After the piece of shit I had to endure last week (not to mention the disappointing experience from the week before) I was really counting on “The Eaters of Light” on being a redeeming episode for Doctor Who (given we are on the penultimate narrative of the series). Luckily for me things paid off this week. I wouldn’t say that “The Eaters of Light” was the best episode out there, but it certainly impressed.
Hype went into this episode through Rona Munro coming back to write for Doctor Who after 28 years. For those who don’t know Munro she was responsible for writing “Survival”, the final serial for the Classic Series, sending off The Seventh Doctor and Ace after the show was tragically taken off the air. And it was a decent final serial to end the Classic Series on, which made me pretty excited to see a Classic writer return to pen for the modern show. Why the fuck didn’t this happen sooner?
I will admit though that Steven Moffat‘s usual hyping left me rather confused, and disappointed, as he promised some big surprises when it came to the writer’s line-up, only to be left with the usual gang, a newbie I’d never heard of, and Munro (who was a nice surprise, sure, but hardly the best of the Classic writers, and certainly not somebody worth over-hyping). So in that respect this episode wasn’t anything of a highlight upon initial approach.
But as I said, I needed something good to happen this week after Mark Gatiss did a huge shit in my front garden with his bollocks episode, before taking an even bigger shit in my back garden with his confused views on the show and how the fandom works (I’ll tell you this for free Mark-y-boy, fans will stop watching the show if a Female Doctor is cast). And considering Toby Whithouse had also let me down this series it was up to Munro to fix the damages made to this once consistent series (no pressure there then). But I guess it’s true what they say, “Third time is the charm,” as “The Eaters of Light” brought some flare back into the show, and certainly gave our regulars some juicy material to play with once more.
The episode starts off rather confusing with two children playing around some ancient rocks in modern-day Scotland, with the boy quite superstitious about the local folk-tales surrounding the rocks, whilst the girl is rather happy about being there and claims to hear music coming from the rocks. We then see that one of the engravings on the rocks is a picture of the TARDIS (to which I shuddered, praying that we weren’t going to have a shitty repeat of last week).
Things don’t get much better by the entrance of the TARDIS trio as they sort of end up in the past for rather obscure reasoning. It’s essentially The Twelfth Doctor trying to prove Bill wrong, with him believing he knows more about history than his student. I think this might have come across a bit stronger if we’d had some sort of pretence to this arrival. Perhaps a quick montage of moments where Bill kept trying to sell her ideas to her tutor whilst he constantly evaded the possibility of her being right until eventually he gives-up and decides to go back in time in order to end the argument with concrete evidence. Instead, they just sort of arrive and we are told this with quick dialogue that feels really rushed due to time constraints.
But rest assured the rest of the episode isn’t as rushed and does deliver a rather interesting narrative. It’s quite stripped back in one sense, telling a really basic tale about a mindless beast that acts on pure-instinct, and The Doctor has to try and overcome this creature and save the day. I will admit though that I was originally counting on this episode being set on an alien planet (because for some reason the title just gave me that kind of vibe) but instead we’re on Earth again (having already spent the last 6/9 episodes on fucking Earth).
The premise for their arrival is due to the other trying to prove what really happened the Ninth Roman Legion, with Bill believing that they weren’t all destroyed, but in a cool Doctor Who twist we learn that Bill’s theory isn’t far from the truth (although she’s not entirely right either). The Ninth Legion is certainly caught in a battle but not quite the one that The Twelfth Doctor was expecting. Upon encountering the Picts The Twelfth Doctor begins to get a better understanding as to what is going on in Ancient Scotland.
I don’t know whether it’s because Peter Capaldi was given some really good material to work with this week, or that he’s travelled to Scotland (thus unleashing his inner bitterness and grumpiness), but he was certainly on fire throughout. He was very quick to resort back to his earlier self and be rather blunt, uncaring, and in some cases spiteful, in order to get his views across. He’s not at all impressed by the Picts, and constantly finds ways of insulting their leader Kar, an inexperienced young woman who thinks she knows everything.
The Twelfth Doctor really laces into her within certain moments, which made me both laugh and become rather sad because we would soon have to say goodbye to the “Scottish” Doctor. I guess it was really nice to have an episode where Capaldi could return to his younger-self and release some anger and inhuman nature (something that he was chaffed at for by Clara Oswald). He was just quick to mock her for her inexperience, her age, and later on her emotions because The Twelfth Doctor felt it wasted everyone’s time, believing that mourning the dead meant the living would end up joining them due to neglecting her duties.
Capaldi even ended up having one hell of a speech to give to both the Picts and the Romans (after they attempted to squabble amongst themselves instead of fighting the real problem). Although it’s nowhere near as spectacular as The Twelfth Doctor’s speech from “The Zygon Inversion” it was still certainly powerful, with Capaldi brilliantly changing the volume of his tone at the perfect moment to emphasis his character’s stern points on war and responsibility.
Things became even more powerful when The Twelfth Doctor really became one with his inner duties as the hero of time and space, opting to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the day. It’s really tragic when you understand his reasoning, and understand that his resolve is pure and that he wants to be the hero in order to do the right thing for Earth (something he has done for almost all of his regenerations). But, at the same time, it’s a rare moment when The Doctor has to be told that his feelings towards being the noble hero have to be shunted because it’s not his fight, or his sacrifice to make. He is forced to stand down and accept the fact that the characters around him are actually capable of growing up and fulfilling their own destiny.
I think this does justice to the supporting characters because they have their clear weaknesses and mistakes displayed onscreen, with the Romans having fled the battle due to fear, and Kar released the creature she was supposed to be guarding out of hatred towards the Romans. This final moment was their way of redeeming themselves, almost unexpectedly listening to The Twelfth Doctor’s advice and stepping up to the mark without fear, ready to accept their fates in order to be who they were meant to be.
And The Twelfth Doctor quite selfishly didn’t want this to happen, wishing to fulfil the sacrifice himself because he’s wiser and more ancient. But Bill and Nardole swiftly remind the foolish old Time Lord that he cannot fight every fight, as there’s always another battle that The Doctor is needed for.
Of course how can I forget to talk about Bill. Pearl Mackie has had so many moments to shine throughout Series 10 and “The Eaters of Light” was another highlight reel for her. She showed such independence, spirit, and determination throughout in order to both prove a point, and eventually survive with her comrades. Even when having a normal conversation with the Romans (which sparked up some interesting moments concerning sexuality and how it really doesn’t matter who you love, riding on the back of Bill’s running-gag of letting down men who fancy her due to her being a lesbian) Bill shined as an understanding and caring person.
What really made her shine was her moment of declaration as leader of the group, promising them not their safety in trying to find The Twelfth Doctor but that they wouldn’t die in a hole, which I found to be very honest and true to her personality, showcasing her wisdom and what she’s learnt from her tutor during her classes and travels with him. In many ways it demonstrates a better connection between Time Lord and companion because she doesn’t pick up on his recklessness, but rather his courage and the willingness to do the right thing.
And then Bill really goes that extra mile by determining that The Doctor and the TARDIS delivers her (and those around them) a psychic connection in order to understand one another. It’s an utterly brilliant moment. Even The Twelfth Doctor congratulates her on her deductions, to which she uses it to her advantage to help bring an alliance between the Romans and the Picts. I guess it’s also really interesting to discover the psychic link is another strange way of The Doctor showcasing his superiority through other species sounding like children to him, to which he must teach them the ways of the universe.
As stated before, there isn’t really a villain to this narrative but rather a good old fashioned monster that chases our heroes through dark misty woods and dark cave-systems. It isn’t anything spectacular, although the concept of it needing to feast on light is rather intriguing, making the deaths of its victims all the more horrific. But like a lot of Series 10’s episodes, “The Eaters of Light” is very much stripped back to be a fun, traditional Doctor Who adventure. And with a sinister doorway in space and time leading to a dimension of monsters trying to seep through to our universe and devour our light, you have yourself a definite enjoyable experience from start to finish.
The episode wraps-up rather nicely as it answers the annoying question posed by the conclusion of “Empress of Mars”, i.e. what the fuck happened to Missy? As it turned out she was secretly aboard the TARDIS watching the adventure from afar (to Bill and Nardole’s shock, whom both thought she was still in the Vault after being returned there after last week’s episode). The Twelfth Doctor is placed with a strange dilemma as he’s unsure whether his old friend has reached the point of redemption, or just playing him for a fool in order to get one up on him (which is something The Master would likely do).
So for the meantime The Twelfth Doctor has Missy locked aboard the TARDIS in an attempt to see whether or not she can truly change from being a psychotic mass-murderer into someone more like himself. In many ways this parallels to The Tenth Doctor’s attempts in both “Last of the Time Lords” and “The End of Time” to rekindle their friendship and change his dark ways in an attempt to rebalance their twisted past. But, I’m not convinced this interesting story-arc has been done right, namely because it feels like Moffat has made The Master way too feminine.
This is my major problem with Missy being the latest incarnation of The Master, she lowers his overall personality through sexism. In many ways Moffat has done more harm than good making The Master a woman, by destroying his title, and not allowing a woman to be called “Master” (which is really fucking odd if you ask me, almost old fashioned). That, and he’s now written too much like a woman (yes I know he’s now in a female body, but does that mean his characteristics change so dramatically, to the point where he doesn’t act like himself anymore because he’s a different gender).
Just because he’s now a woman he has to become more emotional, and vulnerable to sentimental values that he wants to be The Doctor’s friend again, and even starts crying upon remembering what feelings mean. That is rather sexist. I don’t want to dish out that card and become one of those people but it shows me that the writer’s wouldn’t be able to cope with a Female Doctor because shit like this would happen (poor fucking writing and a total misunderstanding of the opposite gender).
So because of all this bullshit and fuck-ups, The Master has nearly been ruined. I just hope that John Simm‘s return next week will re-establish just what it means to be The Master and remind the audience that backwards thinking doesn’t produce quality television, it just puts a bullet in the back of its head as it falls silently into a ditch never to be seen again. Please Moffat, just do me the huge favour of revealing that Missy was never The Master all along and maybe I can finally start sleeping soundly at night.
Also, before I go, Nardole was once again entertaining. Not as prominent as some of his previous appearances, but still well-balanced with his humour and intellectual input. Plus, it was hilarious seeing him convert into a Pict after he believes The Twelfth Doctor has died, thus starting a new life telling them strange stories from his past whilst huddled around a camp-fire.