Well thank god, Doctor Who got good again! After oh so many weeks of absolutely dreadful storytelling, the writers of Who remembered how to make an interesting, fun story.
Starting off with a “present day” set up, which for this series is basically the same as the overused “blank days earlier” tool so many shows use, setting our scene in the Devil’s Cairn of Scotland we see a rock carving of the Tardis and a crow who keeps yelling “Dock- Tar!” We later get told a quick aside that crows have always talked, they just don’t get good conversations anymore.
Turns out our heroes are investigating a missing Roman legion, one that invaded Scotland and was never again heard from. Bill apparently is a huge fan of Roman history and is having a bit of a knowledge-off with The Doctor. A very cute moment where Bill is listing off the many books and stories she’s read about them over the years while the Doctor, well, he says he lived among the ancient Romans. Always a one-upper he is.
Of course it turns out the legion did not simply go missing but were destroyed by an interdimensional monster that might be here to eat the sun and stars of the universe, a pretty basic Tuesday for the Doctor, right? So the titular Eater of Light as it turns out came through a portal guarded by the local Scottish people. After being slaughtered by the Romans, they allowed the creature through to try and wipe out the Legion, pretty successfully so.
So now we have the Scottish children, the only people left in the small village, huddled in one area while Bill happens upon the remaining legion members, none older than eighteen and huddled in a cave.
It’s a pretty standard setup. The Doctor over here with the Scottish, Bill over there with the Romans. Eventually we know they’ll all meet up, say a few words and make them work together, right? We’ve seen this many times. Also like last week there aren’t many locations in this episode. A couple sets and one, maybe two on site locations. But unlike last week, I was thoroughly interested and entertained here.
The characters felt more well-rounded. Their problems more real, more relatable. Formulaic can absolutely be fun! You just need to make us care and here they did! Funny beats like Bill realizing she can understand and be understood by people who speak other languages, the pride in the Doctor’s eyes as she works out how all on her own, and even her calling out that it “does” lip sync, a cute dig on a longstanding cheat for the series.
Nardole is very witty and fun here too. His running commentary and eventual sort of joining up with the Scottish barbarians, it’s all fun. The Doctor throwing popcorn in a fire and his lead up to using it as an escape distraction felt more like Moffat’s other series Sherlock and that’s never a bad comparison to have.
Probably my favorite moment, the absolute funniest little bit, has got to be when Bill is being hit on by a Roman soldier and tries to explain that she’s a lesbian. The looks on his face leads you in one direction, maybe he will be offended or disgusted by her, but no actually, instead he basically calls her conservative as we find out this particular soldier is bi. Not deciding who he’s attracted to on sex but on just whatever he finds appealing.
This is funny because not only is Miss Social Progressive Bill seen as the button down lame person here, but it also reminds us that not all ancient societies were staunch conservative sticks in the mud. The Romans and Greeks were quite the wild ones.
Now the actual monster itself is shown in brief snippets and this works. The less you see the cooler you think it looks. A neon blue creature with tendrils, sort of like something from Avatar meets Attack the Block’s creatures. Not bad for television but definitely better not seen full on in the light of day.
This main conflict was probably the least interesting bit, as their silly tools and nonsensical way to fight it never really was clear. It eats light but light can be used against it? Also it turns some people’s bones to mush? I couldn’t really follow the logic but luckily it didn’t matter.
The main point was that through some hocus pocus timey wimey stuff, someone needs to guard this gate for eternity and The Doctor, though he tries, we know exactly where we’re heading. The Roman and Scottish warriors will unite and enter the portal where time flows differently, taking turns keeping the earth safe for thousands of years. Humanity joins together to save the planet, blah blah blah, all that stuff.
So a cookie cutter episode of Doctor Who that still manages to be a ton of fun to watch. Whew, I was honestly afraid Moffat and Capaldi’s last season was heading towards unredeemable levels but they turned things around quite nicely.
Again tagging out with Missy crying, The Doctor wondering if he can trust her again. Hopefully this is leading to something worthwhile but at least this week was a fun character driven ride.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts in the comments section!