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The Eaters of Light Review

Posted by SonicR on July 7, 2017 at 9:35 AM

The Eaters of Light is the first New Series story to be written by someone who also penned a script for the Classic Series. The author in question is Rona Munroe, and her previous Doctor Who contribution is actually the final story of the Classic era – 1989’s Survival. The Eaters of Light is a vastly different beast than Survival, but that can’t hide the fact that it is distinctly underwhelming.

Bland, dreary, dull. Those three words sum up the Scottish weather depicted in the episode, but they also encapsulate my opinion on the episode as a whole. There’s nothing really wrong with it; the premise is simple, the monster very well designed, and the resolution fairly straightforward, yet it still manages to come across as rather boring. There’s simply nothing to keep the viewer engaged. The monster element to the narrative had a great deal of potential, but that opportunity was squandered as soon as the episode decided to go off and have the Doctor moralise at a bunch of frightened teenagers instead. It’s a real shame, because the monster is very well realised, and could easily come off as terrifying, but it fails to do anything of merit other than killing a Roman to demonstrate its power, temporarily harming Bill, and moving the characters to where they need to be in order for the episode to conclude. It’s a plot device, nothing more.

But the monster being a plot device didn’t necessarily have to be a problem – not if the actual focus of the episode was any good. Exploring the cultural differences between the Picts and the Romans, comparing and contrasting the positives and negatives of both, then perhaps tying it all together using the monster as a metaphor (similar to how the monster in 2010’s Vincent and the Doctor is a metaphor for Vincent’s mental illness) would have worked really well, I think. What we get, unfortunately, is a group of Pict teenagers and a group of Roman teenagers both saying that they’re scared of the monster. The only real difference is to whom they’re saying it. It comes across as one-note, and very repetitive.

Eventually though, both groups encounter each other, and through an admittedly clever use of the TARDIS’ translation circuit, put aside their differences to send the monster back to its own domain. And they do so rather easily, diminishing the monster’s threatening presence even more – all by essentially holding up a magnifying glass to it and hoping the concentrated light refracted through the glass hurts the monster enough to coax it back into the portal. It’s a quick and easy way of getting the physical threat resolved, but again, the focus is on the characters, and yet again, the characters fall flat. For some reason, the Doctor decides that he must stay in the portal and fend off the creatures until the Earth is destroyed, though there’s no real justification for this plan – it just appears out of nowhere, with the Doctor already convinced it’s the only way to solve the problem. This is despite the fact that the monsters have displayed no feats of impressive strength, so surely blocking the entrance to the portal by collapsing the structure would suffice? Even barricading it would work quite nicely! There’s no real reason why anyone has to physically step into the portal to keep the planet safe.

But even once the Doctor is convinced to let the young Pict girl fulfil her tribal duties, with the Romans and the Pict musicians assisting her, the whole thing seems oddly unsatisfying. The whole troupe marches into the portal, intending to live out the rest of their lives fighting off the creatures, but no one seems to have thought of taking food and water in with them! In that case, they’ll only be able to spend roughly three days maximum in the portal (from their perspective) before they all die of thirst – and that’s assuming they’re not killed by the monsters first! The whole resolution to the episode, while simple and straightforward, seems to have been rushed in order to give a thematic conclusion to the characters, to the detriment of a narratively cohesive one. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as long as we care about the characters and their themes, but as I’ve talked about above, that is most certainly not the case here.

All in all, The Eaters of Light strives to be a character piece, but ultimately fails in its ambition. It’s best element – the monster – is woefully underutilised, and is sidelined at the expense of a character piece that no one really cares about. The conclusion is rushed, and leaves the whole episode feeling distinctly underwhelming.


Categories: Doctor Who Reviews

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Reply Patch
8:06 PM on July 9, 2017 
Yep, I completely agree with you Sonic. It was typical of the 'not very good' episodes in this series in my opinion. Not well written at all, and rushed to get to a unsatisfying end.
Reply SM
5:44 PM on July 20, 2017 
I didn't bother watching this episode until about a week after it aired because I wasn't expecting it to be great. However, I found it much better than expected, and actually quite enjoyed it. The series As a whole, though, was really quite disappointing.