The Eaters of Light: The Fact File
The read through for The Eaters of Light took place on Wednesday, 12 October, 2016.
Rona Munro – who wrote this adventure – also wrote the final story of the era often called ‘Classic Who’, penning 1989’s Survival. After that three-parter, viewers would have to wait 16 years for a new series of Doctor Who. This makes Rona the only writer to have contributed to ‘New Who’ and ‘Classic Who’, unless we’re counting The Curse of Fatal Death, a humorous Doctor-versus-the-Master tale produced for 1999’s Red Nose Day celebrations. That story was written by Steven Moffat who, like the Doctor, would return in 2005…
The main shoot for The Eaters of Light started on Wednesday, 2 November, 2016 and finished on Tuesday, 22 November – exactly 27 years after the first episode of Doctor Who written by Rona Munro was broadcast! The crow elements were shot later, on Tuesday, 13 December.
The Eaters of Light also had a pre-shoot: on Friday, 14 October the team captured the scene where Bill goes into the cave, glances back and sees the entity pursuing her… This was shot at Porth yr Ogof – a cave near the village of Ystradfellte, Wales, close to the boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Much of the episode centres on the Roman army’s Ninth Legion and its handful of survivors. The Legion did exist and as Bill and the Doctor discuss, it did mysteriously vanish and (before The Eaters of Light, at least!) no-one could state with 100% certainty what happened to this band of soldiers. You can find out more about the Legion and its legacy of mystery in this feature!
Real-life mysteries have proven fertile ground for Doctor Who stories over the years… The Terror of the Zygons tackled the Loch Ness Monster, Agatha Christie’s 1926 vanishing was ‘solved’ in The Unicorn and the Wasp and in A Good Man Goes to War we discovered what happened to Jack the Ripper… Queen Nefertiti’s disappearance from historical record is ingeniously explained in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship whilst the events that led to the extinction of dinosaurs are revealed in Earthshock. Even small mysteries are sometimes covered… Image of the Fendahl, for instance, makes clear why throwing salt over our shoulders is said to bring good luck. (In case you’re wondering, salt could act as a defence against the evil Fendahl!)
Talking of mysteries, Nardole chats about the enigma of the Mary Celeste. This famous old ship was an American merchant brigantine, found deserted in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. The question of what happened to its crew has been unanswered since its empty decks and cabins were first investigated, but during the First Doctor adventure, The Chase, we saw the Daleks arrive on the Mary Celeste. Fear of them forced everyone on board to abandon ship but it’s conceivable they swam back to the vessel after the Daleks departed (the Doctor’s old enemies only stayed aboard briefly) only to encounter the fate that Nardole outlined in The Eaters of Light!
Not convinced by this speculation about the abandoned brigantine? In The Pilot, when the Doctor visited the vault we were given a glimpse of a sign bearing the words ‘Mary Celeste’. Could this hold a clue as to what really happened to the ship’s crew?
Looks like Amy Pond and Bill have something else in common – apart from rattling around the cosmos with a heroic Time Lord, that is! Both share a passion for Roman history. Bill’s enthusiasm for the subject is revealed in The Eaters of Light and in The Pandorica Opens, when the Doctor starts telling Amy about Roman invasions of Britain, she replies, ‘Oh, I know! My favourite topic at school. Invasion of the hot Italians! Yeah, I did get marked down for the title…’
The ability of the TARDIS to translate foreign and alien languages is again touched upon. The topic was investigated in The Masque of Mandragora when the Doctor said to Sarah Jane, ‘Well, I’ve taken you to some strange places before and you've never asked how you understood the local language. It's a Time Lord’s gift I allow you to share…’ Later it was clarified that the TARDIS was part of the translation process and when the Doctor was removed from the equation, it wouldn’t fully function. So, in The Christmas Invasion, with the Doctor laid low, the Sycorax language was incompressible to Rose and other humans. When the Time Lord recovered, however, the aliens’ words were ‘automatically’ translated.