I almost never read spoiler-free reviews prior to an episode airing, but with tonight's story heralding the return of Rona Munro, after a wait of almost 28 years, I couldn't seem to help myself. I'm not going to lie: the reviews were less than dazzling. One described 'The Eaters of Light' as 'underdeveloped', another called some of its plot elements 'forced', and a third complained about the now customary mention of Bill's lesbianism. Personally, I found it rather enjoyable. Which confirms what I've suspected for some time now: I am hopelessly at odds with what virtually everyone else is thinking.
Let's be honest, this hasn't been the show's strongest season. I'd even go as far as saying that it's been one of the weakest: partly because it hasn't yet produced a truly standout moment, but mainly because Bill's development has been less than stellar. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Bill. I love that she's a gay, black woman, with a take-charge attitude, and hair that could engulf a small planet. But when you consider the companions that have preceded her—during Moffat's reign in particular—she's had nowhere near the same level of meticulous development. Admittedly, some of that's due to time constraints—if Bill does leave at the end of Capaldi's run, she'll have had just a single season to grow—but some of it's definitely due to them failing to adequately round her out.
The writers have tried to infuse Bill with some interesting character traits—for example, they attempted to make her something of a film buff last week, and this week she was evidently all about the Ninth Legion—but nothing is ever followed up, and I'm not entirely sure they were interesting enough to mention in the first place. When you consider how well developed Rose, Amy, Clara, Donna, even Martha were ten episodes into their respective tenures, and how much we cared about what happened to them, then you can perhaps see my point. Virtually everything we know about Bill has at some point been either a plot device or woefully bland. Her 'friends' were nothing more than a disposable bunch of nobodies to flesh out Mike Bartlett's psycho Poirot story, her mother ended up being an unlikely weapon against the Monks, even her sexuality seems have been excessively broadcast without sufficient utility.
With this in mind, I think Munro's script did a better job than those of her predecessors. At least Bill's seemingly obligatory 'I like girls' line finally achieved something other than simply reinforcing for the umpteenth time that Bill is gay: it set up a switcheroo in which Bill became the unenlightened one in an environment where homosexuality was evidently the least interesting sexual orientation, and gave us a delicious belly laugh to boot. She was also given the job of saving the Doctor, the responsibility of navigating the Ninth Legion through a fantastical story of inter-dimensional monsters and pissed off Scots, and even managed to work out that the TARDIS has a telepathic circuit which can translate language. I just wish they'd exploited her potential more throughout the season. With only two episodes to go, we should be dreading her imminent departure. As it stands, I'm pretty nonplussed.
Similarly, if they'd given Nardy the same level of attention in the first half of the season as he's getting now, I wouldn't have started the season so frustrated. If he'd been restricted to appearing in the stories he was meant to be in—instead of being shoe-horned into virtually every episode, and then given sod all to do—I dare say I'd have liked him a lot sooner. In a season where Bill's character feels undercooked, and the Doctor feels like a sanitised version of his former self, Nardole is slowly becoming my favourite character. He's just so much more vivid at the moment. He gets all the best lines, brings the best snacks, and always wears the snazziest dressing gowns. Which isn't exactly a triumph for Nardole—being the best of a sub par field—but at this point, I'm so desperate that I'll take anything.
The monster of the week was decent. Yes, it was a bit of CGI fluff, but it provided an adequate foe for the Scots and Romans to rally against, and although the ease with which they forgot their murderous past was perhaps a little too convenient, the story still felt reasonably engaging. Second century Scotland was likewise a solid choice of time period, and I was definitely getting Outlander vibes from the cold open and coda. It's a shame that the bulk of the episode took place either inside or underground, as the scenery was spectacular.
Despite being a small part of the episode, the Doctor lengthening of Missy's leash was probably the most interesting part for me. Missy's working hard to convince the Doctor that she's on the path to redemption, but can we truly believe any of it? The Doctor currently seems visibly unsure: his body language a weird mixture of hope and caution. Clearly he wants Missy and himself to be friends again, but the way he stepped back in order to avoid being touched by her, seemed to suggest there's a veritable storm of uncertainty still blowing through him. Realistically, this situation can only turn out one of two ways: either with Missy a changed woman... or with the Doctor in a world of shit. I wonder which one it'll be.
—How many holes is Bill going to accidentally fall down this season?
—The overnights were a disappointing 2.89 million, although the weather here in England is ridiculously hot at the moment, so I expect the final figure will go up once the iPlayer figures have been tallied.
—I love the idea that crows aren't sulking, they're simply honouring Kar. Utter bollocks, but somehow totally brilliant.
Nardole: 'Crows in the future are all in a huff?'
Doctor: 'Of course they are. Haven't you noticed that noise they make? It's like a mass sulk.'
Nardole: 'It's all a bit damp though, isn't it?'
Doctor: It's Scotland. It's supposed to be damp.'
Bill: 'Oh my god, it even does lip-sync.'
Nardole: 'What could do that?'
Doctor: 'A complete absence of any type of sunlight.'
Nardole: 'Death by Scotland.'
Nardole: 'This is worse than jazz.'
Doctor: 'Stop being brave. I can't bear brave people.'
Nardole: 'Don't make me go squeaky voice.'