Once again Doctor Who explores a mystery from the pages of history itself, what happened to Legio IX Hispana? As The Doctor and Bill and Nardole journey back to second century Scotland to find the Ninth Roman Legion, they discover a more sinister threat awaits them. Meet me after the time jump for my thoughts on “The Eaters of Light.”
The Lost Legion
We open in present day with kids playing on the Devil’s Cairn in Scotland and hearing ghosts. They pass a stone (hopefully not one of blood, from one of my favorite classic episodes “The Stones of Blood“) that has an image of the TARDIS carved on it, possibly centuries past. As one of the kids wanders away toward the supposed sound of a ghost, the credits roll, and we reopen with the TARDIS crew same place, but in the second century.
The Doctor and Bill are arguing about the Ninth Roman Legion, which vanished without a trace at some point in the first or second century, probably in ancient Britain, true story. Theories abound but nothing is known for sure. Bill thinks she knows what happened (another companion obsessed with the Roman Legion like Amy Pond??) but The Doctor insists they just disappeared. They separate, Nardole with The Doctor, to prove their theses.
A minor quibble, but just what the hell were Bill and Nardole wearing anyway? She in some sort of soccer outfit and he in a hat and bathrobe – both bright red! That is a bit too conspicuous for ancient Britain, wouldn’t you think? I’m surprised that either of them weren’t taken as demons or witches and burned. Although the Legionnaires are partial to red as well.
It would seem there are all these Roman Legion outfits still hanging around the BBC from “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang.” One could plausibly believe that someone in accounting or wardrobe told Steven Moffat he needs to make another Roman Legion Doctor Who story. The superstitious Picts on the other hand are just wearing Game of Thrones leftovers and drawing on their faces.
The Birds and the Bees
Speaking of Game of Thrones, there are talking crows here, both warning The Doctor, and earlier, possibly calling for his help. He dismisses it when Nardole brings it up, insisting that crows have always been able to talk, human beings just stopped having intelligent conversations with them. I half expected a comment about the crow that killed Clara, or doesn’t he remember that?
Bill does find Roman soldiers by falling through the ground (again? isn’t that how she found Ice Warriors last week?). I love how Bill works out the TARDIS’ telepathic translation link, by the way. And I also loved that they take her sexual preference in stride. The Legionnaires are more enlightened than some in our supposedly enlightened time. The soldiers are hiding out from a monster, one that decimated them.
The Eaters of Light
The monster, non-humanoid and atypical to Doctor Who, is a sort of Chinese dragon-like beast with long wiry neon blue glowing tentacles in its mouth, and it’s hungry. The Picts call it an Eater of Light. On The Doctor’s end he learns it’s actually an extradimensional beastie that has come through a gateway in the cairns. Young Kar, the gatekeeper, shows him to it. Certainly I can’t be the only one expecting a keymaster to show up, right?
The Doctor is in there for a few seconds, while out here two days have passed. Nardole has since made friends with the Picts, had his face drawn on, and is teaching them the truths of ships lost at sea. Did he go back to the TARDIS to exchange his red robe for a black jacket? The problem is, The Doctor explains, that there are a ton more of these nasties on the other side waiting to come through and lay waste to the Earth.
When The Doctor and Bill reunite, he is again (this is getting tiring) in charge of a negotiation between two opposing forces. Luckily they make up quickly, united in the quest of returning the monster to its own world. Together, with The Doctor’s ingenuity, they force the CGI beastie back through the gateway, but then there’s the hard part.
Someone has to guard the gateway to make sure more don’t come through. The Doctor is prepared to be that forever guardian, like with the vault, or in the town of Christmas on Trenzalore, must be something he picked up from Rory. The Picts and the Legionnaires won’t let him. They guard the gate as the structure collapses in on itself.
Throwback and Continuity
In hindsight there appears to be two things that stand out in this episode. First there is a profound throwback feeling to classic Who. Perhaps showrunner Moffat has gotten daring since the appearance of Alpha Centauri in the last episode and wants to see what else he can get away with. The whole separated companion thing was old school, as was explaining an actual historical mystery, and many of Peter Capaldi’s lines could have easily come out of Tom Baker’s mouth. All good things, mind you.
Second there is the painful lack of continuity. The Doctor has lived in these times, and dealt with the Roman Legion as recently as the Matt Smith era. No checking for Autons? No thought to contact Rory maybe? As The Doctor walked through those stones, no checking for Ogri? Now that’s just me being picky. There’s continuity, and then there’s just plain plot holes.
One of those plot holes might be how the TARDIS left on its own in the last episode. The Doctor did say return trips are easy, but that’s hardly an explanation. And then there’s the matter of Missy, she’s waiting for them when they get back to the TARDIS. The Doctor explains that she’s been doing work for him.
Could she have manipulated the TARDIS? Could she be manipulating The Doctor? Did he ever even return her to the vault after last episode? Could such a friendship work? Even Bill, and especially Nardole, are doubtful. And what will she do when her John Simm incarnation shows up? And non sequitur, but who else noticed The Doctor is wearing a wedding ring?
The old schoolness of the episode may be due to its writer, Rona Munro, whose other Doctor Who work is “Survival” from 1989. Notably, this is the final serial of the classic series and features Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Anthony Ainsley as The Master. If it’s any indication of what we get, I’d like to see more writers from the classic series do episodes.
I really liked “The Eaters of Light,” from the cyclical bit with the crows to the interaction between The Doctor and Missy, I dug this. My favorite bit was the Superman movie lesson that was taught to The Doctor at the end. He can’t be everywhere, so his real job is to inspire mankind to be better. And that’s as it should be.
Next: The long-awaited return of the Mondasian Cybermen in “World Enough and Time!”