Here’s our spoiler-free Doctor Who ‘The Eaters of Light’ review.
‘The Eaters of Light’ is a straightforward story told well. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not.
Certainly not when so much of Series 10 has been just that, and worked so well for it. In fact, rather weirdly for a show about gadding about the limitless sandbox of the universe, it’s only disappointed when trying to be ambitious. This is a return to the kind of one-shot story that has put a skip into fans’ steps, and which the show briefly forgot about with the Monk trilogy.
The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole show up in ancient Scotland, keen to find out what happened to the vanished Ninth Roman Legion. There’s terrified people. There’s a monster. There’s a kerfuffle. The Doctor stops it all.
None of this is a spoiler. It’s every episode of Doctor Who. This is classic Doctor Who territory, fittingly written by ‘Classic Series’ scribe Rona Munro, who penned ‘Survival’ (crib notes: Cheetah People kidnapping Humans and The Master turning into a cat).
‘Survival’ – as you’ll know but I’m gonna tell you anyway – was the final episode before the show entered the wilderness years when, with the exception of the Eighth Doctor TV movie, the closest thing to time travel you had on a Saturday night Crime Traveller, or a VHS recording of last week’s Jonathan Creek. Dark times, my friends.
Munro’s the first of the ‘Classic Series’ writers to return to the show. Based on this, she’s more than welcome to return again. There’s a Fourth Doctor quality to the script, emphasised more by Capaldi’s performance. There’s a particular scene when The Doctor encounters the locals that’s a bit ‘Face of Evil’ in a very good way.
So what’s got the locals and the invaders all in a tizzy? An impressively rendered monster, that’s what (it’s never given a proper name). The Eater of Light looks like something designed by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola after a binge-watch of Primeval. It’s a cool-looking creature that stands out in a series that hasn’t had many. It would make an excellent toy. Sorry, ‘collectable’.
What really holds the eye and ear again is – no surprise here – Pearl Mackie’s Bill being wonderfully Bill-ish. She’s given space to be brave and smart away from The Doctor, especially in a moment where she works out how it is she can speak Latin. Other companions have had to have it explained to them. Whoever’s going to be gasping ‘It’s bigger on the inside!’ next has big shoes to fill.
Good performances from Capaldi and Mackie then. No surprise there. And Nardole is a character who has become easy to like too, so much so that his increased presence here is quite the pleasure. It never seemed necessary for The Doctor to have an interstellar valet, but both the scripting and Lucas have made it work.
It doesn’t all work. The ending is suitably schmaltzy, there are talking crows (yes, kind of) that add little to the plot other than to put a quizzical look on your face, and two scenes set in the present day needn’t be there at all. All that can be easily forgiven, especially as there’s a great scene that I can’t talk about because this is the spoiler-free bit and all we’re allowed to drink is lemonade and not those good strong shots o’ spoilers.
Despite its very nice CG monster, ‘The Eaters of Light’ is nothing fancy. It doesn’t have lofty ideas that will challenge the notion of how you see the world. It’s just a good ol’ sci-fi romp that is well-written. That’s all Doctor Who ever has to be to succeed. That’s what the show has remembered this series.We’re rapidly reaching season 10’s event horizon, as the trailer for next week’s ‘World Enough and Time’ reminds us. That has so much good stuff in it you could probably eat it as a health supplement. Indeed, it may be the thing that people are talking about the most after the episode airs.
That would be unfair to what is a really solid episode, though.