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“The Eaters of Light” is an OK Doctor Who standalone episode that pads out the tenth season in the lead-up to the finale.
Bill is convinced that she knows more about the lost Roman Ninth Legion than The Doctor, so the TARDIS trio travel back in time to Scotland to figure out who’s right. There, shock of all shocks, they stumble onto a deadly alien threat.
Despite the previous episode ending on what seemed like a Missy cliffhanger, “The Eaters of Light” kicks off without even acknowledging the events of “Empress of Mars.” It’s not until the very end of the episode that Missy comes back, which is a clunky way to handle the season’s overall arc. The Missy ending feels tacked on, doesn’t address why the TARDIS decided to leave The Doctor and Bill on Mars last week, and doesn’t even further the plot or the character beyond what we’ve already seen.
That’s just one of the reasons why “The Eaters of Light” very much feels like it was meant to be an earlier episode in the season, but was then bumped later. For one, it’s weird to have Bill learn about the TARDIS translation circuit for the first time ten episodes in. There’s also Nardole, who’s regressed to his bumbling comic relief antics despite previous episodes letting him show some backbone – and to top it off, everyone keeps reminding The Doctor about his Oath to protect The Vault, which was all the rage at the start of the season.
It’s not a huge problem, but it does make the episode feel like filler, and with the finale lurking just around the corner, it’s hard to get excited about what is basically a pedestrian standalone episode.
The titular Eater of Light isn’t that interesting, mainly because it’s really inconsistent. It’s supposed to feed off light, but it’s shown to only attack people and drain them of… light? It can infect you with some kind of toxic black slime, which can be cured by exposure to light? Shouldn’t light make the creature’s poison stronger? Plus, since it’s a special effect, it’s not around that often – and even though the episode tries to make it seem like a legitimate threat through exposition, it never quite works. The Doctor saves all of humanity and even the universe itself on a regular basis, so high stakes alone don’t make a monster memorable or interesting.
The theme of “The Eaters of Light” is “growing up” and it amounts to The Doctor telling a bunch of minor supporting characters we’ll never see again to grow up until they do – and that’s about it. There are a few good lines and a decent speech or two, but it’s hardly mindblowing stuff.
Yet again, a man tries to hit on Bill and she has to explain that she’s a lesbian. The fact that the Romans are absolutely fine with that and even have gay and bisexual soldiers in their ranks feels like a missed opportunity. It could have been interesting to see Bill’s sexual orientation cause some friction between her and the ancient Romans. As it stands, their progressive attitude leads to a couple of funny lines and that’s about it.
The Doctor says he’s going to sacrifice himself to keep the creatures at bay, but there’s no reason to buy into it when we’re so close to the finale. There’s just no dramatic weight to it, nor does it tell us anything about the character we didn’t already know.
Had it played out earlier in the season, like it seems it was supposed to, “The Eaters of Light” would have been a decent episode at best. This late and with the far more interesting Missy arc looming over it, it just feels like a mildly engaging waste of time.