native Picts, while Bill ends up with the Roman invaders. The Doctor had mentioned before that the Picts liked to tell stories of other worlds, and they created cairns believing them to be portals to those other worlds. Except one of them actually is, and the young Pict leader, Kar, was guarding the cairn, but opened it for the monster to get out and destroy the Romans. The Doctor isn’t shy about making sure she understands the stupidity of what she has done. And that stirs her resolve to make it right.

When Bill first encounters a Roman soldier, she laments not learning Latin so she could speak to him. But then she discovers that he can understand her–she is speaking Latin though it all sounds to her like English. Then later, when Bill and the Doctor bring the Picts and the Romans together, Bill notes she can understand them both, and they can understand each other. Long-time Whovians are well aware of the TARDIS translation capability, and Bill figures out this strange telepathic power is somehow connected to the Doctor. The other eye-opening insight Bill gets is how much a common language levels the playing field. Indeed, when the Picts and the Romans all speak English (to her ears, at least), they sound much more their age. From that develops a plan for the two former belligerents to join forces against a common foe: the monster.

In the end, when they force the monster back through the portal, we expect the Doctor to volunteer as gatekeeper, keeping back the monsters. Of course, he would be there for a long time, but the TARDIS will take Bill home. After all, the Doctor can regenerate, and guarding humanity is what he does. But neither Bill, nor the Picts are having any of that. Indeed, the young Pict leader steps forward and claims it as her duty. The young Roman leader volunteers to stand with her. And indeed, all the Romans and Picts are ready to keep the monsters at bay. It’s all very heart-warming, though I’m not sure how that would work. The Doctor offered his services because, as a Time Lord, he has an infinitely greater life span than all those humans put together. I’m not sure how that suddenly became irrelevant. Granted, time slows down in the portal, so a couple of minutes becomes a couple of days. But that still means the humans will only be able to guard the gateway for a very limited time. Nevertheless, the Doctor is forced to accept the humans’ view of things, and he leaves them to get on with it.

I thought the crow noise was a nice touch. We are told early on how the crows in those days talk. They say “Doctor” and “Monster,” though we hear them say little else. The Doctor laments that the crows got fed up of humans not talking back to them, which is why in Bill’s time they just sound grumpy. By the end of the story, we know the real reason for the sound they make.

So, “Eaters of Light” is a good story, and fits in with the other good stories this season. But it’s not a classic or “Must-See.” Rona Munro lived up to the expectation of giving us a good story, with interesting, well-crafted characters, and a good plot. But it’s not exceptional, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s good enough, I think, to consider bringing back other Classic show writers.

The end tag with Missy is interesting. Is she really remorseful? Was that tear a crocodile tear, or was it genuine? Could it be she’s softening, and truly desires a restoration of the friendship she used to have with the Doctor back in their Academy days? Is this something the John Simm Master will have to snap her out of? Whatever’s going on, Steven Moffat is setting us up for an explosive finale, which begins with the next episode…

Did you enjoy this episode? Are you excited for the next? Thoughts? Theories? Share!

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