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‘Doctor Who’ Review: Bill’s Lesson in Ancient Roman Sexual Stereotyping Is a Highlight in an Uneven Episode


[Editor’s Note: The following review of “Doctor Who” Season 10, Episode 10, “The Eaters of the Light” contains spoilers.]

The Rundown

“Doctor Who” gives us whiffs of “Outlander” with this jaunt back to 2nd century Aberdeen, Scotland, adjacent to cairns of standing stones that looks like it could transport a British lady back in time. Instead, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and friends are here instead to figure out what happened to the Spanish Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana), which disappeared from records around 43 AD. Naturally, an alien is to blame, but the Doctor sorts it all out in the end after whipping some whiny Roman soldiers and tribal Picts into shape. Although “The Eaters of the Light” was a wildly uneven episode, strong on messaging but weak on sense, it served to test its characters in revealing ways. Sadly, Auton replicant Rory (Arthur Darvill) did not make a cameo as the Last Centurion, although we suppose at this point he might be busy over at Stonehenge or guarding the Pandorica.

READ MORE: ‘Doctor Who’: The Next Doctor Rumored to Be ‘Chewing Gum’s’ Black Female Star — Report

Here Be Monsters

These are far more traditional aliens who look pretty cool with their striped light tentacles. The Eaters of the Light appear to have devastating powers that could have endangered the whole world, but of course they were handily defeated by a group of kids with moxie and teamwork.

The Companion Who Smiled

A few times now on the show we’ve seen how Bill’s (Pearl Mackie) sexuality has been brought up, sometimes to make a joke (her landlady was worried about her bringing home a boy), sometimes to show how cool others can be when they find out she’s gay (one guy felt relieved he wasn’t being rejected specifically). This time it almost feels like a retread of the latter, except with a crucial difference.

When Bill breaks it to the Roman soldier Lucius (Brian Vernel) that she’s only interested in women, he puts her sexuality into a different context since to him, being bisexual is the default and only preferring one gender is limiting. He’s also somewhat condescending about it. Watch how the scene plays out below:


This season, “Doctor Who” has been trying to explore the topic of sexuality through Bill. Here though, it’s also challenging our modern perceptions of what the dominant views of sexuality are in different cultures and times. Bill looks as if she’s entertained by this sort of turnabout, the implication being that she’s the one who’s a bit conservative. It’s an intriguing one-off scene that sends a message of tolerance that’s echoed later in a different context.

It should be noted though that while it’s true that ancient Romans saw men having sex with both men and women as normal, which men they were with was determined by class and rank. Also, in such a patriarchal society, women were not afforded that same open-minded status, and the idea of homosexuality or bisexuality among women wasn’t as acknowledged by the men who documented history. Therefore in this instance, a point is being made for acceptance all around, but it’s more likely that Bill coming out as gay would’ve been met with skepticism or judgment.

The Spin Doctor

Peter Capaldi, "Doctor Who"

Peter Capaldi, “Doctor Who”

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

The Doctor comes off as more off a gruff Lou Grant-type here, somewhat paternal but mainly blunt and with little patience for the children of Earth’s hand-wringing. More than once he scolded the Picts and the Romans about needing to grow up (in our eyes they’re children, but back then, they would’ve had to assume responsibilities early in life) and the need for tolerance.

But it comes from a sense of his own responsibility for humanity, which he had taken on millennia ago and therefore explains his exasperation about the fighting between the Picts and Romans. Perhaps unintentionally, his words echo the images from the Monks episode: “I’ve been standing by the gates of your world, keeping you all safe since you crawled out of the slime.” He’s giving them all tough love, but that’s because he does in fact feel love for them as a species. That said, he doesn’t give them enough credit (much like parents may not trust their kids even if they are adults) to make their own decisions about their fate, until they force him to.

We’re not sure exactly what to make of the Doctor constantly ignoring the terms of his agreement to keep Missy (Michelle Gomez) in the vault and watch over her. Once again he jaunts off on adventure through time, and later, it’s revealed that he’s allowed her to leave the vault and take up residence in the TARDIS. It’s as if in this episode, he wants to prove in all ways that he is not subject to ordinary rules and guidelines.

Straight From the Two Hearts

As Missy’s jailor, the Doctor also takes on a lecturing tone with her even as she’s developing a conscience for all the death and destruction she had done previously. “That’s what I’m trying to teach you, Missy,” he says. “You understand the universe. You see it, you grasp it, but you never learn to hear the music.”

One of our biggest quibbles with this season, and there are quite a few, is that so little time has been spent on Missy that it’s difficult to take her evolution seriously. This is not the fault of Gomez, who acts the hell out of every minute she’s on screen. Instead, because of the time limitations, we’re being told how to feel about her.

In this episode, we see tears run down her face again, and yet again she’s bewildered by them. “I don’t even know why I’m crying,” she says. “Why do I keep doing that now?” She appears unsure and such a shadow of her vivid, scheming self, but are these pangs of conscience genuine or manufactured? We’re not sure, and the Doctor is similarly wary after she asks to be friends again.

“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s the trouble with hope; it’s hard to resist.” With only two more episodes to go in the season, we’ll see if any trust on his part has been well-founded or foolish.


Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas, "Doctor Who"

Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas, “Doctor Who”

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

What is with these cairns and how they bend time? In this case, a few seconds spent inside translates to days outside, which explains why only one Pict per generation had to sacrifice their life to fight off the Eaters of the Light. The ultimate sacrifice at the end of the band of Picts and Romans joining together to fight the creatures on their own turf breaks the portal. It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but hey, at a least those tentacles are gone for good (we assume).

Whoniversity Degree

There weren’t any obvious references this episode, but the writer Rona Munro has the distinction of being the only person who has written for the original classic “Doctor Who” and the current continuation. She had written the final episode, “Survival,” before it went off the air in 1989 before coming back for “The Eaters of the Light.”


Rebecca Benson, "Doctor Who"

Rebecca Benson, “Doctor Who”

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

The Doctor: “Speaking as a former vestal virgin second class — “

Nardole (Matt Lucas), upon hearing that a person died due to lack of sunlight: “Death by Scotland.”

Nardole: “I’m ingratiating myself. “
The Doctor: “It’s nauseating.”
Nardole: “It’s called charm.”
The Doctor: “I’m against it. I’m against charm.”

Kar (Rebecca Benson): “Let me tell you about the Romans. They are robbers of the world; When they’ve thieved everything on land, they’ll rob the sea. If their enemies are rich, they’ll take all they have. If their enemies are poor, they’ll make slaves of them. Their work is robbery, slaughter, plunder. They do this work and they call it empire. They make deserts and they call it peace. They’re not conquerors; they’re cowards.”

Nardole: “Sir, I must protest in the strongest, most upset tones possible. Don’t make me go squeaky-voiced.”


Watch a sneak peek of next week’s episode below:


“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America.

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‘The Sinner’ Finale: Creator on the Masked Captor’s Identity and What Season 2 Could Look Like


[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from the season finale of “The Sinner.”]

“I know you did it for your son,” Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) tells the man who had imprisoned her for two months, during which he shot her up with heroin and obliterated her true memories. It’s a curiously generous statement for her to make, but it’s not the first time that “The Sinner” has found sympathy and common ground for people’s failings.

USA Network’s summer psychological thriller began with Cora stabbing Frankie Belmont (Eric Todd) to death seemingly without provocation during a day at the beach. It turns out that five years ago at a party, Frankie had tried and failed to revive Cora’s sickly sister Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) with whom he had been intimate. A song that was playing at the time of the tragic accident was the same song that triggered Cora to attack Frankie during that day at the beach.

The season finale reveals the author of Cora’s deeper psychological trauma: Frankie’s father Dr. Belmont (Christopher Innvar). In order to protect his promising med student son’s reputation, Dr. Belmont sent his son off to California for a job and took care of covering up Phoebe’s death without his son’s knowledge. Part of that cover-up involved holding Cora prisoner in a small bedroom and giving her heroin until she was addicted and her arms were scarred up. During these two months he also brainwashed her into forgetting the events of that fateful night and into thinking she was a drug addict and female escort.

In adapting the German novel “The Sinner” for the USA miniseries, showrunner Derek Simonds was satisfied with keeping the biggest reveals – the parts that Frankie and his father played in Cora’s trauma – the same for American audiences.

Jessica Biel and Christopher Innvar, "The Sinner"

“In the end, I’d say the big reveal and such are faithful to the book,” Simonds said in an an interview with IndieWire. “The thing that I love about this material is that it engages like a great suspense novel should, but every reveal and twist — and there are a lot of them – deepen the humanity of the characters rather than cheapens the humanity of the characters.

“There’s a lot of thrillers that by the third act, characters start acting in really extreme, unbelievable ways,” he added. “Someone you sympathized with suddenly is just plain old evil and they’re sort of reduced to a bad guy. ‘The Sinner’ never jumps the shark that way. It never exaggerates human behavior or resorts to cheap shocks. The reveals end up showing a lot of parents and children doing the best they can in tragic circumstances, and then the shame that results from that and the consequences of that shame. It feels like a very human story that could happen in the house next door versus a really overblown stylized gruesome thriller.”

The Creepy Ski Mask

One difference in the series is that Frankie’s dad hides his face behind a ski mask, instead of relying on Cora’s faulty memories to protect his identity.

“That’s one aspect that was not in the book at all that we created for some additional mystery and also just to make the backstory more plausible,” said Simonds. “If Dr. Belmont was keeping Cora for two months in her room, why would he show his face to her if he really wanted to hide his story. So that was something that we put a lot of logic that we parsed in the writer’s room.”

The imagery was effective, especially since the ski mask was a dark beige color, which made it appear more like a burlap sack, sort of like the one used on scarecrows.

“Our props master Duke Scoppa brought in a whole range of masks. This particular one, we all responded it,” said Simonds. “It was a vintage hunting mask for cold weather hunting. I think I responded to it partly because of the beige, that there’s something plush and kind of friendly and comfy about the material. It’s like a stuffed animal. Yet, when you put it on, it creates these dark holes for eyes and a kind of creepy, unknown face. So it’s this scary Muppet kind of [character], which is disturbing… and kind of unnerving.”

PTSD and Trauma

Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"

“The Sinner” isn’t only an exploration into the events of that one night or what Dr. Belmont did to Cora afterward. How her religiously fanatic mother raised her and the ways Phoebe took advantage of her instilled a deep sense of guilt and shame in Cora. She was already primed her for the shameful narrative that the doctor fed her. That deep repression of actual facts is also what led Cora to snap at the beach.

“We did a lot of research about PTSD in particular, the performance PTSD psychosis that Cora suffers from where she’s actually reenacting the moment of trauma,” said Simonds. “We talked to several social workers and psychologists who also work in the justice system and evaluate prisoners and suspects. This was a part of the story that we wanted to take very seriously. This is a genre story, it’s a psychological thriller and we wanted it to be entertaining, but we also wanted it to be responsible and speak authentically to these issues and ground them in as much reality as the story could in the time that we had.”

Simonds has been gratified that many viewers are responding not only to the mystery aspects of the show, but also to the psychological issues.

Nadia Alexander and Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"

“It’s fascinating the responses from people. For instance, the incest scene in Episode 6 between Cora and Phoebe, there such a range of reactions to that scene,” he said. “There were people who were incredibly offended and wanted to stop watching the show because we portrayed that scene. Then there were other people who really responded to exactly how traumatized Cora was, how she had lost her agency, how she was being manipulated by her mother and then her sister and JD. They saw what we were trying to say psychologically with that scene. It just reflects to me how open or not open people are to the sort of relating to others, how easily we can either judge or empathize.”

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