“The Eaters Of Gentle” seems like a throwback to a unique period of Physician Who. That isn’t stunning given the episode’s author is Rona Munro, the primary basic collection author to pen an episode for the revival and whose 1989 story “Survival” served as capstone for the present’s unique 26-year run. The episode’s retro really feel leaves it open to lots of the identical criticisms of “Empress Of Mars” that had been in final week’s evaluate, however Munro has a bonus over Mark Gatiss: Her first encounter with Physician Who was in one in all its most experimental phases. The present made one final doomed bid to stave off the tip by hinting at darker depths to Sylvester McCoy’s Physician, by making a brash, assertive companion in Ace who was consciously extra a storytelling focus and (at the very least theoretically) extra reflective of precise younger folks, developing multi-story arcs that culminated in showdowns with highly effective villains, and—significantly in “Survival”—setting a few of its tales in locations recognizable as modern-day Britain. In different phrases, these final couple of McCoy seasons anticipated lots of Russell T. Davies’ improvements when he introduced the present again in 2005, and there’s a characteristic on the “Survival” DVD that can proudly make that argument.
Given all that, it’s maybe simpler for Munro to slide again into Physician Who almost three a long time after her final script, however the biggest commonality between “Survival” and “The Eaters Of Gentle” is the one a part of the McCoy period that the brand new collection has largely deserted. All the perfect seventh Physician tales are bizarre, stuffed with elliptical storytelling and mysticism and a willingness to prioritize themes and large concepts over rigorous logic. You may argue a handful of tales from the previous 10 seasons type of match that invoice, however “The Eaters Of Gentle” is the brand new collection embracing McCoy-era ranges of strangeness. There are the speaking crows who undertake the title of the misplaced Pict warrior as their cry forever. There’s the weird mechanics of the interdimensional gate hidden inside the cairn, which slows down time to the extent it’s nonetheless attainable to listen to the troopers’ battle march almost two millennia later. The easy selection of time and place lends the episode an incredible, distinctive ambiance, with Munro’s script and Charles Palmer’s route each promoting the concept this historical Scotland, discovered past Rome’s imperial frontier, represents the sting of the recognized world and, with that, our typical sense of understanding how issues work.
However tonight’s episode isn’t merely an train in empty eccentricity. Like Sarah Dollard’s work on “Skinny Ice,” Munro makes use of her setting of Roman Britain to interrogate imperialism. She skillfully mixes the political and the private right here: The Roman military is a weapon premised solely on overwhelming pressure, one which depends on taking lots of of scared youngsters and siccing them on a bunch of peaceable farmers who’re in the way in which. The empire is horrible and huge, however solely in combination, and that actuality makes the cowardice of the surviving troopers all however inevitable. Neither is there any different however to assault: the Roman military was the most important hammer in historical Europe, so in fact each downside regarded like a nail. All these factors are stronger for the actual fact the Physician isn’t the one making them. As a substitute it’s Invoice and later Kar who diagnose a lot of what’s fallacious with the Roman worldview. For the Pict, her knowledge is most painfully earned, whereas for Invoice her insights are a mark not simply of how a lot she has discovered from her time within the TARDIS however of the perceptiveness that earned her a spot there within the first place.
The story’s most incisive second comes when Invoice leads the surviving Romans into the Pict meetinghouse. “The Eaters Of Gentle” has Invoice attain the moderately tardy realization that the TARDIS interprets languages. She makes up for being a bit gradual on the uptake—critically, the Ice Warriors’ excellent English wasn’t any type of clue, to say nothing of the Daleks all the way in which again in her debut?—by accurately figuring out the TARDIS interprets telepathically, with none hints from the Physician. What’s extra, she’s the primary particular person within the present’s historical past to work out the deeper which means of this narrative comfort: Romans and Picts who noticed one another as violent monsters acknowledge they’re all only a bunch of scared kids as soon as they begin talking the identical language. In contrast with how an identical little bit of artistic deconstruction would play out in a Steven Moffat script, Munro underplays the second, deemphasizing the self-conscious cleverness to maintain the deal with what the TARDIS’ present means to the Physician and people he meets alongside the way in which. A typical language isn’t any panacea—historical past’s limitless listing of civil wars is proof of that—however it could actually supplied a desperately wanted reminder of frequent humanity.
That the reminder comes from the present’s resident alien and his magical field is an intriguing irony, one which type of ties in with the Physician’s plan to sacrifice his future guarding humanity in opposition to the monsters on the opposite aspect of the gate. In spite of everything, that’s been his lives’ work. It’s on this closing bit the place Munro’s script suggestions from elusive and considerate to only a bit mushy. The essential concept appears sound, however the guidelines of how the gate work aren’t clear sufficient for the characters’ sacrifice to land correctly. If the Physician figured he would spend a number of regenerations holding again the eaters of sunshine, how a lot might people with their pifflingly quick lifespans actually hope to perform? Even that may be extra readily navigable if the visuals might distract from the scene’s script deficiencies, however each the monster and the dimensional gate are wonky Physician Who CGI at its wonkiest. A slower, extra meditative episode like this might actually profit from a crescendo of a climax, and the cairn scene falls quick in that regard.
In on the lookout for new collection precedents to assist get my head round “The Eaters Of Gentle,” I preserve coming again to some critically nice episodes: An historical village below siege recollects “The Lady Who Died” whereas the Romans can’t assist however echo “The Pandorica Opens,” the critiques of the Roman Empire construct on these of the British Empire in “Skinny Ice,” whereas the Physician articulates a number of the identical anti-war sentiments that elevated “The Zygon Inversion.” However the comparability I preserve coming again to is “Vincent And The Physician,” which is a equally slower-paced, extra considerate episode with a lower than convincing monster, one which will get by totally on temper and emotion. The massive distinction is that episode options an all-time nice supporting flip from Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh, and tonight’s visitor characters are largely fantastic however unmemorable. Plus, “Vincent And The Physician” revealed its monster was blind and wounded, give it distinct motivations that deepened the story, whereas “The Eaters Of Gentle” presents a monster who’s little greater than plot gadget.
At its finest, the episode crackles with concepts, most of that are firmly rooted in characters and cultures—contemplate the nice scene the place Invoice learns her unique attraction to ladies makes her “restricted” by Roman requirements. (I go away it to others to debate the veracity of that outlook, nevertheless it works regardless as an illustration of how our society’s norms and mores should not everlasting.) The place “The Eaters Of Gentle” struggles is bringing these disparate concepts collectively in service of a narrative that’s better than the sum of its components. The result’s a complete bunch of considerate scenes that really feel in contrast to customary new collection fare. That positions itself as a form of mirror picture of final week’s “Empress Of Mars,” whose chief advantage was lots of its particular person components had been enjoyable. That episode was too light-weight for me to take pleasure in as a lot as others did, however that is the type of undercooked I’m extra desirous to embrace. “The Eaters Of Gentle” isn’t fairly what this season must return to its early kind, neither is it fairly as much as the usual of Munro’s “Survival,” nevertheless it’s a welcome break from the Physician Who norm.
- As is usually my choice with the present’s gradualist arcs, I’m holding off on saying all that a lot about what’s occurring with Missy till we get one thing a bit meatier to work with. This tacked-on scene works higher than the one in “Empress Of Mars,” nevertheless it does nonetheless really feel just like the present is straining to work round the truth that Michelle Gomez can solely make full-fledged appearances in three episodes—“Extremis” and the upcoming two-parter—and glorified cameos in “The Lie Of The Land,” “Empress Of Mars,” and now this. Nonetheless, that trailer for subsequent week has me very excited to see the place that is going. A lot because the Missy arc has been a bit rudderless post-“Extremis,” it appears prefer it could possibly be about to get again on observe in an enormous method.
- Hardly ever has one thing screamed “deleted scene!” fairly as exhausting as Nardole spending the episode in his bathrobe for no obvious purpose. Nonetheless, the look fits him—very Arthur Dent—and makes it all of the funnier when he ingratiates himself among the many Picts and will get his face painted.
- Now that Rona Munro has formally damaged the seal on the present bringing again basic Physician Who writers, one can’t assist however surprise about different potential candidates to return and pen an episode. As a result of we’re almost three a long time faraway from the tip of the basic present, most choices will essentially come from towards the tip of the present’s run. The difficulty is most basic collection writers haven’t remained almost as energetic as Munro has, so it’s exhausting to think about most being introduced again. The primary, oft-mentioned candidate stays Marc Platt, who wrote “Ghost Gentle”—which is even weirder than “Survival”—and has at the very least written a ton of Huge End audios over the previous 15 years. I’d even be intrigued to at the very least get concepts for tales from the likes of Christopher Bailey and Barbara Clegg, whose scripts for “Kinda” and “Enlightenment” respectively signify two of essentially the most unique, genre-breaking efforts of 1980s Physician Who. I like Physician Who when it’s bizarre, what can I say?
- In my newest Debating Physician Who podcast with fellow TV Clubber Allison Shoemaker, she identified how comparable lots of this episode felt in its construction to “Empress Of Mars”—not simply the 2 warring factions working towards an uneasy truce, but in addition smaller particulars like Invoice falling down a gap and encountering a soldier after getting separated from the Physician and Nardole. All of it provides to the overall feeling that “The Eaters Of Gentle” may need labored higher if it had been positioned earlier within the season, which might additionally make Invoice’s sudden realization in regards to the TARDIS’ translation circuit really feel much less late. I’d most likely put it in between “Knock Knock” and “Oxygen,” with all of the Missy stuff shifted and taking over extra of a barely rewritten “Empress Of Mars.”