Well, it’s time to review the tenth episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.
So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Eaters Of Light”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
The episode begins with two children exploring a cairn in Scotland, with one of the children claiming to hear music and the other one worried about a scary local legend involving the cairn. A crow lands on one of the stones and starts cawing. The noises sound like “Doc-Tor“. The camera pans to the ancient carvings on the stones, and we get to see a certain vintage police telephone box.
Then we see the TARDIS arriving in 2nd Century Aberdeen. Despite Nardole’s objections, The Doctor has travelled there in order to settle a historical argument with Bill about the location of the Roman ninth legion. Of course, Bill and the Doctor both decide to go their separate ways to look for the Romans, and prove each other wrong.
Of course, it isn’t long before Bill notices a fire and decides to investigate. However, she is soon chased away by an angry Pict. Taking refuge in a pit of some kind, she finds a solitary Roman soldier who is hiding there. After establishing that, yes, the TARDIS’s translation software is working properly, they talk and he tells her that he is a deserter from his unit.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Nardole discover a dead Roman soldier – who has seemingly died from lack of sunlight, of all things. Of course, it isn’t long before they also find a devastated and deserted Roman encampment. Of course, it’s time to investigate….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it’s a good old-fashioned “monster of the week”-style episode, yet it still manages to set itself apart as something distinctive too. A lot of this is due to the witty dialogue, the characterisation, the setting and the structure of the episode. Seriously, compared to some other “monster of the week” episodes in this series, this one is pretty much a work of art!
There’s so much to say about this episode. For a lot of the episode, there are two parallel storylines – with The Doctor and Nardole being prisoners of the Picts, and Bill hanging out with the Romans. Of course, both sides are bitter enemies and both see themselves as mighty warriors, yet are both also absolutely terrified by the monster that threatens them both.
In fact, although it isn’t really that much of a horror episode, fear is one of the main themes of the episode – with the general theme that it’s perfectly natural to feel afraid. Likewise, the fact that the Romans and Picts have more in common with each other than they think is also emphasised by a later part of the episode where the TARDIS’s translator actually allows them to understand each other – and they realise that they’re just people rather than terrifying invaders or savage barbarians.
Plus, although there are a lot of additional characters in this episode – both the Romans and the Picts get a reasonable amount of characterisation, with the main theme being that they’re both really just groups of frightened teenagers who are trying to appear brave [Edit: More so with the Picts than the Romans – since the Roman soldiers point out that they are deserters]. Again, they have more in common than they think.
The pacing of this episode is reasonably good too, being neither too fast nor too slow. Likewise the monster design and special effects in this episode are kind of cool too. For a lot of the episode, the monster is shrouded in darkness, with only it’s bioluminescent tentacles being visible. However, when it is revealed, it is a giant dragon-like creature.
The best special effects in the episode can be seen in one of the more sci-fi based parts of the episode, which revolves around a really cool-looking temporal rift.
Not only does this provide lots of cool blue mood lighting, but it also allows the episode to include the fascinating idea of time passing at different speeds too (which is a central part of the plot later in the episode too).
In addition to this, the set design (mostly forests, caves and huts) is fairly good. But, the best part of the episode is – by far – the lighting. Seriously, the episode is filled with so much awesome chiaroscuro lighting that, as I mentioned earlier, makes the episode look a bit like an old Caravaggio painting [edit: Like this one].
The episode is also filled with lots of witty dialogue too, with some of the strongest writing that I’ve seen so far this series. However, one segment of dialogue might be either uplifting (and surprisingly realistic) and/or eye-rollingly annoying, depending on how you look at it.
Basically, after Bill stays with the Romans for a while, one of the soldiers jokes that another soldier is attracted to Bill. After a little bit of hesitation, Bill decides to come out to them (which is kind of realistic, given that coming out isn’t something people only do once in their entire lives). Despite Bill’s nervousness, the Romans are… well.. Romans.
Amusingly, one of the Romans also points out that it’s kind of strange that she’s only attracted to one type of people (This is, sort of, realistic. The concept of dividing people into categories based on orientation only appeared in the 19th century, after all. Prior historical discrimination against LGBT people was based on specific actions rather than who a person is). And, yes, it’s also great to actually see bi characters in a TV show too (seriously, there really aren’t many of them on TV).
But, even so, the whole scene feels like it has been shoehorned into the episode in order to deliver a lecture to the audience. Yes, it’s surprisingly realistic in a number of ways. But the idea of Bill suddenly coming out to the Romans rather than just subtly dropping hints or making some kind of excuse or something seems oddly (and perhaps unrealistically/optimistically) bold.
But, this realism doesn’t really extend to all of the historical details in this episode though. Unfortunately, having watched a few history/film criticism videos (like these) on Youtube a while back, I now tend to notice historical inaccuracies a lot more than I used to – and there are a few here.
When a Roman soldier draws his gladius, it makes a loud metallic “shing!” sound (and, as this video shows, swords don’t do this! ). Likewise, one of the Roman soldiers is holding a flaming torch in the wrong way.
Surprisingly, I thought that one of the shields that one of the Picts was carrying was a possibly historically inaccurate medieval “buckler” shield. But, looking on Google Images, actual iron age shields may possibly have been tiny metal things (either that or only the shield bosses survived to the present day, with the wood surrounding them rotting away over time). So, you learn something every day, I guess.
All in all, this is a surprisingly good episode. The characterisation, pacing and dialogue is absolutely brilliant. The lighting is superb and, thanks to the slightly greater level of thematic and structural complexity, this episode is something more than just a “monster of the week” episode.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.