Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro

Rona Munro is the only person to have written stories for both Old Who and New Who, having scripted the very last Seventh Doctor story before the cancellation, and then this story for the last Peter Capaldi season. I also saw one of her other plays at the Web Theatre in Newtownards in 2013, a single-actor piece with the only member of the cast playing three parts. I can’t remember the name of the piece, but research suggests it may have been “Women Behaving Madly”.

The Eaters of Light is a rare Doctor Who story set in Scotland (though filmed of course ni Wales) – especially considering that Capaldi and Moffatt are both Scottish, it’s a little surprising that they did not go there more often. It’s less surprising that they got a Scottish writer of the calibre of Munro to take them there. I rewatched the story before reading the new novelisation, and as I had expected, I enjoyed it a lot. (Here’s the BBC page if you want to refresh yourself quickly.)

The Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive in Scotland and decide to investigate the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. They travel back to the first century AD and get involved in the local conflict between Picts and Romans, but manage to persuade both to unite in the face of a Cthulhoid alien enemy attempting to breach the boundaries of the universe. It’s a very simple plot, but it’s very nicely done, with some nice reveals when, for instance, Bill becomes aware of the TARDIS translation circuits, or the two factions realise just how young each other are. At the end of the episode there’s a coda with Missy being released from imprisonment by the Doctor. Season Thirteen is my favourite of the Capaldi seasons and this story is one of the reasons why.

The novelisation of the story, also by Rona Munro, was one of the few Doctor Who books released last year. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Inside Nardole looked around in appreciation. Every surface was painted and decorated: every bowl, every bit of wall, every stool, every piece of cloth. Everything carried geometric patterns in red and blue, green and brown, yellow and purple, the designs echoing the tattoos and the knitted clothes the fierce little people around them were wearing.

The book, as with the best Who novelisations, brings more joyous detail to the plot and fills out the author’s intentions. (174 pages for 45 minutes is pretty generous by the historical standards of novelisations – compare the 143 pages that Terrance Dicks got for ten 25-minute episodes of The War Games.) It turns very much into a story of Picts and Romans, with the Doctor and friends intervening in a local story. This makes the ending, where they reject the Doctor’s help and take responsibility for guarding the Gate themselves, all the stronger. Some of the nicer one-liners are lost, but this is a differently shaped story and in some ways it is stronger for it. The scene with Missy at the end is omitted. Strongly recommended. You can get it here.