Doctor Who episode 853: The Eaters of Light (17/6/2017)
‘Death by Scotland.’ I was very excited when I heard Moffat had persuaded Rona Munro to return to write for the show, 28 years after her last script. Survival is practically my favourite classic episode. I wasn’t expecting its follow up to be a semi-historical set in Scotland rather than a contemporary thriller in the streets of Perivale. But under the surface, there are common ideas: the need to unite or die; creatures crossing from another world to feed, and more overt sexuality than they could get away with in 1989.
The result is a story that slots into place in this series while maintaining its distinct identity. There is a sense that sequencing it right after Empress of Mars tends not to work in its favour: Gatiss is the most retro of the new series writers and Munro is the first classic series writer (albeit at the then cutting edge) to come back for the 21st Century show. This episode is rooted in late 20th Century telefantasy, with the pagan landscape of standing stones and brave child warriors recalling Raven, Robin of Sherwood or Earthfasts. There’s also an oddly specific coincidence of Bill wandering off and falling down a hole to encounter a soldier (and turn out to be another Moffat companion obsessed with Romans).
But mostly, this is an uncomplicated pleasure. Murray Gold’s music adds a suitably mystic air. The monsters are portrayed like the swarm from Planet of the Dead, animals doing their thing – much like the Cheetah People. The Roman Empire is critiqued, but the barbarians aren’t squeaky clean, unleashing hell for Pictish independence: ‘To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world’. I’m delighted this exists: small, beautiful episodes may not be what the show is all about, but they have as much place as big space epics or global disasters. And it’s nice to have the 12th Doctor properly visit Scotland.
Next Time: World Enough and Time