Doctor Who – S10 E10: The Eaters of Light – Reviewed

"I'm sorry, I steal scenes, I can't help it!"
The Eaters of Light has an unusual distinction among the new Doctor Who series, in that it is one of the few modern episodes to have been written by a screenwriter from the original show. And not just any screenwriter: Rona Munro happened to write what turned out to be the series finale of the original Doctor Who, the three-part 1989 story arc Survival. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that The Eaters of Light feels very much like a vintage Doctor Who adventure, with a focus on an ensemble of guest characters rather than the monster of the week, and with a more deliberately-paced, dialogue-and-not-action sensibility. The result is, much like last week's Empress of Mars, a pleasantly nostalgic episode which is quite a lot of fun for long-time fans of the series. However, it is hard to deny that Empress of Mars did it a bit better, while this episode is a little uneven in spots. It is still a solid enough entry in the series, with very strong moments throughout; but this season has so far been so good that a merely-pretty-good episode is relatively one of the weaker of the year.

"Hey, this makes that crack in the wall in series 5 feel like no big deal!"

The episode finds The Doctor, Bill and Nardole traveling back to ancient Scotland to settle a bet between The Doctor and Bill regarding the fate of a Roman legion who mysteriously disappeared in the region. Naturally the mystery behind their disappearance turns out to be otherworldly in nature – a somewhat Lovecraftian tentacled beast – and soon The Doctor is trying to unite the survivors of the Roman army and their Scottish enemies to the common cause of defeating the monster. In classic Doctor Who fashion, in keeping with Munro's original series roots, the focus is not on the monster itself, but on the human characters: their reasons for fighting each other, the animosities that exist between them, and how they ultimately unite to face the greater evil. This arc echoes the familiar themes of Doctor Who's humanism, and the optimistic belief in humanity to put aside their toxic disagreements in order to do the right thing when really required. This is when The Eaters of Light is at its best: in the character moments that address the soldiers' anxieties about both the fight and each other, when The Doctor tries to make them see reason with his usual acerbic philosophy. Bill likewise gets a few excellent character moments with the Romans, both dramatic and comedic. One of the finest moments in the episode is a comic one when Bill references being a lesbian, and braces herself for the shock of old-fashioned heteronormative intolerance... only to instead get a reminder that in Roman society bisexuality was the norm, and it is actually they who think she is old-fashioned because of how uptight about the topic she seems. It's a fun moment that turns the tables on the sorts of culture-shock typically portrayed in time-travel stories (not to mention a useful reminder that heteronormativity is a modern social construct!).

"Rambo: The Ancient Roman Years."
Unfortunately, the parts of the episode actually involving the creature are a bit weaker. While Munro came up with a very cool Lovecraftian concept for what it is and how it kills, she could not come up with many really interesting things for it to do, and its unique abilities ultimately come off a tad underutilized. Despite the great potential for a very different type of monster, it is used in a disappointingly generic way. The design for the creature is also a good deal more ambitious (and again, Lovecraftian) than the budget can comfortably allow, and there certainly are times when the quality of the CGI looks below par for what we are used to on the series. Still, it does provide a couple suspenseful moments, and at least the interesting concept is there. It is just too bad that the execution does not match it.

Ultimately, The Eaters of Light is a pretty good story that is just a little bit short of being very good. The characterization and philosophy are when the episode is at its best, and when it channels classic Doctor Who very effectively. It is just a shame that the great concept of the creature is not met with equally effective execution. Still, it is far from a bad episode, just not a tremendously memorable one. It is perhaps a tribute to the quality of this season that being just a pretty good episode puts it in the bottom several for this year. Still, it is certainly worth a look – especially for fans of the original series who want to see an episode that recaptures a similar feel.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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