“That was alright, wasn’t it?” seemed to be the reaction around my way to The Eaters of Light. Indeed, this has been a pretty alright series so far, and as we head into the finale, the penultimate story delivers more than enough to keep us interested.

I had a few issues with the camera work at times – subtle things that, once I’d noticed, couldn’t stop noticing – but generally, this was a well thought out and well executed story. It had the feel of a classic era story at times – The Stones of Blood springs to mind immediately – and that should come as no surprise. The Eaters of Light sees the return of Rona Munro, who also wrote Survival, the final episode of the classic series, and a personal favourite.

Roman Around

The setting of Romans in Scotland was exciting to say the least. It’s an interesting part of history and many will see parallels to more recent political issues. The costumes, makeup, and atmosphere were effective and well executed. The revelation that the Roman legion was made up of people no older than eighteen again brought home realities of war and empire too often overlooked.

This episode does a lot to tackle questions about the nature of empire and the defence of a homeland. With the Romans invading, pillaging, and destroying all in their path, what can the Picts do but fight with whatever they have? But how far is too far? What happens when defending your home threatens the entire universe? How high is the cost of fighting off an oppressive force?

The only part of this story that jarred with me was, I have to admit, the motivation of Bill at the beginning. Her interest in Roman history hasn’t really come up before – unless it was in the background once and I missed it. Ordinarily I wouldn’t take much notice, except this felt irritatingly familiar.

Cast your minds back to The Pandorica Opens, where Amy Pond suddenly announced a lifelong obsession with Romans. Again, I, along with much of the audience, hadn’t seen this before. To be fair to The Eaters of Light, though, it doesn’t become a central issue and comes across as more of an academic argument that probably started that morning. I would have loved to see that, actually, perhaps Bill and the Doctor arguing over the essay in question.

Pict your battles

The Picts are a great set of characters here. Kar, the Keeper of the Gate (which sounds like a good old school Doctor Who story in itself), grows into a very sympathetic character. Again, the thrust of this story seems to be that it is the young who suffer in these wars, who must carry on the conflicts they did not start.

The Doctor is somewhat hostile and condescending to them for most of the episode, which didn’t really jive with the softer, more human Doctor that has been developing over the series. It did lead me to wondering if Missy was having an effect on him, rather than the other way around.

Kar gives an impassioned speech about the Romans and their empire, laying out the major negative impact they had on their surroundings. Despite the Doctor’s suggestions of indoor plumbing, the human cost is plain in her face and words. Rebecca Benson puts in a stellar performance and more or less stole the show for me, running the gambit of emboldened leader, to frightened teenager. Somebody thrust into a position of power before their time, and yet taking it on nonetheless and doing everything they can.

Monster Mash

The Eaters of Light, these ‘Light Eating Locusts’, are kept in the shadows for the most part. And yet the episode is full of colour and brightness. Indeed, this episode felt very well balanced in terms of colour saturation and that was a welcome move.

Doctor Who has a long tradition of monsters whose visage and exact nature are kept somewhat vague. This is no exception and the monster seems to be little more than a plot device to get the two cultures to come together to fight it. That’s not a major criticism as that’s fairly par for the course in Doctor Who.

There is something of a possible message to be had from it, though I admit it is something of a stretch. This creature eats light, plunging worlds and realities into darkness. It survives at the expense of other worlds, it expands as others are destroyed, not unlike how an empire grows. Light could also be seen in a metaphorical sense. The light could be knowledge, or understanding. Therefore the episode could be seen as a call to resist those who would have us live in darkness.

Next week, grab your stick-on goatees and cyber hats! It looks like things are about to go down!