Sunday, 18 June 2017

Eaters of Light - Review

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudenim faciunt, pacem appellant.
So Tacitus claimed that a Caledonian chieftain - Calgacus - said of the Romans, but writer Rona Munro gave part of this quote to young Pict Kar in Eaters of Light. Roughly it means: to ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert they call it peace.
For those not in the know, Munro wrote the last ever story of the classic period of Doctor Who - 1989's Survival. This makes her the only person to have written for both eras of the show - and 12 years in, it's unlikely anyone else will be invited to do so, unless Chris Chibnall is busy trying to coax Terrance Dicks out of retirement.
The inspiration for this story is the mystery of the Roman 9th Legion - IX Hispana - which disappeared. The last record of them was in York in 108 AD, and it is believed that they met their doom fighting local tribes in Northern Scotland. Bill mentions reading "the book" - presumably Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. It was adapted as a movie in 2011 - The Eagle.

Like her other story, Munro makes a group of young people her protagonists - in this case two rival bands. First we have the mostly young Picts, led by Gatekeeper Kar and her brother; then we have the young deserters from the 9th Legion, led by Lucius. Being Rona Munro, she has strong female characters - in Survival all of the stronger characters were the female ones, whilst the male characters included the easily manipulated Midge, the evil Master, and the bullying Paterson. I'm going to assume that the similarity in names with Kar and Kara (the principal Cheetah person in Survival) is just coincidence, to tie in with the crow motif. That was a nice touch - that the crows talked and were remembering these events.
In case you hadn't worked it out from her name, Munro is Scottish, so it was only natural that she might look to her homeland for a story idea. It allowed for a number of jokes at the expense of my native land - mainly weather-related. Of all the places a light-eating creature could have turned up. The Doctor only had to wait for the August Bank Holiday and the monster would have been done for. (The chief jokers about the Scottish weather are the Scots themselves).
Talking of the monster, it did look like it was a bit of a bolt on, like the series has to have a monster of the week. Munro clearly wanted the story to be about the two groups of young people coming together. I couldn't quite get the monster's MO. It fed on light, yet seemed to be most active at night.

The young cast acquitted themselves admirably - especially Rebecca Benson (Kar) and Brian Vernel (Lucius). Vernel is no stranger to Sci-Fi, having had a role in the last Star Wars movie. The regulars were all well served. I enjoyed the banter between the Doctor and Nardole. I'm glad that we've been getting to see a bit more of the latter, him having to take a back seat whilst Bill was being established. Now, just before the series began, it was stated that Bill was going to be an out and proud lesbian. Pearl Mackie and Steven Moffat were at great pains to say that this was no big deal. Indeed, it shouldn't be. So why is it being made such a big deal of? It's nice to see that the average Roman teenager was quite open minded about sexual mores, but did the story have to stop dead whilst Bill reminded us yet again that she prefers girls?
And so we come to one other strong female character - yet another appearance by Missy. There she was sitting in the TARDIS, which she now seems to have the run of. She's even been doing a bit of engine maintenance. The Doctor clearly feels that the time is coming to trust her, that they might actually become friends once more as they once were as children. From the trailer for the next episode - the first half of the series finale - we see the Doctor is sitting it out in the ship whilst Missy gets to be him, at least for a bit. Interesting that the Doctor calls them Mondasian Cybermen, rather than just Cybermen. All Cybermen originated on Mondas, apart from the parallel Earth ones. It will be interesting to see how they explain two Masters. From the latest issue of DWM we know that the spaceship is 400 miles long and is on the edge of a Black Hole, and that time runs differently at one end from the other. Might this temporal differential be the answer?
Expectations for the next two weeks are running high.

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