After a bad mid-season slump, Doctor Who returns to form–Classic Who form–with the delightful adventure “The Eaters of Light”
One gets the sense these last three season that Steven Moffat, whatever he says, would really love to make the rebooted New Who into something a lot more like the Classic Who of yesteryear. He himself is not very good at this. But, just as his time with the show ends, he has hit upon how to do it–bring back Classic Who writers.
Nardole: Crows in the future are all in a huff?
The Doctor: of course they are, haven’t you noticed the noise they make? Like a mass sulk.
This week’s episode, “The Eaters of Light”, is the last standalone episode before the finale. Written by Rona Munro, who last wrote for the series in 1989 during the Seventh Doctor’s tenure, this adventure felt like something straight out of the Tom Baker era, or even the Jon Pertwee one. One of the things Doctor Who has gotten away from during their reboot years is the “historical rewrites”, trying to answer mysteries of history, with a little sci-fi thrown in.
Early Who sold itself as educational programming to the BBC because of the emphasis on teaching those watching about historical time periods. This episode fits right into that vein. After this weekend, school children in the US and the UK will know all about the 9th Roman legion who legendarily went missing back in 2 AD, and all because Bill had a bet she could find one.
The Doctor: What do you usually find near churches?
Nardole: …women in hats?
The episode starts out surprisingly like Outlander, with a small girl walking up to mysterious ancient stones that play music. Thankfully she isn’t whisked away to the past and kidnapped by highlanders–instead we go back in time to find Bill, and the Doctor having landed in the past looking for the 9th Legion. (Nardole is less than pleased to be there, wandering about in his bathrobe.) Bill does find her soldiers–but only the few remaining who are hiding in underground tunnels. Her theory the legion survived is mostly wrong. Turns out they were actually mostly slaughtered, by the CGI bioluminescent creature that chased her into the cave. Meanwhile, The Doctor finds the slaughtered army–and the local Scots who let the creature out of the time vortex in a desperate move to survive.
There are several delightful sequences in these meet ups. Once again Bill finds herself having to turn down the affections of a man, only to be reminded that the Romans were actually far more fluid about sex than we are. She also steps into the Doctor role here, making speeches and pushing the soldiers into action, especially once she realized the oldest of them is all of 18. Meanwhile, though Nardole may be the one painting his face with wode and feeding their new friend popcorn, Capaldi is allowed to speak his own language to his own people. (His accent noticeably thickens during the scene with the locals.) Though we’re used to the Doctor taking charge, it is once again noted how young everyone in the local army is–the oldest, Kar, the one who let the monster out, is also all of 18.
The Doctor: You don’t know anything. You just stand around making speeches and waving a TV aerial about.
There are tons of Scottish jokes scattered throughout the episode as well, as if to take advantage of Capaldi’s heritage and give the audience a large wink, from the note of how the Doctor is anti-charm to the cause of death being “the complete and total absence of any kind of sunlight” should be considered death by Scotland. There’s also a political angle, but it’s not trying very hard to be at the forefront of the debate. Instead they focus on how, for the Doctor, everyone in the universe sounds so very young, and so very frightened.
It’s a double-edged sword for him, thought. While the Doctor looks at these children, these glorious youngsters trying so hard, it’s easy to see why, when it comes time to put the Monster back in the rift and guard the rift forever, he insists it must be him to do it. After all, these children, they have lives they still have to live, years ahead of them, children of their own to have. He’s old anyway, right? But like Bill, and the countless others the Doctor meets, these children are braver than he knows, and once again, Bill and Nardole hold him back so that these 18 year olds can grow up and guard their own lands (with the help of the remains of the 9th legion) for all eternity.
Kar: They make slaves and they call it empire. They make deserts and they call it peace.
The Doctor: But you gotta love the indoor toilets, yeah?
Having once again been stopped by Bill and Nardole from doing the wrong thing, the trio heads back to the TARDIS…only to discover that he’s actually doing a very, very wrong thing. The reason the Doctor was so less concerned about guarding the Vault this week is…Missy is no longer inside. He’s allowed her to be a prisoner in a new location–inside the TARDIS, where she’s doing maintenance on the engines. And while the tears and the manipulations from her end are starting to pile up when Bill and Nardole aren’t around, one gets the sense that this moment of hubris from the Doctor is one that his companions won’t be able to talk him out of ahead of a disaster.
Next week, the two part finale, which will serve as the departure episodes for both Nardole and Bill, as well as serve to begin the Doctor’s regeneration….and from the looks of it, Missy’s as well. Moffat has called “a bloodbath.” Let’s just hope that doesn’t mean the death of Bill….