Synopsis of 10×10: The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole take a trip to ancient Scotland. There are Romans, Scots, and monsters. And of course, there are battle eyebrows.
Our heroic threesome land in Ancient Aberdeen, around the second century. Bill starts talking nonsense about how she knows more about Roman soldiers in the Ninth Legion that the Doctor. Funny how several companions 1) have some association with ancient Romans (like Rory as the Last Centurion), and 2) think they know more about Romans than actual ancient aliens (cue Clara waxing poetic about Marcus Aurelius, a man she never mentioned before or after her speech in ‘Deep Breath’).
The Ninth Legion is meant to have disappeared in Scotland. The Doctor is convinced there was a great battle, and Bill has other ideas. Each go in search of the soldiers, either dead or alive. First, they encounter some enraged Picts (a Scottish tribe). Bill falls down a hole a finds herself a Roman. The Doctor finds more than one Roman; there’s many dead in a field. And not just dead. They’ve been devoured, the light sucked away from them.
A beast called the “Light Eating Locust” is a scourge to the area, devouring Scots and Romans alike. The Doctor finds himself in the company of Scots, led by the wee Kar the Gatekeeper. And Bill finds herself in the company of the cowards of Ninth Legion, those who ran away from battle to only hide underground.
The Doctor, as always, manages to figure out what’s going on: the so-called Gate is an inter-dimensional portal that the monster has traveled through. It’s weak and feeding on the humans of earth. Soon it will eat more than people. It will devour the sun and stars until there’s no more light left in the universe. Kar was meant to fight it back; instead she freed it. She thought it would fight the Romans and win the war. She was half-right. It defeated her enemy, but it also doomed her people.
Bill, making friends with a very open-minded group of Romans, convinces them to leave their underground shelter and find the Doctor. They manage to escape an encounter with the monster, only to find themselves in the heart of the Scottish army. At this point, the episode feels like a remix of ‘Empress of Mars.’ Human conquerors (the Romans) fighting another people for their rightful land (the Scots). But in this case, there’s a great equalizer, a common enemy. Neither group will survive the Light-Eater. And the Doctor is the only one with a plan.
Together, they force the creature back into its dimension using a weapon that the Doctor describes as a “lollypop.” In fact, to uses light as a weapon. That’s a common theme in Doctor Who: the simple and seemingly insignificant is often the most important. Another theme is the Doctor trying to be the hero of every adventure. This time around, the Doctor offers to guard the gate forever. He can do that; the Scots and their tiny human lifespans cannot. It’s reminiscent of the Christmas Town episode.
But the Doctor is thwarted and rightfully so. It’s not his destiny to guard the gate. It’s Kar’s. It’s her fight, her responsibility. And the Ninth Legion soldiers who were deemed cowards and traitors are able to redeem themselves by banding together with their former enemy. (Again, just like Godsacre in ‘Empress of Mars.’)
Now that the land of Aberdeen is safe, the crew return to the Tardis. Except this time, Missy is chilling out. Nardole and Bill are both livid. But the Doctor is always trying to save someone. If he can’t be the hopeful hero, another lost soul.
Remember that wee little girl from the beginning? Well, she’s listening to the ghostly sounds of Picts playing music across the centuries. That’s what Missy doesn’t get about the universe, says the Doctor. You can know it all, but you can’t hear the music. Missy listens, hears it, and begins to cry. But is it real? With only two episodes left, I’m sure we’ll find out soon.
- There’s a really wonderful motif of language in this episode, starting with the crows. The crows speak in the second century, saying “dark” or “monster.” The Doctor thinks they’ve stopped talking and caw in outrage. In fact, they’re remember Kar. (Kar, Kar!)
- That theme continues once Bill realizes that the Tardis has a language function. She reminds the Picts and the Romans of it when they meet. If there’s no language barrier, then there’s a chance at understanding one another. The Doctor thinks they all sound like children, which is an insight as to how he sees the world. It might also be why he feels the need to protect everyone all the time.
- Last bit of this theme is that music is a language of its own. So it’s only fitting that music be showcased at the top and bottom of the episode.
- The social justice bits are getting better and better. Not only are there several soldiers of color in this episode (and why wouldn’t there be since Romans conquered huge swaths of land). There’s also a great discussion about sexuality. Funny enough, one Roman calls Bill’s homosexuality “limited” since he’s bisexual. We live in a time when the Babadook is part bisexual erasure, and it looks like Doctor Who is not partaking in that game.
- Rona Munro is the first, and only, writer to have worked on both the Classic and New Doctor Who. She wrote “Survival,” the last serial for the Classic Series which aired in 1989.
- Was the Doctor’s mention of his understanding of Rome also a reference to ‘Fires of Pompeii?’ That might require a second watch!
- Nardole was in a bathrobe the whole time. I don’t know why, but he looked like Arthur Dent with war paint on.