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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Doctor Who S36E10: The Eaters of Light

Doctor Who
Series 36, Episode 10
The Eaters of Light

So, last week, I said that this episode would take us to Stonehenge, but it actually took us to Aberdeen, and an entirely different stone circle, so that's good.

This week's episode is written by Rona Munro, who is perhaps best known for the James Cycle of plays or her adaptation of Watership Down, but who is also now the only writer to have worked on both Old and New Who, having written the very last serial of Old Who (which was very well-received at the time). I do quite like Munro's work, as a rule, so I was somewhat looking forward to this episode.

As the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole head to Roman-invaded Scotland to discover what happened to the Ninth Legion, they quickly become embroiled in a crisis that none of them could have expected: Bill becomes trapped with a group of deserters from the Legion, who are being hunted by a beast that devours light, while the Doctor and Nardole are stuck with the surviving locals, who are in disarray after forsaking their duty to keep the Eaters of Light trapped, having allowed one through to defeat the Romans. With a monster on the loose and thousands more set to come through, the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole must find a way to force the beast back through the portal before it consumes the sun.

So, I think it's fair to say that this is definitely one of the better episodes we've had this series. It might even be the best one so far, edging out last week's episode on account of being a much more focused affair.

Rohan Nedd is very pretty.

Truth be told, though, I'm having trouble pinning down exactly why I enjoyed it so much. It's not an especially unusual or remarkable episode, after all: It has an interesting concept, a relatively scary monster, and some nice conflict in the form of the Romans and Celts being torn between fighting each other and fighting the Eater. It gives Bill a big spotlight, allowing her to shine as a leader, showing her as both caring and charismatic, and that's always nice. It has some nice moments with the Doctor and Nardole, too, with the Doctor's harsher nature being contrasted with Nardole and Bill's gentler ones.

But shouldn't that just be the norm for Doctor Who?

In a series of Doctor Who that wasn't so aggressively middling, this episode might not have stood out much at all -- but in this series, where there's been less than a handful of truly good episodes, it stands out as better than average, an enjoyable and well put-together episode that might not be exactly ground-breaking, but was certainly enjoyable.

Very red.

Interestingly, this is the fifth story (counting the Monk trilogy as one story) to interrogate the idea of imperialism to one extent or the other: Smile, Thin Ice, the Monk trilogy, and last week's episode all concerned themselves with ideas of colonisation and imperialism, to one degree or another and to greater or lesser degrees of effectiveness. In this week's episode, a contrast is deliberately drawn between the Romans as a group and the people who are part of it: As a nation and army, the Romans are vicious and unrelenting -- as people, there's something almost banal about them, as they're scared children doing what they know they're supposed to do without really caring why.

(Generally, the themes that run through each series tend to predict what the final few episodes will be about -- last series had several episodes about accepting and resisting death, the series before that rather clumsily tried to have themes of war and soldiers, et cetera. So, I'm guessing the next two episodes will be about imperialism in some form?)

It's an interesting stance to take, and compared to the anvil-esque way that Moffat and Gatiss tend to deliver their messages, Munro is almost subtle with it (albeit not subtle enough that it would count as anything other than glaringly heavy-handed in any other show), keeping the monologues to a minimum (although they're still there, from time to time).

Those tattoos look really fake.

The denouement of the Ninth Legion staying behind to fend off the Eaters is obvious from the moment that it's revealed that someone has to go and fight them, so that doesn't really come as a shock -- and the fact that it's so obvious sort of takes the air out of the Doctor deciding to stay and fight the Eaters, only to be dragged away. We all know that the Doctor won't actually stay behind, and moreover we know exactly who will, so the will-they-won't-they sequence is nothing but hot air and filler.

Next week, we apparently have a Missy focused episode, as the Doctor lets her prove herself by solving a problem. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is going to lead into her revealing she had some terrible plot going all along, or at the very least that she intended to and then found herself actually starting to be redeemed.

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