A scholarly disagreement between the Doctor and Bill sends them on another journey into history. But how can a battle between Roman soldiers and Pictish warriors possibly lead to the end of the universe?
The Quick & Spoiler-Free Verdict
An intelligent and moving story that gives each member of the main cast a chance to shine. This is definitely one of this year's better stand-alone episodes, despite a few unnecessary injections of politics. Plus, it sets the stage for the finale in an interesting and unexpected fashion.
I was intrigued to hear that Rona Munro would be contributing an episode to Series 10 of Doctor Who, given that she wrote the very last serial of the classic era (“Survival,” featuring the Seventh Doctor). I haven't seen “Survival,” so I can't compare it to “The Eaters of Light.” I will say, however, that the tone of this story is reminiscent of the classic era–in a good way. It wholeheartedly embraces the complexities of history without watering things down for modern viewers or throwing in excessive references to the present day. It's also not afraid to indulge in some pretty heavy sci-fi. I'm more accustomed to encountering elements like this from Big Finish than the TV series, so it was interesting and fun to see the Twelfth Doctor in this kind of story.
The best thing about the episode is that it gives equal time to each member of the TARDIS trio. Even Nardole is arguably used better here than in any previous episode this season. Pairing him off with the Doctor for a significant part of the story was a particularly good decision. It further developed their entertaining dynamic and gave Bill the opportunity to be clever and capable on her own. (Side note: the Doctor's proud smile when Bill figured out the TARDIS' telepathic circuits without any help from him was priceless.)
Ironically, Munro not only got a chance to write another Doctor Who episode, she got the chance to write the Master again. Missy makes another “surprise” appearance this week, with even more screen time than she was given in “Empress of Mars.” As soon as she showed up, I was expecting it to lead into some huge cliffhanger for the finale. That's how penultimate episodes of Doctor Who seasons usually end, after all. But instead, the setup for the finale is more subtle and unpredictable. The slowly building arc of Missy's (apparent) redemption during this season has been developed brilliantly so far, and I get the impression that the two-part finale will be even more Master-centric than I first imagined. *fist pump* YES.
Plus, it's just great to have Twelve in an episode that's so whole-heartedly Scottish. ‘Nuff said.
There are two issues which have been beaten to death in Series 10, and which show up yet again in “The Eaters of Light.” One is the subject of pacifism and anti-war philosophy. I know Capaldi's famous speech on the topic from “The Zygon Inversion” was well received, but I don't think engineering opportunities for him to make fifteen more anti-war speeches this year was a good plan. (All right, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea.) I'm not even saying I disagree with all the points of this philosophy as the Twelfth Doctor expresses it, though my Christian faith leads me to take a slightly different approach to the problem. But I really do think the show should move on from it now. It's becoming tiresome.
The second issue that's been given far too much emphasis is Bill's homosexuality. Some episodes have refrained from making a big deal of it, others have not. “The Eaters of Light,” sadly, falls into the latter category. The result is a boring scene with questionable historical accuracy. I'm definitely not an expert on sexual politics in ancient Rome, so I can't say for sure whether a Roman referring to bisexuality as “ordinary” fits the period or not. Either way, however, the scene felt like lazy writing; injecting a contemporary issue into a historical setting just to set up a joke.
The Final Word
Minor niggles aside, “The Eaters of Light” is a great conclusion to the one-off stories of Series 10. I hope Munro does more work for New Who, as I'd love to see more episodes like this. It's clever, heartfelt, and highly enjoyable.
Next week, it all begins. Two–count 'em–TWO Masters. If you're not excited yet, take a look at this awesome promo pic…
One More Thing
To tide you over until the finale, why not check out the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen (set to make their triumphant return this week alongside John Simm) in the classic Big Finish audio drama Spare Parts? Useful research. 😀 Also, it's only $2.99.