The Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire, last seen in the Netherlands, and Bill wants the Doctor to show her what happened. So, of course, they travel over to Scotland which is over 700 miles away from the Netherlands.
What? Yes, it is true. There is no proof. archaeological or otherwise, that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in Scotland.
According to Wikipedia, that infallible source of information that is only second to the Matrix:
“Legio IX Hispana (“Spanish 9th Legion”), also Legio nona Hispana (“Spanish Ninth Legion”), was a legion of the Imperial Roman army that 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 favor the British scenario, but concede that the legion’s disaster must have happened closer to 120 than 108.”
I am a qualified archaeologist, I know what I am saying. Now let me fetch my fedora, my whip and I will continue digging out the secrets of The Eaters of Light.
Rona Munro, her wot wrote Survival and some plays not featuring Time Lords, wrote this. Yes. Are there any similarities? Besides the fight for survival, no. At least the light eaters look a lot better than the Salem Saberhagen clone. Rona is also the only writer to have worked on both the classic and revived series, bringing her grand total to two.
The story begins with a bickering pair of siblings. Judy (who calls their kids ‘Judy nowadays?) wants to listen to the music of the ancient stones. Her brother wants to go back home so they can watch the reboot of Blake’s Seven starring Zach Braff, John Goodman, Vanilla Ice, John Simm, Miranda Hart, Donald Duck and Greyfriars Bobby.
But that is boring! So we go back in time where the Doctor and Bill are arguing on whether the Ice Warriors are the ancestors of the Silurians. An argument not helped by the fact that she hasn’t heard of the Silurians so changing topic to something she does know, she asks the Doctor what happened to the Ninth Legion.
Bill claims to be an expert having read Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth. A book which, as mentioned above, has been proven to be inaccurate. It is much like reading Fifty Shades of Grey and claiming that you are an expert on dreadful writing.
“What about Missy?”
“Aw, crivens, Nardole! I’m sure that she is fine where she is”
“Why are you winking at me? Are you having a stroke? Why is this crow speaking in an African-American accents ”
“Nardole, all crows can speak. They disnae speak in the 21st century because they are all sulking. Sulky sassenach crows…”
Second century Scotland, with Romans and Picts hanging about, and what do they do? Yup, they separate into two groups. The Doctor and Nardole to look for dead Roman bodies, and Bill to find the alive Legio. The crow flies away singing When I See A Roman Die.
It just occurs to me that some people may think I am being racist in making the crow African as in the Jim Crow stereotype. I’m not. I’m referencing the film Dumbo.
Bill walks thought a not-spooky-at-all forest. Fangorn it ain’t. She avoids the Blair Witch, the Miliband Witch and the Corbyn Witch and comes across a grieving Pict.
She asks if the Pict girl is alright. The Pict girl picks up a sword and starts chasing her. Just think Scooby-Doo with less Great Danes and more facial tattoos and fur clothes.
With a scream of “Jinkies!”, Bill runs away as quick as she can run and falls promptly into a hole. Nice.
A Roman is there with her. Trapped also. He sees her and explains that the Ninth Legion was all wiped out.
“Them fuzzy wuzzies didn’t like the cold steel of a Roman…”
“Stop, stop! We did the naff Dad’s Army jokes last week.”
“How about a ‘Allo ‘Allo parody?”
“Nah, never seen it, love.”
“So the fuzzy wuzzies – so racist, bruv, yeah – killed your lot?”
“Er, no. That would have been the monster.”
They help each other out and because who doesn’t love a Hanna-Barbera style chase sequence they are both chased by something with long black tentacles with blue stripes. And yes, that sentence was to grammar what a chicken is to an igloo, sorry.
The Roman is caught by the creature who covers him in sticky tentacles. “Good moaning, may I see your pissport? No, I will ate you instead!” And the Roman dies never knowing whether Bill survives or what TV show the beast was referring to.
Bill goes down another hole and meets some more Romans. Or at least she thinks they are Romans. They have Roman noses. How does she know they have Roman noses? They are roamin’ all over their faces (© Acme Cracker Company, 1899).
The soldiers are hiding from the blue-striped meanie which they call a “Light-eating Locust”. This thing is drawn to any light source and it will kill anyone or anything that is in its path. Why, call me stupid but I have to ask, are they hiding in an enclosed space which is brightly lit? Surely this isn’t so much a hiding place as a smörgåsbord for the Thin Blue-and-Black Line? And if it loves eating the light, why bother going after a few paltry fires when it can just eat the Sun? The big ball of fire in the sky and not the scaremongering tabloid which features headlines like:
LIGHT-EATING LOCUST COMES TO ALBION,
TAKES OUR JOBS,
CHEATS ON WIFE,
… and Boudicca on page 3, no doubt with the caption, “Our Boudicca, 27-33-40, says that Light-Eating Locusts were amazeballs when they were eating Romans but since they started eating Picts she is now opposed to their human-gobbling ways.”
For Americans and other British culture muggles, imagine that Donald Trump edited a newspaper. Yeah. Only not printed in crayon.
Above ground, the Doctor and Nardole discover the corpse of a Roman soldier and the other 5,400 odd soldiers. All blackened with rot or monster goo or something or nothing. Are they boneless or just so bone idle that they let themselves get deaded by whatever deaded them?
Say that the monster killed all the soldiers in one hour, yes? With 5,400 soldiers that would be at a rate of 90 legionaries a minute. That is one greedy monster. Unless it is monsters plural.
In any case, our dynamic duo make their way to a cairn which is being guarded by Pictish children.
“Where are the adults?”
“They were all killed wiping out the Romans. Our best warriors, Asterix and Obelix, defen…”
“Nae, nae, nae! Nae Asterix jokes, aye? It is bad enough that I am investigatin’ the disappearance of the Ninth Roman Sassenachs in Scotland when archaeological evidence proves that they were last seen years later frae now in the Netherlands but passing off Scottish Picts for Gauls? Nuh-uh, not on my watch!”
The Picts are waiting for the Guardian of the Gate. So are the Doctor and Nardole because swords and spears tend to make captives reluctant to leave.
The Guardian comes in, looks at the TARDIS two and says, “I am Groot!” Nah, just kidding, she comes up to them shakes their hand and asks whether they’d love a jam butty.
This is Kar, tattoos all over her face. And a teenager like the rest of the Pict survivors. Like all teenagers, sullen, miserable, likes to listen to Portishead and smokes spicy cigarettes when her parents aren’t watching. And by spicy I don’t mean paprika. I mean red peppers. Sorry, this paragraph got away from me. Much in the same way that the Doctor and Nardole get away from the Picts.
The Doctor, second-class vestal virgin, flings popcorn kernels into the fire and when they explode, they hotfoot it out. Nardole is overly pleased that he didn’t bring popping candy with him instead. That would have been anticlimactic. Tasty but anticlimactic.
The Doctor enters the cairn and approaches a wall which opens up to reveal a blue swirly light which he recalls from the Third/Fourth Doctor’s title sequence. He enters.
Nardole squeaks when the Doctor does this. And squeaks again when the Picts surround him and ask if he has any more popcorn.
This rift is a interdimensional pied-à-terre home to millions of tentacled nasties and one very lost kitten. These critters feed off light and they see this gateway as an entrance to a free lunch. The nasties not the cat. The cat just eats noodles.
When the Doctor reemerges a few seconds later, he is surprised to learn that he has actually been in the rift for two days. The Narnia Effect. Nardole has handily smoothed things with the Picts. He has gone native with facial tattoos and a woad-dyed dressing gown. Which his crow friend thinks is “so last year, dahling!”
“Do you think the monster will kill me, Mister Crow?”
“I’ve seen a Roman die. I’ve seen a Pict die. But I ain’t never seen a bald cyborg die.”
Incidentally, with that dressing gown, Nardole is bringing out his inner Arthur Dent.
Kar explains to the Doctor that once a generation, a warrior of the tribe goes into the cairn and the rift to defeat one of the eaters of the light. But Kar, being the stroppy teenager that she is, let out a light-eating locust to kill the entire Ninth Legion. Which it dead. And then it ate the Pict army as an apéritif (or do I mean digestif?).
The Doctor wags his finger at her and warns that if the creature is not put back through the rift, more creatures will come through and they will consume the Sun, the stars and your little dog too. Not good news.
Bill Potts leads the Romans through the underground where they battle a three-headed dog, a snarky skeletal ferryman and avoid paying to use the subway train which drops them off where the Picts are hanging out.
The Romans and the Picts start squaring up to one another. Because they are teenagers, they decide to have a rumble. Because the Doctor isn’t a teenager, he stops them before it all breaks out into Westside Story.
The Doctor has a plan but he doesn’t know where he can find a bucket of frogs so he makes a second plan, not involving a bucket of frogs, which consists of luring the Eater to the rift during the daylight. This will involve popping candy which Nardole found in his marsupial pouch. How lucky. Once the monster is trapped, they will taught it until the Sun drops below the horizon. One problem. Somebody needs to stay and prevent the beast from escaping.
As the humans live lives like mayflies, the Doctor volunteers himself for the job. His near immortality and regenerative abilities makes him the best candidate.
Then the story flashes forward seven thousand years, and the Doctor comes out of the rift. “Och, I am my twelfth self again. Crivens! I canae believe that I was a woman three times, black five times, Japanese once and a small furry puppy nineteen times. Pity naebody saw. Ah, well…”
This doesn’t happen. Bill whacks him on the noggin and the Romans and Picts take his place. Kar asks everyone to remember her and says, “smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!”
And they are gone.
The rift suffers indigestion because of all the people tramping through it. It burps and causes the cairn to collapse in on itself.
The Picts, the ones too scared to enter the rift, honour the memory of Kar by carving some stones, headbanging to Kid Rock songs and teaching all the crows to say her name. Which explains why all crows say “kar” to this day.
Our heroes go back to the TARDIS and discover Missy. She has been doing some housework for the Doctor. She has arranged all his Beano annuals in order of funniness, fed Cthulhu and, because she is still a bit of a bad girl, threw the Doctor’s bondage trousers out into the time vortex. Nardole is not happy. It took him days to iron all those punk trousers. Sheesh!
We see Judy again and she is listening to the music under the ground. But she doesn’t like the Sugarhill Gang, so she leaves.
Nearby is the Doctor and Nardole.
“KAR! KAR! KAR!”
“The crows are remembering!”
Crow poos on Nardole head.
“Crivens, Nardole, they remember ye tae!”
I liked the scene where Bill suddenly, ten episodes in, realises that she can understand what the Romans and Picts are saying. “Shouldn’t y’all be speaking Esperanto or Latin or something?” Oddly similar to The Fires of Pompeii when Donna finds herself speaking Celtic (Celtish?). Ironic given that Peter Capaldi was in both episodes. And that they both feature Romans.
Rebecca Benson as Kar. She impresses. I really liked her. She plays Kar in a gutsy way. I admire her acting. Very good indeed. Sometimes when I see young actors I have horrific flashbacks to shows like Grange Hill, Byker Grove and every American sitcom involving small children. Not with Benson though, she is great as are the rest of the cast whom I can’t be bothered to mention.
Pearl Mackie in traditional companion mode. Liked her a lot. Can’t help feeling that Bill might be a little dense to that late realisation about the TARDIS translatory Babel Fish. But I still enjoyed her performance so it was all to the good.
Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez. Both were good, enjoyable to watch. Almost equals despite the amount of time Missy was on screen for, minutes! I won’t say anything but only this, that moment in the TARDIS with them silent near each other. Loved that. Probably won’t last, sigh.
So should you watch this episode. Yes, of course. If you love monsters with testicles and, um, sorry, tentacles (curses to the spellchecker!). I liked it and you might too.