This week’s Doctor Who took us to the damp and dreary vistas of ancient Scotland, on the trail of a missing Roman legion… and the nasty creature that was behind their disappearance. Lets nitpicks some Picts, and talk about the rest of the episode in our spoiler-laden weekly thread!
Doctor Who‘s 1oth season has taken us back in time quite a few times already — including last week, even if it was on another planet — but “The Eaters of Light,” might have done the best job of rooting itself in a past era. It makes sense given that writer Rona Munro’s (best known to Who fans previously as the writer of the very last serial of classic Doctor Who, “Survival”) career as playwright in the 28 years between her Doctor Who stints saw her write an excellent series of plays about the kings of Scotland called The James Plays.
Without the hook of an absurdity like thrusting Ice Warriors and Victorian Soldiers together or having to set up a new companion’s earliest stories, what shined throughout this episode was its world building — taking the time not just to give us some truly gorgeous location work (unlike Nardole, I’d happily take “death by Scotland” with a view like those out my window!), but also explore the lives and moral dilemmas behind the Picts and invading Romans. Given that the need for these two conflicting sides to have to work together — both sympathetic, despite their misgivings (and what with that whole “invasion of a foreign country” thing the Romans were known for) — by the climax, being able to spend some time with characters like the moody gatekeeper Kar or the surprisingly progressive remnants of the Ninth Legion made their eventual alliance to defeat the monster haunting both of them that much more effective.
Which is a good job, because the titular monster itself never felt like it really had much threat to it in this episode to really drive home both the apparently potent nature of their light-devouring abilities and the needs for the Picts and Romans to come together in the face of it. It got a few brief, good moments, and the effects we see it’s light-eating leaves on corpses was another amazing bit of makeup work from the prop department (between this and the cubed soldiers killed by the Ice Warrior blasters last week, one area Who hasn’t slipped down in yet this season is suitably weird and gruesome deaths!) — but it wasn’t enough to really make the creature feel like a really major presence, up until the moment it needed to be quickly defeated and shuffled aside in favour of another Doctor/Missy epilogue. Which continues to be intriguing, but when it’s at the expense of a satisfying resolution to the episode itself, a little annoying too.
Yes, Doctor Who is always about finding ways for people to come together instead of fight each other, but it’s also about them doing so in the face of scary, effective monsters — something the show has tripped up on a bit lately between this latest creature and the Monks. Hopefully that will change next week as we head into Steven Moffat’s last season finale — with both the classic, scary as hell Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm’s Master back in action.
We’ll have more on “The Eaters of Light” in our recap, but for now let us know what you thought in the comments below.