The Eaters of Light is a very special episode – it’s the first in the new series to have been penned by a writer of the old series.
This may seem inconsequential, but it marks a major landmark in the evolution of New Who – it’s inconceivable that Russell T Davies, in his drive to reboot the show for a younger, more impatient audience in 2005, would ever have brought on board the writer who penned the dusty old classic series’ final adventure, Survival, in 1989.
But Steven Moffat, despite his sometimes unnecessary zeal for stretching the parameters of the show’s format, is still a traditionalist at heart.
Thus we end up with The Eaters of Light, the final standalone, non Christmas special episode for both Moffat and Capaldi, and appropriately enough, it brings them both home to good old Scotland.
There are revisits and repeats of tropes we’ve come to expect under Moffat, as well as some interesting themes and ideas – particularly around the nature of war and colonisation – which feel a little squashed by the 45 minute runtime, and perhaps present an argument for The Eaters of Light having been a two-part story.
Alas, we get only one wee episode here. But did The Eaters of Light illuminate us or suffer from a power outage? Let’s shed some light on the top five moments here…
1. Two hearts are better than one…
The simplest, most instantly recognisable incarnation of Who is the image of the Time Lord and his single, usually young and female, companion – but some of the most successful runs have featured more than one fellow traveller, as this season has proved.
Having both Bill and Nardole travel with the Doctor is a masterstroke – they’re different from each other and from the Doctor, they allow the Doctor to have someone to converse with when the other is off exploring, and both in their own ways provide some much needed levity to the proceedings.
Nardole in particular this week, wandering the Scottish hills, Arthur Dent-style, in his garish dressing gown, is a joyous sight. Bill and Nardole together provide the strongest companion pairing since Sarah-Jane and Harry Sullivan to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
2. “This is all very modern, isn’t it…?”
A very funny scene in the middle of the Eaters of Light takes an alternative look at Bill’s coming out to the Roman centurions who rescue her from the beast.
When she reveals her attractions are only to women, the soldiers are nonplussed, but not for the reason you’d expect – as citizens of a famously sexually liberated society in which almost anything went, they see Bill’s ‘restriction’ of only liking women as quaint.
Progress, particularly in the area of equality, is perhaps not always the linear straight (sorry) line we conceive of, as if 2000AD is the most primeval and 2017 is an enlightened utopia – in fact, Greek and Roman societies were famously liberal about gay relationships.
This is clever, joyful little scene encapsulates this notion in an otherwise rather dark and serious episode.
3. The Eaters of Light…
OK, let’s get to the big stuff here. The titular nasties showed off an intriguing aesthetic design and were pumped up with some somber speechifying from the Doctor: “They’ll eat the sun, then they’ll eat the stars” – crank it up, Doc, you’re teasing us something chronic here!
Unfortunately, that’s the most exciting moment we got from the Eaters of Light: a lot of words describing something really awesome, that we’d really love to see – but in the end, just words. Telly is a visual medium – show, don’t tell!
Anyway the rest of the time, they prowl around sucking innocents dry of… something, despite the fact that they’re eaters of, um, light, and are defeated in a rather uninspired manner.
All in all, they never pose much of a threat, despite the Doctor’s grandiose build-up, because they never do anything to earn it.
Remember: a great Doctor Who story is only as great as its monsters (Oh hai Blink!).
4. Stone the crows!
First, a disclaimer – last week we described the birds glimpsed in this ep’s trailer as ravens. They were in fact crows, and we apologise unreservedly to any feathered friends who took offence at our mistake. Here at Gay Times we are a great supporter of the flying community and even allowed our fish and chips to be seized by a seagull at Brighton beach once.
Now, this strange little subplot was mentioned in passing at the episode’s opening as the crows on the hills exclaimed ‘Doc-Taw!’ at Nardole, before the Doc explained that crows can in fact talk, they just choose not to in the modern age.
At episode’s end, then, we discover that they shout ‘caw!’ as a tribute to the grave Barbarian gatekeeper who gives her life to hold back the Eaters. A neat little bookend to the episode, if you ask us, and a clever doozy after the main action had finished. It’s the little details like this that make an episode.
Still wish they were ravens though.
5. Love is in the air TARDIS?
So Missy is out and about inside the Doc’s ship, and finally looks to be getting somewhere with this whole ‘turning over a new leaf and not being a heartless dictator intent on the destruction of the universe’ thing. Hey, we’ve all been there.
This thread is absolutely fascinating and sets the stage for an unmissable finale as her (presumed) predecessor John Simm returns – a less self-examining, more straightforwardly demented Master.
But even more interesting here is a brief scene between Missy and the Doctor, in which they speak in hushed tones about the genuineness of her conversion, and even sort of embrace.
Are we heading for a Doctor/Master love-in here? Let’s face it, there’s only one person out there as mad as our Doctor, and imagine the anniversary presents! Gift-wrapped Rod of Rassilon anyone?
We can’t wait to see where this thread will end.
We’ll meet again…
The Eaters of Light features an interesting premise, a talented young guest cast and great location work, and yet for whatever reason doesn’t deliver on its true potential. Ask us, we’d say a two part story, in which we actually see the Eaters, well, eat, was required here.
The whole thing just feels a little rushed, and certain plot points leave us scratching our heads (why did the Eater attack humans if it devours light? How can the Romans/Barbarians defend the gate if they’re going to die so soon after the Doctor leaves?).
Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, the ep’s unique origins (the first Old Who hand to return), mean its place in history is probably assured. An unpopular opinion, this, but we give The Eaters of Light
Next week: MONDASIAN CYBERMEN. MISSY. JOHN SIMM. A REALLY BIG SPACESHIP.
…Just be there.