We’ve just watched Doctor Who: The Eaters Of Light in the UK on BBC 1. Airing in a few hours, 9pm ET on BBC America in the USA. Maybe you should pop back after?
1. They Contained Multitudes
The Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman army existed from the 1st century BC until at least AD 120. The legion fought in various provinces of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. It was stationed in Britain following the Roman invasion in 43 AD. The legion disappears from surviving Roman records after c. AD 120 and there is no extant account of what happened to it.
The unknown fate of the legion has been the subject of considerable research and speculation. One theory (per historian Theodor Mommsen) was that the legion was wiped out in action in northern Britain soon after 108, the date of the latest datable inscription of the Ninth found in Britain, perhaps during a rising of northern tribes against Roman rule. This view was popularized by the 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth in which the legion is said to have marched into Caledonia (modern day Scotland), after which it was “never heard of again”.
This theory fell out of favor among some scholars as successive inscriptions of IX Hispana were found in the site of the legionary base at Nijmegen (Netherlands), suggesting that the Ninth may have been based there from c. 120, later than the legion’s supposed annihilation in Britain. The Nijmegen evidence has led to suggestions that IX Hispana was destroyed in later conflicts of the 2nd century. Suggestions include the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–5) or Marcus Aurelius’ war against Parthia (161–6) in Armenia. However, some scholars have ascribed the Nijmegen evidence to a mere detachment of IX Hispana, not the whole legion. They continue to favour the British scenario but concede that the legion’s disaster must have happened closer to 120 than 108.
And that’s where Doctor Who goes today…
2. The Writer Who Survived
Eaters Of Light was written by Rona Munro – the only Doctor Who writer to have written for both eras of the show. She last wrote the final episode of Classic Who, the very well received Survival, with the Seventh Doctor and Ace, which also saw feral folk fighting monsters. She’s a proper playwright these days so, it was quite the coup for Who to get her back – especially as she has the reputation of killing Doctor Who off the last time! That also has poignancy between the Doctor and the Master – sorry, didn’t mean to deadname. Of course, next week is going to make that even trickier.
3. Goodbye Scotland
Doctor Who is about to get a lot less Scottish (even though this was, as usual, filmed in Wales) as Steve Moffat and Peter Capaldi depart the show. So this was a chance to do all the jokes and for Nardole to do the accent as well. Not bad for a robot, Or whatever he is.
Nardole has been a highlight of many episodes but as the one who actually blends in, puts on the paint, tells tales and properly immerses, he’s doing an Eleventh Doctor impersonation…
Look, we know Bill is going away. The Doctor is regenerating. Steven Moffat is off. Can we keep Nardole? After all, Scotland is supposed to be damp.
My girls delighted at spotting the actor who played Eli in 4 O’Clock Club as one of the Scottish natives, holding the fort (literally) until Kar – Talla Tarly from Game Of Thrones returned. But everyone was young here, the older adults being killed off, turning this into a Battle Royale or Lord Of The Flies situation.
And it brought out the William Hartnell in The Doctor, with patronising and dismissive barbs at every opportunity. So you know they’re only going to show him up. Bill knows he always ends up as the patriarchal colonial, the boss of everyone, where they turn the tables and deny him his martyrdom.
But there has to be something rather psychologically relevant about a teenager letting out a monster to defeat their enemies and then having a lot of trouble putting it back… and having young ones defeating an Old One.
5. Loving The Craft
The monster, the Eater Of Light, was very Lovecraft, if one intepreted by the Hellboy films. Tentacles and everything. With the Doctor revealing himself as the Oldest One Of All, and music being the signifier left behind…
6. Orientation And Pigmentation
Black Roman soldiers were more common than black Victorian soldiers from last week, but the oddness of a Roman soldier – and Bill – being gay was contrasted with the more ordinary bisexuality of Roman times. A nice twist, played well. Clearly part of the onoing bisexual agenda or somesuch.
Shame Bill and Kar never got it together. You know, she could always pop by the Davil’s Cairn…
This raven doesn’t speak Nevermore. And you could give the talking bird aspect a bye as the TARDIS translation circuits – as Bill Exposition gets to discover when talking – not talking – Latin. Just as long as she doesn’t start asking why she couldn’t understand the Pope. Which she won’t as that was in a faked universe that probably missed that bit out.
8. The Doctor Is A Virgin
Well, at some point we discover that Doctor was a farmer. And a vestal virgin. A priestess of Roman goddess Vesta, cultivating the sacred fire not allowed to go out. And freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children. Why might have been handy for the Doctor.
Feeds into his lack of warrirorness, here his attempt was to join warring sides against a common foe and find a more peaceful solution. War would have killed everyone, instead a village was saved and the universe was saved as well. More space to farm. And… vestal.
9. Who Ya Gonna Call?
At this point, can we call a moritorium on Doctor Who companions going into forests/strange rooms/abandoned quarries on their own? For someone so well pop cultured up, Bill seems to have missed out on the rules of Scream. But maybe there was another film trying to get through? We have a Gatekeeper. Just no Keymaster. But they were able to cross the streams and force the ghoulie back into the trap…
TARDISing makes me feel good.
10. Pict For Death
Doctor Who likes a coward. “Coward, every time” said the Ninth when pressed. He even says it in words, “stop being brave” as the Romans who deserted team with those who planned the attack against the monster let loose. And all inspired by the Doctor to do the right thing – and disobey him. Whether he likes it or not, the Doctor has weaponised a bunch of child soldiers one more time.
11. Don’t Stand So Close To Me.
Oh and Missy and The Doctor up a tree, tee-aye-arr-dee-aye-ess ing!
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