Monday, 19 June 2017

Hmm. This is an odd one to review. It feels in many ways very generic – enjoyable while watching but with not much jumping out as worth talking about. It may also be a factor that I’m writing this while suffering some minor form of sunstroke because it went over 25 degrees in Manchester. So, where to start? My heat-addled mind says with the ‘Next Time’ trailer at the end...

As these clips shouted loud and proud about the presence of ‘Mondasian Cybermen!’, a 1960s reference which undoubtedly made a certain miniscule section of the viewership go hard and went completely over the heads of the rest, the classic Who link of The Eaters of Light itself was less onanistic – it’s the first new series episode to be written by someone who also contributed to the 1963 to 1985 run, specifically Rona Munro.

Although if you didn’t know that fact but have seen at least one classic Who serial, you might have guessed, based on the fact that the episode sees the Doctor and companions split up, get captured by opposing factions, talk to these guys a lot, escape, team up with the same factions again, and talk a lot more, before eventually everyone unites and the Doctor solves everything. Which is basically the plot of any classic Who story. Eaters has an interesting setting, though – second century Scotland at the time of the Ninth Roman Legion’s disappearance – and Munro manages to characterise the Roman and Pict characters effectively and efficiently given she only has 45 minutes rather than 75.

But then there are elements on top of this that are very new Who. The monster, for example. Its CGI-heavy design and lack of any real motivation – it’s hungry for light, or something – is reminiscent of a lot of recent antagonists. That’s doesn’t necessarily mean it’s out of place in this story, but I’m not convinced it works either. It seems to me, based on the opening scene and the crow and music motifs (which are both neat touches), that the episode is going for a folk horror style, and so the monster would be less of a let-down were it less ‘generic CGI dragon with flashy bits’ and more ‘actually scary’. I can in no way believe this thing is capable of, as the Doctor warns, eating all the stars.

Another way in which the particular beats of this episode feel familiar is that a lot of them are repeated from last week’s. Empress of Mars also begins with Bill getting separated from the Doctor by falling down a hole, resulting in the two of them meeting soldiers from opposing factions. Both episodes deal with small units of soldiers separated from their armies, and both deal with themes of cowardice. This isn’t a criticism of either episode, but it is clumsy oversight on behalf of showrunner Moffat and the script editors. Particularly the hole thing – how did no one notice that?

What else to say? The two-companion dynamic here in interesting, in that though Nardole’s been a constant presence throughout the series, this and Oxygen are the only two episodes to have felt like a typical adventure featuring the three of them travelling together. I know some people are finding Nardy annoying; I’ve been rather enjoying him, though some of his lines here did grate on me more than they usually do – “Crows in the future are all in a huff?” feels weirdly CBBC sidekick-esque in its repetition of exactly what the Doctor has just said. “Death by Scotland!” is  highlight, though.

Bill, meanwhile... she started off the series very promising and has continued to be likeable, but we’re at the finale now and I’m not sure where her storyline’s going. For her, this episode felt like it should have been at the start of the series; though her figuring out the TARDIS translation circuit ties satisfyingly into how they later bring the warring sides together, it's jarring that she doesn't already know that by Episode 10. Looking at the bigger picture, any development of her supposed mentorship under the Doctor has stalled, with the series instead focusing on this Missy stuff, and it’s starting to look unlikely that we’ll ever see Heather again, as hinted at the end of The Pilot. I just don’t get the feeling that, if Series 10 is Bill’s story, we’ve had much of that story. I don’t know where she as a character wants to be going.

Speaking of that Missy stuff, the couple of scenes with her at the end feel like an odd bodge, don’t they? Way too long for something that’s got nothing to do with the rest of the episode, and yet her bits in this series have collectively been way too short to convince us of the change in character she’s supposedly gone through. This style of telling a story arc through the epilogue of various episodes isn’t really working.

And finally, I liked the fact that all the Romans are bi. Probably not historically accurate, but what the hell, worth it to imagine the comments on the Daily Mail right now.

If only the rest of the episode was similarly able to provoke reaction. For such a noted playwright as Munro has become since first writing for Who 28 years ago, this episode is notably... fine.

Series 10 began strongly, dropped the ball with the Monk trilogy, and has since failed to regain its momentum. Still, with the two-part finale up next, it’s all to play for...

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. Extremis
  4. The Pilot
  5. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  6. Empress of Mars
  7. Knock Knock
  8. The Eaters of Light
  9. Smile
  10. The Lie of the Land


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