The early previews for this episode made it sound a lot worse than it actually was. Is it the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever? No. But there is quite a bit to like, and on the whole, it’s rather good. Not the best episode this season, but still a very good one. In The Eaters of Light, written by Rona Munro and directed by Charles Palmer, A hunt for the lost Ninth Roman Legion leads the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole into the middle of an ancient battle that could cast humanity into the dark forever. What is inside the cairn? And how far will they have to go defeat the terrifying alien Eaters of Light? (As always, this review will contain spoilers. So, if you haven’t seen the episode, don’t read this until you have.)
It’s a good episode, on the whole. The monster isn’t anywhere near developed enough to actually feel like a threat, but it’s a nice examination of how Bill has changed during her time with the Doctor. Early on in the episode, she’s split apart from the Doctor and ends up motivating a bunch of Roman soldiers who ran away from a battle into actually being courageous and doing something to stop the alien from killing them all. It’s a very Doctor-y moment and the fact that Bill takes that initiative helps solidify the effect that traveling with the Doctor has had on her. If for no other reason, that one scene makes the entire episode worthwhile. It’s a great moment and Pearl Mackie sells it well.
It’s funny. The main premise of the episode is the least interesting bit. I don’t really care about what happened to the lost Ninth Legion of the Roman army and the episode itself never really gives me a reason to care. It doesn’t seem all that concerned about it either, to be honest, and the resolution to that question is sort of contrived, even if it does make sense in the context of the narrative. There’s a lot of good stuff that the Roman soldiers and the Scottish villagers do throughout the episode (like one of the Roman soldiers reveals to Bill the complexity of their understanding of the fluidity of human sexuality, and it’s a funny moment as both the audience and Bill realize that the Romans have a more progressive view on sexuality than most modern progressives do), but on the whole, they’re really kind of unnecessary.
It’s a hard episode to really elaborate my feelings on. It was enjoyable enough, but it also felt like a lot of fluff. The bits that actually deal with the plot of the episode are kind of boring, but the actual interactions between the various characters is a lot of fun. You can kind of tell that Munro last wrote for Doctor Who back in the ’80s because the episode really doesn’t feel like an episode of modern Doctor Who. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the pacing feels a bit off. Classic Who had lots of time for the writer to explore the various characters and their motivations and desires, but modern Who doesn’t really have that kind of time. Munro tries to write a Classic Who episode in a way that fits the Modern Who formula and it doesn’t quite work. It’s clear that she’d rather be spending time on the characters and as a result of that, the plot itself is underdeveloped and superfluous.
However, The Eaters of Light is an enjoyable episode, more or less. The dialogue is brilliantly written and the episode is directed with plenty of visual flare. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie both deliver very good and emotionally moving performances as the Doctor and Bill. It’s great seeing how their dynamic has changed over this season, and for that reason alone, I am glad that this episode exists.
I give The Eaters of Light three and a half out of five wands.
Doctor Who continues next week with World Enough and Time, airing June 24 at 6:45 pm on BBC One and 9 pm on BBC America.