NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who” are present in this review
Doctor Who offered a pretty enjoyable, if slightly lightweight return for the Ice Warriors last week, and this week, it felt like the show was stuck on a similar gear. “The Eaters of Light” makes for a pretty solid Doctor Who episode, though also another mystery that feels just a little too much like filler, as the show continues to drag its feet for an additional week, before it can start properly moving into the Series Ten climax over the next two weeks.
This episode begins with another inspired Doctor Who-approved spin on a fascinating real-world historical mystery, namely the disappearances of the Roman Ninth Legion during the 2nd Century A.D. Bill, who is apparently a big enthusiast of the Ninth Legion and Roman history, believes she knows what actually happened to them, while The Doctor disagrees, saying that their disappearance is unremarkable and not worth investigating. Nonetheless, The Doctor, Bill and Nardole end up traveling to 2nd Century-era Scotland, so they can find out for sure.
As with the Ice Warrior-themed episode from last week, this episode’s beginning portions are especially good, particularly as Bill becomes separated from The Doctor and Nardole in this case, as they end up on opposite sides of an ongoing war between the invading Romans and the Barbarians of Scotland. This was an interesting way to set up both perspectives of a conflict that ends up being outdone by another more dangerous alien conflict that forces the warring factions to unite, especially with lots of fun little character moments for both sides.
Disappointingly though, despite the solid creature setup, the episode does eventually degrade into another preachy, annoying declaration by The Doctor to have two warring sides of humanity put aside their differences, and, as he puts it, “Grow up.” New Who has gotten a lot better about portraying The Doctor as less of an overtly bleeding heart in recent years, which, frankly, flies way in the face of his more disconnected, uncompromising portrayals from much of Classic Who, but it did make an unfortunate callback to some of the more awkward episodes from the Ninth Doctor and Tenth Doctor runs here. The Doctor wanting to inspire humanity to come together to save the world is well and good, but it just doesn’t make sense for him to do it by getting on a high horse and pretending that war is a simple, thoughtless matter that can be easily decoded and stopped. This is the same man who went through the Time War and had to condemn his home planet to apparent destruction, and thus, he really should know better.
That said though, the creature design for the episode was pretty great, as was the idea of incorporating a mystery with the enigmatic stone gates that the Scottish Barbarians believed to be portals to other worlds. In this case, they’re very much correct, as they often fight to keep one of the so-called ‘Eaters of Light’ from getting out into Earth to start consuming all light and life force in the world. Surprisingly, the excuse for why only one Eater of Light can come out at a time actually made sense too, since the gates are set up to provide cracks for one to slip through so as not to overwhelm the containment system. Again, The Doctor so carelessly being willing to sacrifice himself by permanently fighting the Eaters of Light and damning the consequences everywhere else in history feels too out-of-character, especially when the problem is nonetheless solved when the Barbarians and the Legion do eventually come together to make the sacrifice in his place, but I suppose all’s well that ends well nonetheless.
Another stronger highlight to this episode, even if it was crammed right at the end, was the continued incorporation of Missy into the season’s ongoing story arc. Turns out, Missy came along on the TARDIS, unbeknownst to Nardole and Bill, with The Doctor having her commit herself to TARDIS maintenance that he apparently neglects to do. This has the episode ending on a standout emotional scene, as Missy seems to honestly be ready to reform and become a good person again, with The Doctor saying that he wants to believe in her, but knows that hope can be a tricky thing. It’s looking like we’re hopefully going to get a pretty amazing payoff to the ongoing Missy arc of this season, which I imagine will also play a key part in both Missy’s and The Doctor’s imminent regenerations at the end of the season. Hell, Missy may regenerate even earlier if next week’s preview is to be believed, where the return of John Simm’s former Master incarnation from the Tenth Doctor era is teased to appear.
“The Eaters of Light” came off as another filler episode for Doctor Who, but it’s good enough, thanks to a clever mystery idea and a pretty cool creature threat. The Missy material is also continuing to excel, setting up what is looking like a pretty promising resolution for the end of the season. The Doctor’s behaviour was pretty suspect this week though. Also, on an unrelated note, the pointless arc of the origin behind why crows make ‘caw’ sounds, when they apparently used to speak simple words in the 2nd Century, was also a bit too silly and unnecessary to take seriously. Where would crows even learn the words, “Doctor” and, “Monster”? How would they even use the words in time with The Doctor’s appearance in the era? Even by Doctor Who standards, this is pretty ludicrous. Still, I’m nonetheless really looking forward to how the season will end across its final two upcoming episodes, which hopefully cap off the story arcs of both Missy and the Twelfth Doctor with a spectacular bang!
Doctor Who delivered another solid, if forgettable episode this week, as The Doctor's crew investigates the mystery of the Ninth Legion's disappearance.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Intriguing Doctor Who spin on a real-world historical mystery
Cool creature design with an interesting hook
Emotional final scenes between The Doctor and Missy