The Eaters of Light like it's predecessor The Empress of Mars has one overarching theme and that's empire. In the case of The Eaters of Light, the whoverse has decided to interrogate the Roman Empire during the occupation of Scotland. The Roman army conscripted the young and worked with absolute precision to overwhelm its enemies through strength and numbers. Kar gives a great speech on exactly how it is that the Romans conquer and what becomes of the people in the territory they wish to control. There's long been a drive to romanticise Ancient Rome and see it's conquests as almost heroic, even though in its wake, roman legions left fields burned to ash, women raped, children conscripted and people and cultures shattered. It's with great excitement that Bill, the Doctor and Nardole land in ancient Scotland to find out exactly what happened to the 9th legion.
The Doctor, Nardole and Bill quickly separate when they have different ideas about exactly where to find the missing legion. Bill, is absolutely confidant that she knows what she's talking about because she did after all get an A on this subject. Once Bill finds a Roman soldier who defected in the face of a monster attack, Bill is surprised to discover that the soldier can understand her because to him, she's speaking Latin. On one hand, I'm glad that Bill figured this out on her own but on the other, why did it take ten episodes, considering how smart Bill is? This brings up another theme of this episode which is how a common language helps us to see the humanity in others. When Bill finally leads the surviving Roman soldiers to the Picts, they can both understand each other for the first time. They can all see how young and weighted down with responsibility they are. For the first time they can see each other. The problem with this however is that a common language does not necessarily mean peace or a shift in position. Just because you can understand someone doesn't mean that you'll agree with their speech, or even accept their interpretation of events.
In her time with the Romans, Bill is forced to reveal her sexuality when it becomes clear that a soldier is interested in her. I love that Bill is so unapologetically gay and that the writers never let us forget this for one moment. Each time Bill has had a male suitor, she has let them know in no uncertain terms that they don't stand a chance with her. What's a bit stunning is when Bill is informed that her sexuality is a bit limited because most are bisexual. It is however worth pointing out that the normalisation of same sex relationships during Roman times is a wonderful thing. I know that our concept of heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual are historically speaking new but I'm not sold on the idea that every single Roman was bisexual and that they would view someone's interest solely in the same sex or a single sex as "limited". It is also worth noting that this supposedly "limited" view of sexuality was used to describe a gay man and a lesbian thus still positioning their sexuality as problematic. Still, this isn't a conversation that would have happened without an LGBT protagonist.
This week we are introduced to a monster from another dimension which sucks the light of people and the environment. I have to say as monsters go, this current season of Doctor Who sucks. This new monster isn't clearly defined and feels more like a device than a villain. It seems to have no motivation beyond sucking up everything in its path, making it feel rudderless and impossible to relate to. With only two episodes left to go, I'm happy that in the preview for the next episode, that The Doctor is going to be dealing with the cybermen because this seasons antagonists just haven't been up to par. The Doctor is excellent but everyone knows that the Doctor needs a worthy adversary.
If anything, the Doctor is quite dismissive regarding the concerns of the Picts. It's like he doesn't see their suffering because Kar released a beast in an effort to save her people and her land. I've seen the Doctor be cold before, I've seen him snark about human stupidity but this seems a touch too cold and too callous. The Doctor and Bill are adamant that there's no time for the Picts and the soldiers to fight given the seriousness of the threat. Still, I find myself feeling more sympathetic to Kar, who never asked for war but the Doctor charges both sides to grow the hell up. Sure they must deal with the problem at hand but at the same time, where is the recognition on the part of the Doctor that Kar and the Picts were absolutely desperate when they unleahsed the monster? Should Kar just have allowed her land to be stolen and her people murdered and or enslaved? Would that have made the Doctor happy? The Doctor's callousness even extends to ignoring the crows who call his name.
The Doctor makes a plan to drive the monster back into the inter dimensional vault using light to force it in but someone must sacrifice themselves to fight the monster to keep the people safe. Time works differently in the alternate dimension and so what is only a few minutes to the people fighting, is sixty years to someone else. The Doctor is quick to volunteer himself because with his ability to regenerate, he can literally keep humanity safe for all time. Bill is quick to argue that this is not his destiny and Kar and what's left of the legion step up to guard humanity. Kar is promised that her name will live for all time and it does because the crows are told never to forget her name and that is why their call is caw. The battle continues on 2 millennia later and visitors to the stones can still hear the battle music playing.
Back on the Tardis, Bill and Nardole are surprised to see Missy, who is supposed to be in the vault. It seems that the Doctor has allowed on the Tardis and tasked her with doing maintenance on the Tardis. Missy of course questions the results of this week adventures and the Doctor claims that the problem with Missy is that she's never learned to hear the music. And then it happens, Missy hears the battle music of the Picts and the Romans and tears begin to fall down her face. The Doctor very much wants to believe that Missy has been reformed and that they can be friends again which is enough for Missy to attempt to embrace the Doctor. The Doctor, steps back and this time, it's not because he doesn't like hugging but because despite what he is seeing, he still doesn't know how much this redemption can be trusted.
Other than the flashbacks hearkening back to previous episodes, Doctors and companions, what has brought this season together is Missy. At first, it was a question of who was in the vault. Once we discovered with Missy it was about can be contained and is she working at a secret objective. The tears rolling down Missy's face suggests that the redemption has been complete but we would be fools to embrace a true ever lasting change. We know that the Master is set to return and so this probably means disaster for the redemption train; however, the dance between Missy and the Doctor while dramatic has been fascinating.