Year:  2017

Director:  Charles Palmer

Rated:  PG

Release:  June 18, 2017

Distributor: ABC

Running time: 45 minutes

Worth: $12.50
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Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

The Doctor and company travel to ancient Scotland, to settle an argument over the disappearance of the Ninth Roman Legion.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) travel to ancient Scotland, to settle the Doctor and Bill’s argument over the disappearance of the Ninth Roman Legion. They split up to search the countryside. The Doctor and Nardole are captured by a group of fearful Scottish teenagers, while Bill is hunted down by an alien creature before finding the survivors of the Legion; the only survivors of the mysterious beast’s attacks.

In a sense, this is it: the beginning of the end. With next week’s episode forming the first half of a two-part season finale, and then Peter Capaldi departing the series at the end of the 2017 Christmas special, this is the final regular episode for both Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor and for Steven Moffat’s seven-year run as showrunner on Doctor Who. How oddly fitting, then, that “The Eaters of Light” comes from writer Rona Munro. Her only previous writing for Doctor Who was the 1989 serial “Survival”, the final adventure of the original 26-year run.

It seems so inevitable that Doctor Who would tackle the fabled disappearance of Ninth Roman Legion, who apparently vanished while in 2nd century Scotland. In fact it actually seems rather odd that it has taken the series so long to get around to it. Using the legend as the basis for her script, Munro has developed a relatively simple but satisfying children’s adventure. Viewers hoping for something with complexity or nuance will likely come away dissatisfied. Those who have been enjoying this season’s return to straight-forward storytelling will have a much better time of it.

That said, it is a somewhat imperfect episode. The best material goes to Bill and the Roman Centurions, who are well-developed and engaging. There is a great scene exploring Roman concepts of sexuality which is so deftly written that it feels perfectly in place for family entertainment, which must have taken some doing.

On the other side the Doctor and Nardole’s encounter with the Pictish children struggles quite badly. The spark that fires up the Roman characters simply doesn’t ignite here, and they wind up feeling slightly annoying and petulant. At the same time the Doctor’s characterisation has taken a wild backwards step towards Capaldi’s acerbic, slightly unkind portrayal from all the way back in Season 8. He does not so much inspire the children as bully them into action. Nardole simply keeps interrupting the flow of the episode with poorly written quips and jokes. I have found throughout this season that a little of the character goes a very long way. As a sort of fussy butler on campus, chastising the Doctor for leaving the vault he is supposed to be guarding, he works perfectly well. As a full-blown companion he grates very quickly on the nerves. This time around he felt positively interminable.

The episode is helped along by some strong direction and very attractive production values, not in the least the impressive-looking alien creature that threatens the Pictish and Roman survivors. The Scottish setting and generally folkloric tone also help to smooth over the episode’s shortfalls. It is not perfect Doctor Who, but it is at least broadly entertaining stuff. Is ‘mildly entertaining’ simply damning with faint praise? Possibly. Doctor Who is often much better than this, but to be fair it has often been far worse.


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