Doctor Who: 10.10 The Eaters Of Light
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I've always had a soft spot for Survival, the very final Sylvester McCoy adventure (barring his appearance in the 1996 TV movie) and the end of the classic Doctor Who era as a whole. It might not be as good as some Seventh Doctor stories from those last two series, but the combination of Cheetah people, the final appearance of Anthony Ainley's Master and a return to Ace's home town of Perivale make it a memorable final story and one that isn't a million miles' away from the revival opener Rose.
Anyway I digress; the recent I am talking about Survival (which you should definitely check out) is because it was penned by Rona Munro who, rather surprisingly, is the only writer from the classic era to crossover to Nu Who. As I mentioned in my spoiler-free preview, The Eaters Of Light is an episode that feels as it could largely have taken place in the late Seventh Doctor era. A mysterious portal to another world, Roman soldiers, Pre-Pictish warriors and a heavy dose of mysticism make this an engaging historical adventure. There is plenty of atmosphere, thanks to the terrific direction by Charles Palmer, making good use of translating the Welsh location shooting of Doctor Who into the rugged terrain of 10th Century Aberdeenshire.
Munro also makes good use of the real life mystery of the Ninth Legion, a Roman force that disappeared without a trace. Bill's determination to uncover the mystery and A-Level knowledge of Roman history brings her, the Doctor and Nardole into the past, prompting a fierce debate of who knows more about the Romans. Of course, the Doctor has lived as a Roman numerous times, but it was a delight to see these two bicker - as much as it was to see Bill utilise her experience of travelling in the TARDIS to take the lead - and Munro certainly delivers plenty of great dialogue this week. Nardole had a whole host of wonderful one liners "I make a mean spag bol" after being asked if he is a Roman, offering to make popcorn to blend in and then acclimatising to their new living conditions with the locals by taking on a strong Scottish accent.
There's also a few powerful speeches too; Rebecca Benson's pre-Pict gatekeeper Kar gets an emotive speech about the horrors the Romans have inflicted on her lands, while Bill gets to rouse the troops and convince the remains of the Roman legion she encounters to fight the creature that slaughtered their comrades. There is even a thoughtful discussion about sexuality with both Bill and the soldiers taking openly about their various attractions and embracing equality; it's a reminder that some things haven't always changed for the better as history has progressed. And Capaldi, excellent as always, forcing the picts and Romans to 'grow the hell up' and unite against the greater threat. No one quite delivers these moments like Capaldi and it will be one of the things I will certainly miss when he goes.
The creature is a little too CGI for my liking, with its glowing tentacles, but my son did remark at how 'cool' it was, so it is largely a success on that front. And the skirmishes in the woods and caves are thrilling stuff, adding another element of danger to the wilderness and war that the Doctor, Bill and Nardole have wandered into. The locations - the caves, the woods and the cairn - are all dark and atmospheric too. The Eaters Of Light is certainly not a bright, sunny affair but the gloom and rain of the Scottish highlands are the perfect place for this tale. Munro embraces her Scottish roots to put the threat to the world at its very edge; for the Roman Empire, the northern parts of Scotland were a journey into the farthest unknowns, while in this story, it's all about the quest by the Picts to save their home.
It's telling that there are no adults here; just like Survival, which saw Ace work with her friends to save the day, this episode forces the younger generation (even the Roman commander Lucius is an eighteen year old) to step up and become adults themselves. The older generation might have been wiped out by war, but now the young must fill those roles as leaders, warriors and protectors. The episode doesn't always succeed in giving every supporting character a well rounded back story, but by the time Carn, Lucius, Thracius and all the remaining soldiers step into the void to face the 'eater of the light' and save the Earth, enough time has been invested in their stories that you feel for their bittersweet sacrifice.
Oh and more of the delightful Missy again, this time lurking in the TARDIS the whole time, carrying out repairs in exchange for her freedom. I can't honestly believe she is going 'good', particularly with the (frustratingly) spoilery trailer for the next episode. But it is a fascinating journey she is going on and Michelle Gomez has never been better.
I love a good historical Doctor Who and for me this episode is a great example of what the show can do. It was certainly my favourite story of series 10 after Oxygen. And yet, there is definitely something missing too. It's hard to saw what it is, but there hasn't quite been an episode this year that has excited audiences like Mummy On The Orient Express or Heaven Sent. I don't think The Eaters Of Light is going to change that. But on its own merits, it delivers an intriguing sci-fi twist on a historical mystery, has tons of atmosphere, wonderful performances and great dialogue. What more can you ask for? And as Peter Capaldi's last solo story before the two part finale and Christmas special (how sad is that?) it's a good one to end on before all hell breaks loose.
Mondas, here we come...