[The Following Review Contains SPOILERS!]
The disappearance of the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army is one of the more famous mysteries in the history of Western civilization. The most popular theory is that they were completely wiped out trying – and failing – to put down an insurrection of the people who would become The British and The Scottish. At least, that’s the most popular theory in England and Scotland. Others believe The Legion was shipped off to The Middle East and died in battle amid the sands of Persia.
Bill Potts, however, has a different idea of what really happened to The Ninth Legion. And despite The Doctor’s insistence that – for once – the archaeologists have the truth of it, he is willing to indulge Bill’s enthusiasm and take a trip in the TARDIS back to 2nd Century Scotland to prove her theory wrong.
Little do they realize that The Ninth Legion faced something besides several hordes of angry Picts among the hills and caves of what would one day be called Aberdeenshire. They faced something alien. Something deadly. Something that drew the very heat from their bodies with a touch!
Much like last week’s Empress of Mars, The Eaters of Light has the mystique of a Classic Series Doctor Who episode. Perhaps not coincidentally, this episode marks the first time that a Classic Series writer – Survival author Rona Munro – has worked on the “New Who” program. The general story structure will seem familiar to Classic Series fans, with The Doctor and his companions being separated early on and winding up on opposite sides of a conflict before uniting both sides against a common threat – in this case, the titular Eaters of Light. Munro’s script does a fantastic job of taking advantage of its setting and director Charles Palmer gives us some fantastic shots of the Scottish landscape. The Eaters themselves are some of the best monsters the series has ever seen.
While the base concept of The Eaters of Light is sound and the technical execution fantastic, some of the specific character ticks in the script seem a bit off. For instance, given how bright Bill has been depicted in previous episodes, it seems a bit unlikely that she’s just now realizing that all of the people and aliens she’s met in her travels with The Doctor have been speaking English and that something must be telepathically translating things for her. Perhaps this wouldn’t seem so jarring had this episode aired earlier in the season but coming on the heels of Bill’s encounters with The Monks and The Ice Warriors it seems a bit odd that she didn’t work this out or ask The Doctor about it before now. Another problem is that The Doctor’s dialogue here also seems to have been written with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in mind rather than Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor.
Despite all this, The Eaters of Light serves well enough. The episode is technically accomplished, with some great effects work, wonderful direction and amazing cinematography. The story may infuriate those who prefer their Doctor Who free of mysticism and unanswered questions, but it’s a ripping yarn taken on its own terms.