The Eaters of Light Review

(101 comments)

The nearest precedents for a classic series writer returning to do a new series episode were probably the P.J. Hammond episodes of Torchwood. And indeed, those two episodes provide a handy map to the pros and cons. “Small Worlds” felt brave and refreshing, “From Out of the Rain” like a clumsy collection of random ideas that belonged to a different show. More to the point, they do this without actually being very different as scripts, which goes to show you that the comeback tour is on a knife’s edge in terms of whether it works or not. And while Hammond and Munro are very different writers, The Eaters of Light has similar problems to the Hammond scripts. Most notably, the characterizations are slightly off. Bill has unexpectedly caught Amy Pond’s already fairly idiosyncratic fascination with Roman Britain, only without the “invasion of the hot Italians” explanation. The Doctor, meanwhile, has rolled back two seasons and change of characterization, becoming more surly and uncharitable than he’s been in ages. (Note the two very Series 8 catchphrases - he’s “against” charm and back to calling human lifespans “hilarious.”) Both Hammond and Munro visibly come from a pre-”tone meeting” generation of writers - these aren’t scripts that bother with the idea that your climactic scene has to pay off some thematic thread so that the whole episode is “about” one specific thing. All the stuff I keep saying Toby Whithouse is very good at the formal structure of but never bothers to develop? This episode mostly doesn’t even bother with it.

But that doesn’t answer the question of whether this is any good or not. After all, a forty-five minute episode of Doctor Who is a container that can’t possibly hold all the things a story is supposed to do. Every story has to pass on some aspects to make room for others. So this one is a bit threadbare on the TARDIS crew’s characterization and doesn’t hammer home a theme. What does it do? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly for a returning classic series writer, it splits the TARDIS crew up from the word go, has each side meet a different faction, and then spends a lot of time teasing out the mystery of what’s going on.

Oddly, the result doesn’t feel as much like a classic series throwback as Empress of Mars did. Gatiss is still a new series guy, after all, and wrote an episode built for 45 minutes, with a modern structure, which let the very classic series thematic components shine. This, on the other hand, is so committed to doing its own thing that it doesn’t actually quite feel like anything. Some parts of it are very new series - the entire “this is a myth about why crows caw” aspect is something you’d never see in the 1980s. But this in a lot of regards this doesn’t feel like a classic series throwback because it’s so steeped in an older tradition that it just feels weird instead. It simply doesn’t bother with the modern “move through 2-3 set pieces” structure. Instead it moves through most of the beats of a classic series story, only faster. The giveaway is the couple minutes between the Doctor and Nardole escaping the Picts via popcorn and reuniting with them, a gap in which one would normally insert the better part of an episode. Instead Munro zips along to the cliffhanger (the rift/time jump sequence) then moves right on to the Doctor reuniting with Kar. Those are distinctly the beats of a classic series episode, but done at such pace and with such exquisite direction (I don’t think Doctor Who has ever used a forest so well) that it feels like something new.

There is a strand of fandom that has been largely unsatisfied with the entirety of the new series - think Lawrence Miles, though I’m using him as an example rather than a specific foil - for whom this offers to be something of a vindication. And in many ways it is - this is a surprisingly heavy episode. On first viewing, it felt longer than it was, but not in a way that felt slow-paced. It simply felt like an hour’s worth of television despite the main story being about thirty-five minutes long. Excising the connective tissue of an 80s story and powering through the actual plot beats works as a structure and feels fresh. This may not be what that particular strand of trad fandom wanted, and based on GalifreyBase nobody seems particularly appeased, but it at least proves that you can do this.

The problem comes when we ask what’s been used to fill the structure. From some perspectives it’s lovely and long on elegance - particularly in the moment when the “Bill figures out the TARDIS telepathic circuit” strand and the “the soldiers are all scared children” strand, both made clear but not over-emphasized, combine to suddenly give the episode thematic clarity. In other perspectives there’s the ending, which doesn’t quite make sense under its own rules (why is the Doctor wrong about human lifespans?) and doesn’t actually pay off anything from earlier in the episode.

The uncharitable view is that this means the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The fairer one is that this is a story that’s simply more interested in its parts. The real sparkle of Survival came in its details and strangeness, and this is no different. Munro’s dialogue casually leaps to the poetic in an absolutely delightful way. Characters with just a handful of lines feel rounded and significant. Palmer’s direction is focused on the individual shot in an unusual way, with lots of particularly beautiful framings and angles. No, it doesn’t catch fire in the way of ostentatious classics. Instead it aims to be an ordinary episode of Doctor Who, then accomplishes that in the most tried and true way: by being not quite like anything else.

  • This was shot back along Oxygen, and I suspect that the script was at one point intended for that half of the season. Bill’s surprise at the telepathic circuits feels more like an early season companion beat than an episode ten one, and, tellingly, the word “Missy” is never spoken until the TARDIS scene, which I suspect Moffat wrote. There’s a mention of Mars (though in a wide shot that could be ADRed over), but the bulk of this could have worked much easier in the season.
  • If the closing scene is an add-on, though, this raises the question of whether Munro’s script underran or got cut down to make room for the Missy scene. A missing scene or two might help explain the ending.
  • On the other end of the episode, I liked totally declining to use the cold open as a miniature Episode One in favor of a pure mood piece with no actual plot connection to the episode. It fits with Munro’s approach - she’s got an actual episode one compressed into the first chunk of script (the Doctor getting ambushed by Picts is probably the cliffhanger), and gives it more time than a cold open allows for.
  • Aside from her unusual fervor about the Ninth Legion, this felt like a return to the Bill of the early episodes, who hasn’t necessarily gotten to stand out that much since about Extremis. It’s nice to have her back. Particularly nice is her working out the telepathic circuits without the Doctor’s help, followed by the lip sync gag.
  • The bits about Bill’s sexuality were obviously very right-on, although Munro can be forgiven for getting a bit excited about getting to write actual lesbianism this time. Still, for all the “oh, look, history was more progressive than we give it credit for” cliche, this was an easy beat to like, if only for Munro’s delightful decision to embrace bi-normativity.
  • So, odds on Missy being sincere in her efforts to be good? I suspect she is - I don’t think Moffat really goes for irredeemability as a concept. Although something is surely going to go wrong, I think it’s going to be more complex than just “she was evil all along,” not least because whatever it is apparently requires a second Master to work.
  • Speaking of a second Master, man, next week looks pleasantly mental. Best part, for my money, is that the trailer makes it look mostly easy to piece together the plot, which, with a Moffat script, usually means there’s something massive we’ve not been told about yet.
  • Right, time for the downer of a note - the Patreon has fallen to $318, two dollars below the podcast level. I’ll do the podcast for this week as I’ve already scheduled it with my guest, but if that doesn’t get back above $320 by next week, I’ll be taking the finale off podcast-wise. $320 also, incidentally, will be the threshold for Game of Thrones reviews if those are a thing you’re interested in.

Ranking

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

Comments

mr_mond 6 months ago

You hit the nail on the head when you write that this manages to be an ordinary episode by being unlike anything else - that's the reason why I wasn't able to enjoy Thin Ice as much as I wanted to - punching racists and some nice shit metaphors aside, it was a re-tread of a ground already well-covered. This episode, by contrast, has some very pleasant strangeness to it and, unlike Empress of Mars, doesn't resort to platitudes about a warrior's death and serving a queen in its resolution - instead offering a fairly interesting image of Roman soldier uniting with the indigenous population, melding with the landscape, and letting go of the imperial idea in favour of defending the world against cosmic darkness.

What made me particularly predisposed to liking this episode (unlike, say, Oxygen, which managed to combine two things I'm bored of: zombies and cosmic stations) was the aesthetic - I'm very interested in Roman Britain and British folklore, so I had a broad grin on my face from the moment we heard the music coming from under the hill.

Those three elements combined resulted in an ordinary episode that seemed tailor-made for me to enjoy, where all the previous ones this season seemed to come with some sort of "but". The Eaters of Light gave me everything I wanted and added some really beautiful writing. I'm very, very happy I got one standard episode in the Moffat era that I could enjoy so thoroughly.

As for the Doctor being wrong about the human life-span: I assumed that the larger number of people, highly trained at that, allowed them to survive longer on the other side of the gate - which, combined with the difference in the time flow, allowed them to effectively guard the gate for millenia.

Is the "the past is more progressive than we thought" thing a cliché by now? I felt it was very refreshing, but that might be because the Polish fandom is to a large extent still at the "ugh, why are they making every character queer? Also, there were no black people in the Roman army!" stage.

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David Anderson 6 months ago

The Romans used soldiers from all other the Empire and the only commonality is that they never served in the province that they came from. They ruled North Africa. They had black people.

There is apparently a small group of men in Yorkshire, mostly known to be related to each other, whose Y-chromosome is typical of sub-Saharan Africa. There's no mention of any such person in oral or written history: speculation has it that the male-line ancestor was a Roman soldier who settled in those parts.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

Thanks for the information! I vaguely recall hearing about that group in Yorkshire and I've found confirmation of black people serving in the Roman army in several books concerning the presence of peopkw of colour in Great Britain - even though I only have a passing interest in history, it's always fun to show people where their assumptions about it are incorrect (or possibly it's fun to tell people they're wrong in general).

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R. James Gauvreau 6 months ago

Citation on that, please? I'm not finding anything but would like to read about that in more detail.

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David Anderson 6 months ago

I may have got it off wikipedia. Checking wikipedia just now doesn't mention the speculation about Romans and finds a common ancestor in the 18th century (but no historical record of race).

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

Incidentally anyone interested in this topic but not following the "Mediaeval People of Colour" twitter and tumblr --

https://twitter.com/medievalpoc
http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com

-- definitely should.

Even one of King Arthur's knights was black:

https://aaeblog.com/2015/04/01/and-tell-it-strong-and-clear-if-he-has-not/

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Chicanery 6 months ago

Medieval PoC is a fraud. Her history has been regularly criticised by historians for being incredibly inaccurate and frequently Eurocentric. Additionally, she's a con artist trying to get money from people to do work that's already been done and is widely available.

http://brehaaorgana.tumblr.com/post/93735101627/medievalpoc-is-scamming-you-heres-how-and-why

https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/4bao6s/medievalpoc_doesnt_understand_fashion_history/

https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/2uev60/medievalpoc_ancient_egypt_and_precolombian/

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

She may have some inaccuracies but the pieces you linked to don't (to me) show evidence of "scam" or "con artist" -- and calling a woman a "harpy" does not exactly alleviate suspicion.

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Doctor Memory 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I have no dog in this particular fanfight, but I note with eyebrows raised to the ceiling that your first link appears to claim that it is "against copyright" to sell prints of medieval art that is in the hands of private owners.

This is so hilariously wrong that I have no idea where to even begin.

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Przemek 6 months ago

I second the notion from the last paragraph here - in Polish fandom the very idea of putting black people in anything set before the XIXth century is considered a jarring and politically-motivated move. Some time ago the (Polish) Witcher games were critiqued for only having white people in them. Cue mobs of angry Polish fans screaming "it's a fantasy version of medieval Europe, EVERYONE WAS WHITE BACK THEN!". So yeah, "The Eaters of Light" felt very progressive and refreshing here.

mr_mond, I'm so glad you got an episode you could really enjoy! Cheers!

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I agree with your interpretation of why the combined forces were able (and continue to be able) to keep the creatures at bay. I also liked how the Doctor was proven wrong in this, after his attempt to take control and insist that only he knew best. David Ainsworth and others discuss this below while mentioning the Imperial themes of this season and I think this story contrasts very nicely with the preceding episode, in some ways answering questions that Gatiss left open. While this might indeed have been originally intended to show earlier, I also like to play with the idea that the Doctor gave Bill an assignment on the Romans following her comparison of the Ice Warriors to them, which subsequently led to this historical trip.

As for "history was more progressive than we give it credit for”, if that were a cliche I doubt that Lambda would have suggested it as an interesting inversion of ideas in response to 'The Empress of Mars' :)

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Quite apart from anything else, for anyone looking to critique "progressive past" depictions in this episode, the ethnic diversity of the Roman army seems a much odder target to pick than its upbeat representation of Roman attitudes to same-sex relations, given that they tended to resemble those of a modern prison more than those of a utopia.

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David Anderson 6 months ago

Bill's specifically interested in the Ninth Legion and all but names The Eagle of the Ninth: this is Doctor Who does Rosemary Sutcliff meets Hellboy. I think the use of Sutcliff goes deeper than just the Romans vs Picts setting: for one thing, Sutcliff is a great describer of light.
And her second or third most famous book is The Lantern Bearers: fighting to hold back the darkness is something that's going to happen if you're doing Sutcliff. (The other candidate for second or third famous book is The Mark of the Horse Lord which is anti-Empire.)

You comment on the plot being compressed; but the particular point you cite just happens to be a diegetic compression also - the Doctor gets to miss out on two and a third days of plot.

The Doctor's characterisation is a bit more Series Eight, but Munro does seem to have picked up the Doctor's death-wish from this season. I don't think the human lifespans problem is solved, so much as this restores things to the way they were before Kar let the monster out. The picts were taking care of the gate before the Doctor came along; he can help out but the long work of fighting back the darkness isn't his fight.

In case it's not clear, I loved it.

You don't mention the straight quote of Tacitus: clearly Munro felt she wasn't going to write a better speech for a Pict to condemn the Roman Empire with so why bother.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

Are Sutcliff's books worth checking out if I'm interested in Roman Britain and good children's literature? I havent heard about them before.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

YES!

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Didn't mean to shout, by the way - that was meant to convey enthusiasm rather than anything else. Funnily enough, though I read the canonical classics, the ones that really embedded themselves in my brain were The Shining Company (not a Roman one, but set c.600 and based on the poem Y Gododdin) and the opening section of Frontier Wolf.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

No worries, that’s how I read it. And thanks for the recommendation – I will definitely look those up!

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Camestros Felapton 6 months ago

"Are Sutcliff's books worth checking out if I'm interested in Roman Britain and good children's literature? "

Well I haven't read them since I was a kid but definitely yes.
Worth just for a description of a puppy as a "hairy malignant toad" - note I didn't look that up I remember that line from childhood :)

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5tephe 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Hell yes. Do it. Even if you only read the Eagle of the Ninth / Dolphin Ring / Aquilla Family ones (seven connected but independent novels), you'll be doing yourself a favour, and reading some great books at the same time.

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thesmilingstallioninn 6 months ago

Cool. I thought it might've been a required reading book the Doctor had assigned her for a history lecture, a historical nonfiction book about the Ninth Legion. She might've acquired her theory then, proposed it in a paper, and he might've disapproved of it, which led to their bet.

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Przemek 6 months ago

Yeah, I didn't feel like Bill's interest in the Ninth Legion was out of character or lifted from Amy Pond. The Ninth Legion is one of the famous unexplained mysteries of our world, like the Loch Ness monster or the Roswell incident. Why wouldn't Bill be interested in it?

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Aylwin 6 months ago

I don't know if it was the old-school structure, the youth of the cast or just that prologue, but somehow this one had a tinge of an old-timey children's TV feel about it that I've not encountered in a long while.

Random minor quibble: in the "I thought I heard the music" bit, switching from normal background music to the underground folk and back again was an odd, almost disconcerting choice. You end up with characters talking about whether they could hear music, to the accompaniment not of the music they might be hearing nor of its absence, but of other music that you know they're not supposed to be able to hear. "Was that the doorbell?" "No, it's just the incidental music for this scene."

Also regarding music: "You've never learned to hear the music", just as we lead into the return of the Simm Master. Joke?

And again on music: I don't know whether he's more restrained these days or if I've just become inured, but the "Emotions! Feel something now!" cue when Kar starts quoting Tacitus was the first "Oh, Murray!" moment I can remember having had in a long time.

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Daibhid C 6 months ago

I don't know whether he's more restrained these days or if I've just become inured, but the "Emotions! Feel something now!" cue when Kar starts quoting Tacitus was the first "Oh, Murray!" moment I can remember having had in a long time.

ISTR getting a bit irritated on that count during Bill's Imaginary Mum Solves Everything And The Doctor Takes The Credit, but it was overshadowed by, well, my irritation at literally everything else

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Prole Hole 6 months ago

Tone and setting make such a difference - one of the things that made this episode so strikingly different to anything else this season (and for a few seasons, really) is the music. Stripped of the usual strings-build-to-drama or haha-this-is-the-funny-bit cues, the episodes gets a real chance to breathe in a way that a lot of new-series episodes don't, and the difference is immediate and incredibly resonant. Full marks there (it's also excellent directed, I feel I should add).

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I remarked to a friend at the time that Missy may never have heard the music because her head had always been full of drums.

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ViolentBeetle 6 months ago

It avoided major problem of this series by having actual side characters. And for this alone Rona Munro deserves a round of applause.

I didn't particularly like this episode, but it was mostly working.

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dm 6 months ago

Amy, Clara and Bill were all disproportionately interested in Roman history (remember Marcus Aurelius?). So this is less Munro being behind on the companion, and more just sketching in what is now a signature Moffatt character detail. I understand why you'd make all three full-time female companions part-time history buffs (as opposed to River Song, who was a part-time companion but a full-time history buff), because why not make history cool*? Why you'd make them all obsessed with ancient Rome in particular is beyond me.

At least this time we're getting it as part of a multi-episode critique of imperialism, something Moffatt Who has being getting infuriatingly wrong for some time, with the Doctor cosying up to Churchill and the like. This is the most right-on season of Who since... Series 1?

The episode? Really, really gorgeous. It felt more in the tradition of children's television than the show's done for a while, and where previously it's tended to bugger that up a little bit (In the Forest of the Night, I'm looking at you), this felt spot-on. So refreshing to see the eerie, moody setting actually being used as the heart of the plot rather than as a backdrop for madcap adventures. It's the sort of thing that sets a child's imagination on fire, or at least it did to my manchild brain. The two armies of frightened teenagers with a very sensible fear of the dark, the talking crows, every element here was almost exactly what I want on my telly.

The characterisation of the Doctor was more series 8, but as someone who recently rewatched a couple of those early episodes, boy has Capaldi come a long way. None of his snarky quips seem intended to land as punchlines here, they're just part of his pater (though I would also say in general the director's restraint here made transcendent things that would have been cringeworthy in another's hands). And, in fairness, this character is in keeping with the explicit misanthropy he expressed at the end of Lie of the Land.

Minor quibbles- I'd like something a little weirder for my monster. As it was basically a Plot Device Monster, something more evocative in the design may have elevated the whole thing. Oh, and I don't need the doctor to tell us it's a temporal rift or whatever- it's a gateway to another dimension, we can see that. But I always prefer implied or explicit magic to technobabble and I know I'm in the minority there.

Chibnall had better bring Munro back. She has a lot to teach the other NuWho writers about pace and poetry,

*without ever having the doctor announce 'history is cool', thank god

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dm 6 months ago

PS rankings, where 1 and 2 are very tight, and the last two are mood dependent (but basically I'm choosing fun, brisk nonsense over boring, pretentious, plodding nonsense)

Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Extremis
Thin Ice
Empress of Mars
Knock Knock (elevated by performances)
The Pilot
Smile
Lie of the Land
Pyramid at the End of the World

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CJM 6 months ago

Sorry to be that guy, but what didn't you like in Pyramid?

I thought it had stakes and a throughline that made sense, unlike Lie of the Land.

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dm 6 months ago

I don't think the plot had any drive, and the stakes and rules at play were hazy and contradictory. Mostly I just disliked the way it evoked a kind of thoughtful, political science fiction that it just wasn't at all. I think I posted all my thoughts in the comments thread for that review. Rewriting them here would just add negativity to the comments section of an episode I feel immensely positive about.

Lie of the Land made no sense, and wasn't good by any measure I can come up with, and I didn't really like it at all. But it moved briskly enough and had some memorable/fun images. The kind of thing a kid could watch and misremember as being far more interesting than it actually was- I had this with Arc of Infinity growing up.

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CJM 6 months ago

Thanks. Sorry if I just asked for more negativity. Really disliking that episode seemed strange, but I can see your problems with it. I just liked the bits I liked more than those bits, but it was no "Extremis"

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Matthew Marcus 6 months ago

With some quite minor variations (I'd put Extremis a lot lower, despite the interesting concept, and Knock Knock a bit lower, despite some heroic performances), this is very close indeed to my rankings of the season.

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dm 6 months ago

Yeah I'm going to do a rewatch at the end of the season and re-evaluate (for no one's benefit whatsoever). I was very stoned when I watched Knock Knock and I reckon that's the best way to watch it. The paranoia that sets in every time you see Suchet or hear a creak, and the laugh out loud "this is so nuts" reveal of the wooden mum... I thought after I read Phil's review "Did we watch the same episode?"

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I watch every episode with a spliff and a good cognac or calvados. That sets the mood for me :)

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Prole Hole 6 months ago

I mean, if you want to stretch a point you could argue that the Eaters Of Light are a symbolic representation of what the Doctor defeats via language here. The "monster" eats the light (which is to say, reason and understanding) but the Doctor brings an alternative approach - when people understand each other (when the light is not eaten, but shared) then progress is made, as in the uneasy truce between the Romans and Picts that is a result of them confronting a common enemy.

Yes, it's a reach.

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Riggio 6 months ago

I'm another one who thought the episode was marvellous. In addition to all the nice things everyone said in this thread, I was also impressed that "Eaters of Light" looks like another entry in this season's theme of exploring what Doctor Who's meaning in the Brexit era can be.

As usual, I'm piggybacking on Phil's blog to direct people to my larger point. But I do it because folks apparently like it.
http://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2017/06/a-metaphor-that-will-devour-your-world.html

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

Though from the standpoint of the Brexit supporters, they're the Picts and the EU are the Romans.

(In fact both sides are the Romans -- that's the real problem.)

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Daibhid C 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Minor quibbles- I'd like something a little weirder for my monster. As it was basically a Plot Device Monster, something more evocative in the design may have elevated the whole thing.

It's a Pictish Beast, but I actually live in the Highlands, and I still didn't spot that until I read the Rona Munro interview in DWM where she actually points it out. (Yes, even with the stone carving.)

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Matt M 6 months ago

I thought this episode was okay, but nothing special. The main problem was the rather pedestrian monster, which apart from the cool tentacles was pretty much a dinosaur, and not nearly as amazing as the script seemed to think it was. I have no idea what happened at the end, why they were able to close the gate forever despite the point being that it had to be kept open, and how if someone had to go in every generation, suddenly it was ok because a few Romans went in.

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David Anderson 6 months ago

The monster was basically just there to be a platform for the tentacles. Munro's design notes probably read: last time Nathan-Turner told me tentacles wouldn't work. Can I have tentacles now please?

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Harlequin 6 months ago

As mr_mond suggested above, I think the Doctor was proved wrong because he assumed the continued practice of a single warrior fighting each generation instead of a combined army of Picts and Romans. The gate is no more closed forever than if the Doctor had gone in alone. The opposing force was large enough, however, that the battle continues to this day and beyond.

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Przemek 6 months ago

Well, we don't know how the world looks on the other side of the portal. Maybe the Romans and the Picts settled there and had babies?

(Yeah, the ending was a bit unclear).

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Iain Coleman 6 months ago

Given the setting, supporting cast, star, writer and showrunner, this was certainly the most Scottish that Doctor Who has ever been.

The episode absolutely felt like it had come from a parallel universe in which the 1970s childrens' telefantasy tradition had continued unbroken o the present day. Which meant that, while it was good , I did feel like I was watching it at one remove, as if I wasn't the audience for it.

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Kyle Edwards 6 months ago

At the same time, imagine how fun it's going to be to show your kids this.

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Daibhid C 6 months ago

I found the review interesting because in all honesty, I hadn't really thought of Munro as being a classic series writer. I mean, yes, I knew she wrote for the classic series, obviously, but that didn't strike me as being the same thing.

There are writers who, if I saw their name associated with a new episode, I'd think "Okay, classic series writer; this will probably be a bit classic series". They don't even all date back to the seventies; Ben Aaronovitch is probably one of them. Rona Munro? Playwright who wrote one previous Doctor Who story which was a bit weird. This will probably be a bit weird.

And, while I greatly enjoyed this, I had a nagging feeling that it could be weirder. Crows can talk but are endlessly repeating one name? I mean, it's good, but it's no "Cats are teleporting links to the planet of lesbian cheetah people."

Regarding the teaser; for what it's worth, my current theory is that Harold-Saxon-With-A-Goatee is a product of Missy's mind, representing the part of her that just likes being evil (hence why it looks like an amalgamation of previous incarnations). I look forward to this being completely wrong.

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John 6 months ago

Timeline wise, when are there gaps in the John Simm Master that this could take place during? Presumably it'd have to be either between the end of Utopia and his becoming Harold Saxon (so very early on in that regeneration) or after he gets locked away with the Time Lords at the end of The End of Time (presumably after the Time Lords get free again, so likely not long before his regeneration into Missy.)

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crossie 6 months ago

So, timewise, the beard came before the beard.

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CJM 6 months ago

Almost certainly after THE END OF TIME. Moffat likes to make timeline crossing events happen before or after a character's block of episodes, or at least as much as possible.

He's got white hair, and a beard, and it would make sense for it to be after the Doctor saves Gallifrey.

That is, if it's even the return of Harold Saxon. It might be "an old favourite" or something else.

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Przemek 6 months ago

I like your theory. Having said that, I hope it's wrong. I want Simm's Master in the flesh, in all his craziness and glory.

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Lambda 6 months ago

I feel that applying the "your climactic scene has to pay off some thematic thread so that the whole episode is “about” one specific thing" observation to this rather demonstrates the negative side to professionalism in art and why so many of the things I like have a touch of the amateur to them. Rules about how to do things properly may give you a nice toolbox for achieving various effects, but they're also a straightjacket which makes all sorts of things impossible which don't follow those rules, and reduces the diversity of what's available.

Because I feel that this story was very much about one specific thing. I'm still working on what that thing is, but it's something along the lines of the importance of being able to see old threads of thought from before things like cities and monotheism changed humanity into a different sort of creature (and one further away from the one it's evolved to be) when you come across the things which are still left over from those times. But whatever it is, it's too abstract for any climatic scene to be "about" it, you need to make a whole world which is about it, and then have a load of excuses for exploring that world. So modern TV just can't do it, except fortunately for us, we got a piece of TV which wasn't quite so modern.

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Kyle Edwards 6 months ago

Well, I think it's less "can't" and more "won't". The problem is that since having a point is just an unambiguous improvement in television writing techniques, no one wants to opt out of using it, which can get stale. But, really, imagine a Moffat finale without a point. They'd have to be revamped top to bottom.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

I am also still working out what exactly that episode means to me, but I just want to say that I LOVE your interpretation.

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Kyle Edwards 6 months ago

I mean, this was wonderful. I'm a New Series kid all the way (first episodes were Asylum of the Daleks and End of the World, started watching proper with Eleventh Hour-Time of the Doctor), and this was so weird and fun. It felt like watching Blink; not that it's completely and ostentatiously brilliant, but that it's unlike anything I've seen from the show yet. And really, that is the appeal of watching Doctor Who, like you said. The Doctor was written oddly, but ignoring his growth and just relishing in Capaldi nailing those beats is easy enough. Bill is just fun, and Mackie's never been more charming. Nardole is great fun. And the fact that there isn't a "point" per se allows the episode to embrace a really complex and ambiguous morality. It felt dense and meaty, with tons of stuff happening which was worth seeing. This is better than Survival for me; it's got all the good bits, and none of the awkwardness of the pacing. Bring back Munro for more, please. And if we're doing this now, can we get something from Aaronovitch?

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Prole Hole 6 months ago

I'd just like to make a point about the inclusion of the sentence "they made a desert and they called it peace" as a perfect example of what Rona Monroe brings to the table. It's a sentiment thats two millennia old, an incredibly resonant line, it feels politically relevant to the now (what with all those desert wars), and it works in the context of the episode. All within a single line.

What an amazing writer she is. More. Please.

(with thanks to Wastrel over at the AV Club for helping me clarify how I saw this)

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Kaan Vural 6 months ago

It's a quote from one of Tacitus's histories. Good line, but not Munro's.

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Prole Hole 6 months ago

Oh yes I know it's Tacitus, that's why I referred to it being two millennia old. What I meant was that it's the deployment of the line that shows Munro's skill as a writer. Sorry, should have been clearer.

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Anton B 6 months ago

Ah the Scottish Agenda.
So of course it was all about Brexit and Scottish nationalism…
Lol.
No, actually it was all about Momentum and social media influencing the Youth Vote to rebel against the Evil light-eating Coalition of Darkness.

Double LOL

‘...today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups...unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power'
… THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED’
Philip K. Dick

In ‘Valis’ Philip K Dick’s strange quasi autobiographical novel there’s a single line which he repeats throughout the book, always in capital letters. THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED - he says, - THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.

He's talking about the Roman Empire.

He suggests that, contrary to the history construct we’re given in schools in the West, the Roman Empire has continued to flourish, long after its apparent demise; taking on various guises. Often, like a chameleon adopting the trappings and culture of the subject nations it conquered but THE EMPIRE as a construct has never ended.

Look at any footage of riot police in combat mode, with their shields and their batons, with their close formations, their phalanxes and their armour and witness the classic Roman military strategy employed in full.

THE EMPIRE exists as a mental construct, as a psychopathic state of mind, as a system of control. All of us are infected with this thought-form virus. It's no use hating Theresa May or Donald Trump, the world‘s most prominent psychopaths. It’s not a question of right versus left. It's not even a question of right versus wrong. It's a question of survival. It might in fact, as it has been since we huddled around torches in caves or inside stone circles, be a question of Light versus Dark.

This of course may be just a Sci-Fi plot device. Or Phillip K Dick may have believed that it was true. Who knows, eh?

WHO knows?

Anyway this was a fun episode with some ambisexual Roman legionaries and some face-painted Picts. The Doctor was grumpy, Nardole was the comic relief and Bill fell down a hole. Again. I mean seriously is every writer going to do the Alice down the rabbit hole thing?

Its denouement, with Picts and Legionaries joining forces to protect the universe for evermore against the very Lovecraftian light-eating tentacle monsters was a metaphor of course for the fact that THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.

It worked we’ll enough as a place holder before Moffat and Capaldi’s victory lap – the two-part finale, the Christmas episode and the regeneration of Capaldi into…WHO?

Is there anything in the coda to this episode to contradict my theory that Michelle Gomez will be announced as the actor to play the thirteenth Doctor? In fact judging by the next time trailer it looks like we’re going to get just that, if only for one episode.

Whatever. On this show we’re now definitely on the home-stretch toward the end of an era. The departure of show runner, lead actor and probably also the supporting cast and regular writers signalling the end of a creative regime that’s lasted nearly a decade. But remember…

THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.

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crossie 6 months ago

As far as the "deleted scene" theory, on the other end, surely we got an explanation for why Nardole was in pyjamas and a bath robe.

Or maybe we didn't because that kind of worked for the character.

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Sean Case 6 months ago

The Doctor tells Missy that the reason she's evil is because of her poor æsthetics, and you don't even mention it?

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arcbeatle 6 months ago

"The Eaters of Light" is essentially why I watch Doctor Who. It transported me to my childhood memories, rather than their reality.

I think I adore it.

I put in a VHS cassette: the Doctor is there, he has a funny coat. We arrive somewhere in the middle of the UK, a field or a quarry, and there is something going on beneath the surface.

But more than that, there's something going on under the surface. Something that inspires more than once viewing, and not simply the plot. Its not so broad as a point, not so narrow. There are a set of ideas that breathe, that flow together into a theme that is nearly a tone.

I download an episode from Xbox Video: the Doctor is there, he has a funny coat...

And the circle starts again. Somewhere under the Earth, there is music. Somewhere the sun is setting, the horizon devouring the aging morning. We can hear the music.

Its an old song. I heard it on a VHS cassette.

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George 5 months, 3 weeks ago

This has to be one of the most beautiful things of writing about Doctor Who I've ever read, even considering this blog's high standards. Thank you.

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UrsulaL 6 months ago

Most notably, the characterizations are slightly off. Bill has unexpectedly caught Amy Pond’s already fairly idiosyncratic fascination with Roman Britain, only without the “invasion of the hot Italians” explanation.

This is completely wrong.

Bill's interest isn't a throwback to Amy's. Rather, it is a deliberate way to contrast the two characters, by giving them an interest in similar subjects in very different ways for very different reasons.

Amy's interest in Roman Britain was about stories. It was Mythological. And superficial. She loved a particular children's picture book, about a fictional legion intended to teach a generic lesson about Roman legions in Britain. Amy had little understanding of what the Romans did in Britain, or why. For all of her love of being Scottish, she didn't know her own Scottish heritage, as the people who kept the Romans out.

Bill's interest in Roman Britain is academic. Intellectual. She isn't someone who got in trouble in school and became a kissogram, and then dressed her boyfriend up as a hot Italian invader. She got herself a job serving chips at a university, so that she could sneak into lectures.

She managed to get the Doctor to be her personal tutor, and he assigns her long essays to write on complex subjects, and she goes along with this, because she loves the work of learning, research, and writing.

Bill barely travels with the Doctor! Her relationship with him is about her chance to learn and study. Very different from Little Amelia wanting to run away from the scary crack in her bedroom wall. The Doctor promised to be her tutor, not her tour guide to all of time and space.

Bill has read the works of professional historians on an obscure subject, the fate of a particular legion. She "read the book." And then she went back, and "read
everything." Presumably all the stuff the book cited, and whatever else she could find on the subject, until she felt confident enough to say that she knew more than the Doctor, if not about everything, than about this one narrow subject.

Amy would never do that. It wasn't her style. Amy was a storyteller, not an academic. She'd have written stories about what might have happened to the legion, not researched the subject to the utmost, and then demanded a research trip in the TARDIS.

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

One caveat: the "book" that Bill originally read was almost surely not a scholarly book but rather, like Amy's book, a piece of children's fiction -- Rosemary Sutcliff's "Eagle of the Ninth." For a Brit especially (but really, for an American too), nothing else is going to count so clearly as THE book on the subject.

That doesn't tell against your larger point, since Bill obviously went on to do actual scholarly research on the subject and Amy didn't.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Reading "didn't happen to mention" as "didn't know" is a bit of a stretch. And the Picts and other peoples north of the frontier were no more Scottish than those south of it were English (which is not to say that nationalist mythmaking doesn't blur such distinctions with gay abandon when convenient, but still).

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UrsulaL 6 months ago

Amy was clearly fascinated with Roman soldiers. And with her Scottishness, which she maintained even after decades of living as a child in England.

So if she'd known or cared about the intersection of the two, she'd have picked up on the fact that the Romans never got into what is now Scotland, and, as someone who is captivated by myth and story, made that national myth part of her stories about Roman Britain.

But Amy's stories about Roman Britain don't go that far. Her Roman legions are the greatest army in all of history, and she makes Rory, in her mind, the Last Centurion of this unstoppable force. He's her hero, and if she'd known the story of the Romans never capturing Scotland, Rory would have been a Scottish Warrior, who held the Romans back, because in her stories, Rory is the strongest and best.

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Iain Coleman 6 months ago

Of course the Romans got into Scotland. The Antonine Wall didn't build itself, and the Caledonii didn't lose the battle of Mons Graupius to a herd of unusually belligerent sheep.

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Aylwin 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I think it would be almost impossible for anyone to grow up in Britain without becoming aware that the Romans mostly didn't rule what is now Scotland most of the time - apart from anything else, the cultural prominence of Hadrian's Wall sees to that. It's background-radiation knowledge here, like "Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo" or something. (If there is widespread popular ignorance on that topic, it's ignorance of the degree to which Roman power did at times extend beyond that line, not the reverse.) And for someone self-consciously Scottish with any degree of interest in Roman Britain, remaining unaware of really would be impossible.

Also, "the Last Centurion" is not a concept from Amy's imagination, but a name given to him by other people because of something he actually did for her. More generally, Rory-the-Roman is not a concept created by Amy directly, but a result of his importance in her psyche leading to him being inserted into the Roman scenario constructed from her memories by the Nestenes, facilitated by an incidental bit of fancy dress on some memorable occasion.

And if Amy actually were the fascistic, martial dominance-obsessed power-worshipper you portray (a rather long punt to take on a spot of uniform-fetishism and a susceptibility to Mediterranean sex-appeal), she would never have been attracted to Rory in the first place. "My hero" and "the alpha male" are very distinct concepts, and no one would cast Rory as the latter.

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David Anderson 6 months ago

It's a curious feature of British nationalism that they're both based around territory rather than race. As a result in any historical fiction set prior to 1066 the Other is always the invading group - even if that invading group is the Anglo-Saxons - until such time as the invading group settles when it ceases to be the Other and becomes Us.

French nationalism is the same: Asterix as a Gaul shares neither language nor dominant ethnicity with the modern French with whom he is identified.

It may be because both are state-sponsored nationalisms rather than nineteenth-century revolutionary nationalisms.

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

Americans used to use an American Indian as a symbol of the United States (the penny, for example, bore an Indian head from 1859 to 1909) -- which is grotesquely ironic on multiple levels.

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Aylwin 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm not sure that's so unusual. For a lot of European nations the issue doesn't really arise in the first place, in that they can claim a rough ethnic continuity in roughly their present territory back to the beginning of that area's recorded history, or as near as makes no odds. (With occasional complications, this would go for the Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Scandinavians, Finns, Estonians, Balts, Western and Eastern Slavs (except on the steppe), Italians, Greeks and Albanians.)

For those in the position of having historically-attested predecessors in their territory with whom there is not that cultural continuity, I have a feeling similar patterns tend to apply, though my ignorance prevents me from stating that argument too strongly.

For instance, my vague sense is that the Spanish and Portuguese would tend to identify more with the national defence of the Iberians, Celtiberians, Lusitanians etc than they would with the Roman invaders, a tendency analogous to that of France with the Gauls. Maybe likewise with the Bulgarians and the Thracians. I have a feeling the Hungarians identify to some degree with peoples who occupied Hungary before their own people came there, at least in the case of the Huns. And as for the Macedonians, hoo boy! Though that is an extreme case.

The case of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England is also subject to exceptional complications, due to the hugely influential adoption and adaptation of Welsh Arthurian legends, involving defence against the "Saxons", by the ethnic-French aristocracy who dominated the post-1066 high culture of England, and to the broader alienation from the "Anglo-Saxon" past resulting from the Norman conquest and the consequent psycho-cultural injuries (leading, among other things, to the prevalence of the term "Anglo-Saxon" itself).

Also while I'm finicking, I don't see a strong distinction between "state-sponsored nationalisms" and "nineteenth-century revolutionary nationalisms". Whether a nationalism was state-sponsored or revolutionary in the nineteenth century was a circumstantial reflection of whether the nation in question happened to have a state of its own at that time or not. I don't think its a distinction that's sustainable in a broader chronological view, incorporating the earlier history of national self-perceptions (the idea of the nation being a great deal older than the nineteenth-century intellectual codification of nationalism) and the ongoing developments arising from the nineteenth and twentieth-century proliferation of nation-states in Europe, which turned most of the former "revolutionary" nationalisms into "state-sponsored" ones.

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David Ainsworth 6 months ago

I liked it. The resolution initially seemed odd but on further reflection it seems significant within the context of the season's broader themes. With human lifespans and using a 3 seconds = 2 days rough estimate, if the defenders lasted 40 years they'd hold the gate for more than 2 million years on our side. That's probably longer than they can manage, but that's the question, isn't it: how long can they hold on working together? The Eaters presumably have no light to strengthen them. The Doctor could easily hold longer than 2 million years, but Bill's right, what isn't he doing then?

But as a deeper question: we've seen imperialism again and again, and we've seen the risks and problems in an agency or person swearing to "take care of someone", whether it's workers or a wooden mother. Is the Doctor, as an alien who saves humanity, a kind of agent for the imperial when he steps forward in the place of a human? Twelve only sometimes makes that move; I suspect Missy is more likely to go that direction and spell something specific out. I wonder whether Bill is going to sacrifice herself in the Doctor's place and teach him a lesson by doing so? I do know that we should be concerned when the Doctor describes humans as children; if he is the lone adult, does that make him the lone responsible figure?

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mr_mond 6 months ago

I thought we were meant to think Bill was the adult in that scene. I can see it equally being directed at the Doctor, though (he's definitely the more obvious choice, since he's not human), so I might have to watch that scene again to see how it parses.

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Caitlin 6 months ago

I saw it as Bill and Nardole were young adults, the Doctor (and Missy) are the proper/old adults, and the supporting cast were children in their coming of age. Through that lens, it's a story of generational transitions, particularly in taking on or relinquishing responsibility and authority.

It also successfully communicated what Lie of the Land fucked up in it's final scene. Bill does stand out from other humans now in terms of experience, competence and responsibility, but the rest of humanity, the children, are not infantilised or denied agency. Instead Bill uses her adult-ness to help the children come into their own, in contrast to the Doctor trying to deny them that right.

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Przemek 6 months ago

Interesting. It made me think that the Doctor is a typical "I work my hands to the bone everyday so that you can be provided for and carefree" father figure here. His proposed sacrifice is just an extension of that commitment to put himself through hardship in order to make his children's life better. (It's also the expression of his death drive, which is particularly strong this season). But the children don't want his sacrifice. When he wasn't looking, they grew up and took the responsibility from him. In that reading Bill would be a supportive mother who noticed that the kids aren't kids anymore and helped them to start their own fight.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

Love that reading!

If we wanted to make something of the Doctor’s status as an other, higher-status being than human, we could see him as a benevolent, patriarchal god who wants to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, to protect it from the cosmic darkness, with humans asserting their right to fight that battle for themselves. Bit existentialist. I’ll be the first to admit that this is reaching a bit – but I like a bit of overinterpretation.

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Przemek 6 months ago

Ha. Now I'm imagining Jesus Christ that is denied his crucifixion (and death for the sins of mankind) by the humans he wanted to protect. Maybe his disciples battle the Romans to free him and succeed? Then he has to spend the rest of his (human) life helping them with their fight against the Empire. And it turns out that without his sacrifice they... do just fine.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

"And they said, What must we do to Destroy the Gate Forever, and he said unto them, This you Cannot Do, for it is Not a Thing, but I will Guard the Gate for you. And they, not having been Born yesterday, and fearing the Cure more than the Malady, said to him, What will you Take from Us, that you will Guard the Door. And he grew until he was the height of a tree and said, Only your Remembrance, that I do Not Sleep. ... And with that the Golden Man took up his golden sword and went into the Hill and stood at the Gate, forever."

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Przemek 6 months ago

I loved this episode. I'm not really interested in Roman Britain or Picts and yet I was glued to the screen. The mood, the themes, the pacing - they were all different than usual and that made this story unique. It's probably my favourite episode of the season, or at least tied with "Extremis" and "Oxygen".

What I liked the most was the emotional resonance that was missing from many episodes in Season 10. The reasonably well-rounded supporting characters definitely helped. To me this story was definitely "about something": it was about learning to communicate and standing together against a common problem/enemy.The scene where the TARDIS translation matrix made it possible for the Picts and the Romans to understand each other really moved me. No, it was more than that: they learned to see each other as human. Wonderful stuff.

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Przemek 6 months ago

One more thought: the "Missy-turns-good-maybe" plot still feels really underdeveloped for me. Partially because so far it consists of about 3 short scenes. And partially because I just can't believe for one second that Missy would really change and that it's not all some kind of a devious scheme on her part.

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Aylwin 6 months ago

Agreed. There are things you can do effectively through the occasional-arc-snippet-teasing-the-finale technique and things you can't, and I think profound and fundamentally transformative character development is the latter. Especially when you only start halfway through the season.

Aside: obviously that technique, in one form or another, has become a pretty standard structural component of new-Who, but who did it first? The earliest example I can think of was the excellent early 90s alt-cop-show Between the Lines.

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Przemek 6 months ago

Homer's "Odyssey". Teasing Penelope waiting for her husband while surrounded by other men. Or possibly "The Epic of Gilgamesh" before that.

(I'm joking, obviously, but whenever you think a trope originated in a particular time period, it's usually much older).

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Roderick T. Long 6 months ago

Whatever the plot with Missy is, it's incredibly frustrating that it's been confined to snippets in mostly unrelated episodes. I still wish she'd been a regular TARDIS companion for the whole series. (The best thing about "Scream of the Shalka" was the Master as a companion, even if it wasn't quite THE Master -- and the callback in "The End of Time" was tantalising.)

In any case, you don't teach someone to be good by locking them up in a vault. (Also a problem with the "rehabilitation" theory of prisons) Aristotle was right: one develops virtue by practicing it, by engaging with people and situations and the world. Another argument for Missy as full-time TARDIS companion.

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Aylwin 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Good point though - obviously I had television specifically in mind there, but the structure of the Odyssey, with its string of discrete episodes in the same contextual framework, is close enough to the traditional structure of a TV series to make a workable analogy.

An observation which also reminds me of the existence of Ulysses 31, which is a bonus.

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Peg 6 months ago

I disagree, on the grounds that the "Missy" plot is not only rooted in decades of "Master" mythos, and more important on the fact that the question of the Doctor's alone-ness related to his near-immortality has been more and more central to the entire show's theme for years.

Back when NuWho began, the isolating factor was the Doctor's genocidal guilt. When the guilt was removed, what was left was his solitary loneliness, with "companions" who are always "children" compared to him. You can look at the arcs from at least Donna Noble on as discussions of the Doctor grappling with his need for a companion, and the inevitable fact that the companions can't be full peers nor can they ever even be hoped to live as long as he does.

Clara was attractive *because* she is the "Impossible Girl," who is reborn over and over--that's why the Doctor pursues her. It's why it's important that, when she leaves, she leaves as a full immortal equal, with Me, another immortal equal. River Song is important because she's a Tardis-begot Time Lady, and even with her regenerative abilities lost, she's got a life-span that far exceeds that of ordinary companions: She's the Doctor's Wife, not a mere companion, because she at least approaches the ability to live on the same time-scale he does.

Which leaves Missy/The Master, who are the traditional frenemy sharing the Doctor's scale. The Doctor has always wavered between love of an old friend and conflict with an old enemy, and he's still mourning River and Clara...and he's just been handed an entire new set of life-spans to live in, alone. Of course he's grasping at straws, looking for someone who will be able to enter his world on his terms. And of course Missy is one of the main options.

One of the things I found a real take-away from this episode was how quick the Doctor was to sign up for the sacrificial position of Guardian of the Gap. It's out of character: the Doctor usually seeks an answer that does not end in him rooted to one place. It feels like exhaustion, to me. Willing self-sacrifice to end the dilemma. A form of death that is not quite suicide.

Me, I think Moffat is doing something impressive with what has become a major thematic hook--and I'm curious how he intends to resolve it this series, while not resolving it SO completely that it's no longer available to Chibnal.

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Przemek 6 months ago

I like your reading, but the Missy plot still doesn't work for me. Missy/Master is a non-character. (S)he works as a plot device, but doesn't really have the depth required to pull off such a character change. Reducing the whole process to a few short scenes only damages the plot further. We can understand the Doctor's motivations. We can't understand Missy's because there are none. And if they are, we didn't get to see them.

I guess I just dislike plots that require me to take into account the whole "mythos" of a character. That's why Davros kinda didn't work for me in the Season 9 opening two-parter: there was no setup to his relationship with the Doctor, only the assumption that it exists. But the last (and only) time I saw him before that was "The Journey's End" where he was a lunatic laughing at the Doctor and trying to destroy the whole reality. Not really something you can build upon in terms of relationships.

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Shachar H 6 months ago

What I don't get is: Bill is such a history buff right?? She's such a fan of the Roman empire... but then she's surprised to find out that bisexuality was normative? What kind of a history buff is that?

I know it's a nitpick but it actually bothered me as I was watching that scene.

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mr_mond 6 months ago

I don’t think the episode says anything about her interest in history of the Roman empire – we only know she’s interested in the disappearance of the Ninth Legion (as others have mentioned, it might have been caused by reading Rosemary Sutcliff, it might have been caused by an assignment from the Doctor). It seems perfectly reasonable to me that she has a theory about this particular mystery and wants to solve it, but doesn’t have the wider knowledge about the Roman culture or wider historical milieu.

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Peeeeeeet 6 months ago

She says she got an A* - presumably that's in History, because I don't think there's a GCSE called "What Happened To The Ninth Legion".

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UrsulaL 6 months ago

But did the official test get into the sexual habits of Romans?

I doubt it did, especially since you wouldn't describe them as "okay with bisexuality and homosexuality."

They were okay with Roman men being the penetrators in sexual acts with lesser humans (women, male slaves), but it was taboo for a high status man to be the one penetrated. (Basically, taking the "woman's" role in sex was seen as degrading.)

I would not call this modern or accepting. I'd call it misogynistic.

Modern acceptance of sexual diversity is about equality and respect, not about enforcing sexual hierarchies.

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I took the implication in the episode to be that those were the "modern" attitudes to sexuality replacing an older omnisexual normality. Not accurate according to the current history books in our reality but our understanding of our own universe is often at odds with what the Doctor encounters (see also: 'Kill the Moon' ;) ).

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UrsulaL 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I expect what happened is even simpler. The writers have chosen to have characters model appropriate, moral sexual behavior and attitudes, even if not strictly historical. It's a modern show for a modern audience, with modern kids watching who will learn from and mimic what they see. So they'll see people who accept each other's sexual preferences, and take "no" for an answer with good grace, and generally behave the way that contemporary thoughtful sexual ethics considers moral.

As the season continues I'm suspecting that Moffat set out some strict rules - he wanted episodes that passed the Bechdel test, and casting that was racially diverse, and he wasn't going to hope that he avoided discrimination in how he hired and assigned roles, he was going to be sure that he didn't inadvertently discriminate.

Things he's said in interviews suggest that he's always wanted to have diverse casting and good representation, and at first thought he would get it simply by being clear that there shouldn't be discrimination, and then he's come to realize that getting to that point takes work and goals and standards that he, as boss, holds others to.

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BeatnikLady 6 months ago

As far as sexuality in the ancient world goes, there seems to have been more an idea that there were different types of acts different people could carry out with each other rather than a gay/straight/bi identity that remained fixed. You didn't identify as one category and then stick with it, so the Romans in this episode opening up about their specific sexuality were a bit of an anachronism. There was certainly racial and sexual diversity in ancient Rome, though - I can hardly believe that there are people who try and deny this. Oh, and the Romans most certainly did come to Scotland - apart from the Antonine Wall there are other remains, such as the baths at Bearsden (Glasgow area).
On the subject of Bill suddenly developing an interest in the Ninth Legion, I'm not sure this matters too much. When given the chance to learn and travel in unimaginable ways there would be so much happening around you that you wouldn't necessarily disclose everything you liked at once - too many distractions! Perhaps for me I also find Bill a better-rounded character than her predecessors, so I can forgive her more inconsistencies.
Since when does the Doctor disapprove of charm? Plucking an example from the post-2005 series, the serious and traumatised Ninth Doctor is perfectly happy to employ charm, so if he can do it...

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James V 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I took "I'm against charm" not as literally that, but more as "I'm against charm from anyone but me" or more specifically "I'm against Nardole muscling in on my schtick."

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dm 6 months ago

Another thought I had about the translation matrix revealing everyone to be children was that it kinda mirrors how I, and probably many others, encounter and get to know people- often in the workplace and in social situations I'll see someone I haven't got to know and be intimidated by their "adultness", for want of a better word, and I feel like a child impostor playing at being 27. It's not until I get to know someone that those barriers breakdown and, yeah, we're all just scared children.

I don't know if that made sense or is reflective of anyone else's experience, but it certainly resonated with me as another reading of that scene.

Contrast that with the Doctor's sneering, patronising rant at the end of The Zygon Inv.

This is what I mean when I say Munro could teach other writers about poetry. The closest I've seen to that in NuWho for sheer evocativeness is Moffatt's "Time travel has always been possible in dreams"

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Jim 6 months ago

I found it weird in ways I couldn't put my finger on. I agree that it didn't feel like a classic series story (insofar as that means anything!) or much like any new series ones. I've seen comparisons to the aesthetic of the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff and Susan Cooper, and I can definitely agree with that - there's a similar unsettling weirdness to them, I find.

I'm still not sure what to make of it in terms of quality - was it good or bad? It didn't help that I'd had a long day at a cricket match in the blazing sun - it felt a bit slow at times, but maybe that's because I was rather more tired than I'd usually be when watching the show.

Queer Romans - fine; it's realistic. Black Romans in Scotland - same; not outside the bounds of possibility at any rate. Romans who show barely the slightest hint of sexism and are quite happy to listen to a random woman and do everything she tells them - bit more problematic. Real-life Romans were not exactly into gender equality most of the time. I suppose it's not really worth worrying about - it's not as if the show doesn't have something of a habit of ignoring historical sexism - but given the presence of a whole scene devoted to "social justice" issues, it grated that the sexism issue was overlooked, and I think I may have enjoyed the episode less as a result. Charitably, I suppose tackling misogyny might have made the episode too complex. More cynically, it could have been seen as undermining the message that the Romans were wonderful tolerant people which the writing seemed to be aiming for (though you had a bit of undermining of that with the commentary on colonialism anyway).

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Harlequin 6 months ago

I think others may have mentioned something along these lines above but I see this as an extension of Dr Sandifer's idea that the Tardis travels between genres and imagined realms as much as it does between planets and eras. What we think of as historical fact need have no bearing on the Doctor's adventures unless aspects of those facts have a bearing upon the story being told. Some may think that opportunities have been missed in some cases but I didn't lament the absence of addressing the realities of life during the Crusades in 'Robot of Sherwood' nor that of teaching our real understanding of astrogeology in 'Kill the Moon'. The Doctor may be the true Master of the Land of Fiction (an idea perhaps borrowed by Moffat in recent years) and everywhere he goes may be essentially fictional :)

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