“The Eaters of Light” Review

To my great disappointment, this promising historical is suffocated by leaden direction and atypically terrible production values. What happened here? Did they only have two days to shoot it or something?

Only a few episodes ago I was delighting in the direction of Charles Palmer (“This has to be the best directed episode of Doctor Who that I have seen.”) It is unusual, in recent times, for it to be the production values that let down Doctor Who but here we have an episode where what has been thrown onto the screen is so much at odds with the story it’s impossible to get past.

As a setting, we have the promising historical setting of second century Aberdeenshire with a juicy mystery. On screen, barely an effort is made to shake off the impression that this is filmed above Pontypridd – shots in the odd ‘present day’ of Treforest aren’t exactly helpful, it’s hard to mistake for Aberdeen. And the caption may also have contributed to my grumpiness: I’m not sure there’s even an excuse for ‘present day’ as a caption. The X-Files frequently got on my wick with that one – but this is a show that’s about time travel, for heaven’s sake, so give us an actual date. And even if ‘present day’ made sense at the time of transmission, we’re not just guessing that this might be rewatched in the future – it’s a show that has been running for 54 years and is still be watched and discussed in ever more fervent detail… Anyway, I seem to be straying off the point: my point is that atmosphere is crucial in this setting, yet we get this unconvincing location dressed with naff polystyrene standing stones and, in the iffy night-shots, the most unconvincing lighting.

Then we have the story of the Picts and the Romans: literally kids fighting for their lives and livelihoods. It is poignant and extraordinary. Let’s be generous and forgive some of the performances…but just look at their hair.

I mean LOOK AT THEIR HAIR!

LOOK AT THEIR HAIRCUTS!

LOOK AT THEIR SHINY SHINY HAIR!

How can you forgive that?

Just how did the Romans get those haircuts? What by what means did the Picts procure such remarkable shampoo? A bit of rather intricate facial decoration just isn’t enough to help me overlook that…

I think it’s terrible sad that we don’t get pure historicals anymore. After the minimal plots of this series’ first three episodes, cutting out the sci-fi from this to give us a similarly expansive story would have been a treat. But never mind, multi-dimensional light-eaters aren’t the worst monsters the show has done… And if we’re going to do light eaters, then ‘poisoning’ the light isn’t the stupidest idea ever. However the visual effects people have got hold of the stupid science stick and taken an easily fixable problem (would the torches have produced an intense enough light to poison it?) and made it as outstandinly wrong as it could be, revelling in ignorance. They can only have assumed that NO ONE WATCHING WOULD UNDERSTAND HOW LIGHT WORKS. A focused beam from each torch (how how how?) is refracted and directed at the monster. Just, WHAT?

And there would have been a good ending, with the Doctor trying to do his standard heroic self-sacrifice, after spending most of the rest of the episode being bullying or dismissive of the children fighters, and then being thwarted (quite violently). But I’m too much in shock after that flaming torch beams to be revived by that.

It’s a shame, and it’s a waste. It’s easily the weakest episode of this (admittedly strong) season, but it needn’t have been. Incidentally, with this story, the writer Rona Monro convincingly breaks the record for the longest serving Doctor Who TV writer (despite only having done two stories) with 28 years between her first (Survival part 1) and this being transmitted.

We do get quite an extensive scene with Missy at the conclusion of the episode, again emphasising her rehabilitation, and the Doctor’s investment in believing it is genuine. I’m starting to become convinced, and so I think it will eventually be something external that drives her back to her criminal ways… but could that external thing be another incarnation of herself? (I was pretty pleased with that thought until I discovered Ben & Eugene had had it a week earlier.)

And then we get a trailer in which, to the horror of fans everywhere, the Doctor utters the words ‘a Mondasian cyberman’.

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

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