Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review (or “Light Filler”)

A few months ago there was a bit of excitement among fans of the show that there would be a classic series writer returning to pen an episode in the latest season.

Though I can’t say I was excited, it certainly piqued my interest…until I found out it was by Rona Munro, who wrote the frankly awful Survival.

Hey, maybe in the intervening 28 years she’s got better?

We can but hope…

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS crew go to second century Scotland so that the Doctor and Bill can settle a bet on who knows more about what happened to the Ninth Roman Legion, who famously went missing without trace.

Obviously there are monsters.

And music.

And love.

Or some such nonsense.

Thoughts – It’s All A Bit Kiddy

Seeing as I write my reviews on the Sunday after transmission, I always have a quick look at what other reviewers think first, just out of curiosity.

In one review, the angle they took was that the casting of so many young actors was a clever slap in the face to people who assume that Doctor Who is a kids show.

This is how I felt watching this episode. I think Capaldi felt the same filming it.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to that view.

I felt this episode felt like a kids show rather than something aimed at a broader audience, and not just because of the casting (although it didn’t help).

To me, The Eaters of Light felt…well…a bit light.

There was so little to it that it felt like there was only around 15 minutes of plot accounted for, with the rest made up of unnecessary dialogue and stalling.

The monster of the week had no character to it, it barely appeared and though it was sold to us as one of the greatest threats the universe has ever seen, it was defeated by the equivalent of letting it run outside before closing the door behind it.

The only saving grace was that the last scenes with Missy in the TARDIS at least felt like they were going somewhere, and would lead into next week’s two-part finale.

And hey, maybe that’s it; maybe like Fear Her or Boom Town, this was an episode to kill a bit of time before the proper drama kicks off next week.

Regardless of that though, this wasn’t up to much.

The Characterisation of the Doctor

I’ve always said that Peter Capaldi is fantastic. He’s a superb actor who – by and large – has always been at the top of his game even if the quality of the script isn’t great.

But here I didn’t think he was at his best.

He looked bored and lacking in enthusiasm for the episode and I don’t blame him.

The Doctor was written as a miserable bastard whose only purpose was to deliver expository sciencey dialogue that explained what was going on with the monster of the week up until the last minute where he decided that he must sacrifice himself to save the universe.

And then as it turned out, he wasn’t even allowed to be the hero, as the kids all grouped together to vanquish this apparently unstoppable monster.

Yay, go kids.

I wouldn’t have been enthusiastic either.

Let’s Write An Episode All About The TARDIS’s Auto-Translate Feature Despite Forgetting To Use It A Few Episodes Ago. Yay.

A few weeks ago in my review of Extremis, I asked why the TARDIS didn’t translate the Pope. I wasn’t getting upset about it; I merely asked the question in my Random Observations section.

In one of the replies to my review on the blog – and by the way, I do enjoy hearing what you all think about my opinions even if I don’t agree with them – someone said “As far as Pope not being translated is

“You’re really brave”.
“Are you not coming too?”
“Erm….we’ll remember you”.

concerned I find it curious that you’ve failed to realise how the Tardis translation works. The Tardis translates everything, unless it is funny for her not to.”

Now I’m sorry, but that’s the type of reply that gets my goat a little bit.

It’s as if this reader owns a leaflet containing The Official Rules of Doctor Who that I have perhaps missed and is saying to me that I am unequivocally and factually incorrect to make that observation.

And of course, I’m not.

It’s just an inconsistent approach to writing and it’s a bit lazy, regardless of whether or not people want to excuse it for the sake of sticking up for something that they like.

And it’s that inconsistency that has led me to bring the subject back up today.

In The Eaters of Light, the TARDIS’s auto-translate appears to be a corner-stone in the dialogue, with Bill being surprised she can understand the Romans, the Romans being surprised that they can understand the native Scots and The Doctor making a poor gag about how everyone sounds like children.

Not only is it a bit of an odd thing to bring up so late into Bill’s time in the TARDIS, but it’s clearly just time filling dialogue to mask that there’s very little substance to the episode.

And like I say, it’s brought up mere weeks on from the Pope speaking to Bill in Italian.

So it’s worth bringing up.

Though I did like the gag about how the TARDIS must also have lip-sync.

Random Observations

  • There’s inconsistency in other areas of the episode too. Unlike last week where Nardole was happy to go to Mars and release Missy from the vault, he’s back to asking why they left her unattended. To be fair, the Doctor addresses the inconsistency in the dialogue, but doesn’t explain or excuse it.
  • The stuff with the crows is probably the sort of thing the writer and/or Steven Moffat found dead clever. Again, I just thought it was stalling.
  • I’m from Scotland but I absolutely hate that Celtic music played throughout.
  • And the twee over-amplified accents annoyed me too.
  • I didn’t really understand the ending. The Doctor said he needed to keep watch over the gate because he was the only person with the life span to do it for all eternity. Yet this was resolved by maybe eight humans going in at the same time? How does that work?
  • Also notice that while the young Scots girl was well up for it, her brave mates basically said “We’ll remember you but we’re fucked if we’re coming too”. Nice.
  • The premise to the episode is a good one though. There’s a reason for them being there.
  • I noticed over the past week that there was a bit of controversy over the casting of a black actor in Queen Victoria’s army. If you missed it, Mark Gatiss wasn’t too keen on the casting – done not for realism but because the BBC want casting to be a bit less ‘homogeneously white’ – until he was placated by the evidence that there was one single black soldier in her army. I see both points. The BBC are right to encourage multicultural casting – and if we’re being honest, there should be a lot more of it in shows like Eastenders – but you’ve surely got to cast accurately for the role. I can’t see many people complaining that Doctor Who is homogeneously white when Pearl Mackie plays the second lead and so I doubt anyone would have been upset about it if that soldier had been played by a white guy. Anyway, I bring this all up because again, an ancient army has been cast in a multicultural way. But before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Roman Army that came to Britain was filled with men from North Africa.
  • Looking ahead to next week, I felt it was a bit ‘name-checky’ to call them ‘Mondasian Cybermen’.
  • And I’m annoyed that that same awful Cybermen incidental music is back.
  • I was hoping for the 1960s Cybermen incidental music to go with them. Let’s hope it happens.

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: Final Thoughts

My brother said to me yesterday morning “I’m looking forward to next week’s episode; I can’t help but think this one will just be filler”.

He was right.

The Eaters of Light was a strangely empty episode with a childrens TV feel and a poorly written Doctor.

It’s not terrible, but it’s far from being good.

Though I hope Rona Munro isn’t asked back.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon

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9 Responses to Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review (or “Light Filler”)

  1. Sombra says:

    Actually I do have the ‘The Official Rules of Doctor Who’ and it says that you are unequivocally and factually incorrect. I was just trying to be helpful man, you asked a question and I provided an answer. I could’ve perhaps worded it in a less snarky manner, but nah. Also complaining about lack of consistency in Doctor Who…
    Let’s look at the random observation concerning the ending of this episode. Just like the ‘not translating pope’ observation it has an obvious answer. “Yet this was resolved by maybe eight humans going in at the same time? How does that work?” It’s quite simple actually. Heroic sacrifice is a well-established trope and as such sufficient for the denouement.

    • wwknight says:

      You answer “Trope” as if though its a good thing.

      Im all for Doctor Who being a kids show, and I enjoyed this episode a lot more than stuart did, apparently, but he called out bad writing and a plot hole, and rightly so.

      Saying that other people often write this badly isnt an excuse.

      • Sombra says:

        I’m not going to respond to the first remark because I am trying to cut down on being a dick. You’re not making it easy for me :f

        I’ve never tried to excuse bad writing by claiming that it is common or anything like that, because there is nothing to excuse. This is such a non-problem (just like the translation gag) that I don’t get why it gets so much attention in a review of an episode that has actual problems worth addressing. I mean what is this plot-hole supposed to be? The doctor being wrong. That is a major theme of this show, it has been since 1963. Of course the doctor is going to assume that only he can guard the gate, he is an arrogant dick and a control freak too boot. That’s not a plot-hole that’s an accurate characterization. And he’s going to be wrong because hubris gets punished. That’s the trope that’s been employed heavily in the last series (especially in the finale).

    • sgmilne says:

      I disagree that heroic sacrifice is enough without it at the very least being namechecked as being enough.

      As for consistency; I’m not the sort of person who demands that something that happened in Episode 4 of The Sensorites means that you can’t do something contradictory today, but I don’t think it’s too much to apply consistency mere weeks apart.

  2. Slavin Ivanov says:

    I also felt that there wasn’t much plot for this episode. I wonder if the reason for that is the writer (who should have been a different Classic script-writer, but didn’t Moffat hate them all with a passion?).

    Apparently, Bill assumed that everyone in the future would speak her English (Smile & Oxygen), as well as in the past (Thin Ice). Or maybe that’s just me.

    Were the crows supposed to be a reference to Clara’s fate? Does the Doctor actually remember it? Is it a bit like how the previous episode made a reference to Sleep No More?

    My final take on the Pope issue: Moffat made a stupid joke and I’m not talking about the female Pope. There are some things in Doctor Who, which we take for granted, and when they are violated, we make up our own explanations for them. Besides, that did happen in a simulated reality, so the Monks may just have goofed.

    🙂

  3. Mr Person says:

    Survival is a bloody masterpiece, mate. And so was this.

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head… Peter Capaldi had so much potential but all his Doctor is, is a miserable bastard. At least Malcolm Tucker seemed to have the occasional bit of fun. What’s the point in a Doctor who doesn’t enjoy what he does? After the first episode I thought he was going to be a crusading Doc, like the Seventh. It seems they cast him without really knowing what to do with him.

    Regards the writer, I like Survival but anyone could have written this. It’s a good example of how writing seems to have diminished. With Survival she had a story with themes and characters. For all it’s faults it was a story written by Rona Munro. This was a template filled in by Rona Munro. Next season how’s about getting writers to write stories?

  5. lukebbtt says:

    Maybe Bill couldn’t understand the Pope because they were in ‘Extremis’. a fictional reality created by the Monks and they weren’t aware that the TARDIS translates everything. Therefore it was just an overlooked fact in the Extremis program?

    Maybe I am just making excuses for the writers, but this is my reading of the plot hole.

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