Any Doctor Who episode that time travels into the past isn’t worth its salt unless it takes pieces of factual history and then peppers in the sci-fi bits to make a nice balanced Who stew. This week’s episode does exactly that by doing some neat presupposing about the mysterious fate of the Ninth Roman Legion.
In "The Eaters of Light", the Doc and the gang travel back to 2nd century AD in order to settle a bet between the Doctor and Bill. Bill believes that there will be a surviving Roman Ninth Legion. While the Doctor believes they were all slaughtered in battle. Gotta love Bill’s resolute in arguing history with a Time Lord. This might not be the Doctor’s first rodeo, but Bill seems pretty certain she is right anyways. That protest is super great and really reminiscent of the same challenges that Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) had with David Tennant’s Doctor.
Well, Bill was right. Not long after they arrive, they find what’s left of the Ninth Roman Legion, native warriors of Scotland and a super pissed off monster. Turns out the Scottish Devil’s Cairn is a gateway to the void that holds tons these Eaters of Light baddies. This leaves the Doctor to the task of once again saving the day with a little help from his fellow man.
Original series writer Rona Munro pens this episode much to hardcore fan joy. Munro hasn’t been around in the Whoverse since back in the late '80s when she wrote the finale for Sylvester McCoy’s outing as the Doctor. This was pretty great and totally explained the almost stage playish sensibilities that this episode had. That approach works for a lot of the conflict between the Romans and the Scottish, but when it comes to making the Eaters of the Light an effective threat, her writing style doesn’t quite do the job.
In this episode, the Doctor gets all dad on everyone, in particularly to one warrior named Kar. I’ve never seen the Doctor not like one of the good guys but holy smokes! He constantly reprimands and shouts at this poor girl. I’ve seen Capalidi be a grumpy and slightly despondent Doctor but never to the extent of being all-out mean. Ultimately, his lesson is that the young warrior needs to “grow up” in order to overcome the monster and her hatred for the Romans. But every single scene of him being a meany pants was sort of overkill. Hilarious overkill but overkill nonetheless.
In the end, what is left of the Roman Ninth Legion and the Scottish warriors unite under the leadership of Kar and enter the void in order to hold off the Eaters of Light for an eternity. So, maybe all the Doctor dad stuff paid off in order to teach her a life lesson… or maybe she jumped into that void cause anything is better than getting the evil eye and a dose of beratement from Capaldi.
For most of the episode, the group is split up with Bill hanging with the Roman Legion. That leaves us with a ton of The Odd Couple that is the Doctor and Nardole. Plenty of great bits of banter between them are revealing in that we learn Nardole isn’t a big fan of Scotland, and that the Doctor isn’t a fan of someone attempting to be charming. Someone really needs to reboot The Odd Couple and have it star Capaldi and Lucas. Show me where to insert my coins to make this happen, please.
The Doctor also continues his good-guy tutelage with Missy. After spending quality time with his imprisoned nemesis all season long and going out of his way to make her into one of the good guys, it finally looks like that time might have paid off. In last week’s episode Missy helped Nardole pilot the T.A.R.D.I.S to Mars in order to save the Doc, and now she has become a shipmate. Well, kinda. The Doctor has allowed her to move from her vault prison and into the T.A.R.D.I.S in order to do engine maintenance below deck and to watch and learn from his adventures. Missy is super convincing; she has gone into a new emo state where she cries at almost anything. Personally, I don’t buy it, we know her as the kinda baddie that would sacrifice a planet in order to avoid breaking a nail. But for now, the Doctor seems more and more convinced and hopeful of a future comradery.
With only two episodes left, both being written by Stephen Moffat, these choices almost definitely are going to spell out the last days of Capalidi’s Doctor.