The Legend of the 9th Legion is a piece of Scottish folklore, being the influence of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and two films: The Eagle and Centurion. Now Doctor Who offer their interpretation with “The Eaters of Light“.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) travel back to 2nd Century Scotland to discover what happened to the famous Legion, mainly so The Doctor and Bill can settle an argument. They soon get separated and discover what really defeated the Romans were extra-terrestrial and it is still a threat to both the Romans and the Picts.
“The Eaters of Light” had an earlier air time than usual and this allowed the show to be targeted towards a slightly younger audience. The people that The Doctor and his companions meet are teenagers and children who are thrown into an extraordinary situation.
The episode also aims to teach audiences a little bit about the Picts. When Doctor Who was originally created it did attempt to be slightly educational about history and early stories included “Aztecs” and “The Romans”, although the history of the Lost 9th Legion is dubious at best.
Like “Empress of Mars” which is a standalone adventure, writer Rona Munro (the first writer to write episodes for both classic and modern era Doctor Who) does attempt to bring in some themes about the Roman Empire and it’s suppression of their conquered people in the name of civilisation.
It allows for some grand speeches to be made by Kar (Rebecca Benson), the leader of Picts railing against the Romans and Bill, getting the Picts and the Romans to work together to stop the monster.
The monster in the piece looks like a cross between a dinosaur, a raptor and a dragon and its vision was like the Predator. This creature is a feral beast simply looking to feed and survive – it does not have any grand agenda of world domination even if The Doctor tries to make out it can be a universe spanning threat.
“The Eaters of Light” also introduces some grander sci-fi ideas involving the Picts acting as the keepers of a mysterious blue portal that they don’t understand because time slows down for anyone here. The Picts’ rituals are built around this. The ritual involves believing a warrior enters battle against the mysterious threat for 60 years when in reality they only fight for a few minutes.
The Doctor states it is a portal to another dimension and it could lead to story possibilities. The use of rituals and ceremonies also meant that Celtic music lingers in the hills of Scotland. Munro provided a strong mix of ancient cultures and how sci-fi elements could have influenced it.
“The Eaters of Light” also had some humorous moments. These were Bill speaking to a Roman Soldier and realising for the first time that the TARDIS acts as an automatic translator and Nardole going native with the Picts. Because the episode is set in Scotland there are of course a few jokes made at the expense of the nation and its climate.
Bill’s sexuality also gets covered again and this is compared to the liberal attitudes the Romans had towards sex. It was a witty little episode.
Although the episode is a standalone adventure the end does expand the wider storyline with Missy and the Vault. The teaser at the end suddenly raises a lot of intrigue especially because of the reappearance of a popular character.
“The Eaters of Light” is another example of Series 10 being solid, if unremarkable. The episodes are serviceable for the most part but few will stick in memory. Hopefully, the final two episodes will give Capaldi a proper send off as The Doctor.