When In Scotland, Don’t Do As The Romans Do
Scotland, because there’s more to the UK than London. 2nd Century AD, Aberdeen. Taking a trip in the past to prove each other wrong about an argument about the missing Roman Ninth Legion, the Doctor and Bill find more trouble than just settling a historical debate.
::Spoilers In Review::
As Bill searches for the Legion while the Doctor and Nardole find bodies, she comes across some Roman soldiers and likely the very ones she was looking for. Bill is learning more about TARDIS translation and the Roman soldier she meets when she finds some of the Legion hiding underground is not impressed with her enthusiasm.
The Doctor and Nardole are, meanwhile, taken prisoner by the Pict tribe they’ve come across, and Nardole tries the “jelly baby” gag with popcorn, but the Doctor is not impressed. Nor patient. When the Doctor inquires about what destroyed the Roman army, he is met with an impassioned speech of how Roman colonialism is bad by the Picts’ leader Kar, a young woman who is also “Guardian of the Gate”.
The Doctor ends up escaping via popping popcorn as a distraction so he and Nardole can locate Bill. They run into Kar again, who explains that once a generation one of their tribe goes through the gate to fight the “Eater of Light”, but this time she got distracted by the Romans.
Meanwhile, Bill is explaining to the soldier hitting on her that he is wasting his time, and she is surprised in turn by how seemingly progressive the Romans are, who have no problem with fluid sexuality. Admittedly, this scene felt like a fairly clunky bit of dialogue to prove something; it just didn’t feel authentic in the context of things. The show doesn’t need to keep reinforcing what we already know about Bill because after a while it starts to feel like it’s desperate to tick off some box to show “look look how PC we are!” I’m totally glad we have a LGBTQA+ companion, but don’t make it a running gag.
Anyway, Bill then tries to inspire their faith in the Doctor, encouraging them to leave their hiding because being scared is fine, it’s human, and so they realize the need for a plan. It’s worth noting the soldiers are young, really young. Bill can’t promise them smooth sailing, but she can promise they won’t die underground. The Doctor begins to work out a plan with Kar, to help her face her beast.
As Bill and the Roman Teen Squad go to leave, they’re attacked by one of the creatures and find themselves fleeing right into the Picts. Well, Bill did totally find the Ninth Legion! The Roman Teen Squad and Kar are about to face off. The Picts just wanted to live in peace, but the Romans had to go bust that up. Now Bill is brokering the peace using TARDIS translation, which then extends to the Romans and Picts. The Doctor gives them an ultimatum, either slaughter each other, or deal with the light-eating alien locusts. Because them eating the sun will just be the beginning, they’ll eat all the stars and the universe eventually.
And now here’s the rub, it’s going to take more than one human with their short life spans to go in the gate, guard it, and get the job done. But the Doctor has his long Time Lord lifespan, and he’s going to go in and handle it and guard it until the sun burns out. He’ll regenerate over and over to guard it. Bill is, understandably, not enthusiastic about this idea and argues with him over it. But Kar is ready to sacrifice herself, as is the young Roman Commander. The Ninth Legion will sacrifice themselves entirely, and the Picts will honor Kar’s memory forever with her name in stones. Bill incapacitates the Doctor so Kar and the Romans can make their honorable sacrifice without him interfering. They go, Kar facing the fate she’s always accepted as hers with Roman allies by her side. The Picts teach the crow to say “Kar” over and over. The crows are a memory. Bill rationalizes her actions as he has a vault to guard and he can’t take on every fight.
Missy has been waiting in the TARDIS, having escaped the Vault except she never went back in the vault after last episode. Apparently he was having her check the engines. She is apparently bio-locked out of the controls and the doors, meaning she’s as much a prisoner in the TARDIS as she is in the vault. When she chastises the Doctor that their adventure didn’t seem to live up to his bleeding heart standards, he mentions that even though she can see the universe, she can never seem to hear the music. Later, the music is playing and it brings her to tears.
The Doctor questions if it’s real or not, her change of heart. If it is it means they can be friends again and somehow that’s almost worse. Because he is wary, because hope means it’s hard to resist and he’s still reluctant to trust her.
This episode was a neat bit of historical sci-fi, but overall middling; not awful just sort of there. I am also bummed they went to Scotland and there was no Jamie McCrimmon reference by the Doctor but alas, we cannot have it all. It sort of overall feels like Series 10 started strong, but is now suffering a sagging middle before shooting lightning fast to it’s conclusion. I know I don’t like everything being BIG TIMEY WHIMEY DESPERATE HOURS MORE THAN EVER TO DESPERATE but I actually feel like at this point in the season I’d like the drama to ramp up a bit.
I do wonder if Bill’s line, about the Doctor not always being able to jump in and sacrifice himself or play the ultimate hero, will come back to haunt them since we know this is Capaldi’s last season. And with the previews indicating Simm Master’s return is super close, we might finally get more light on what the heck is going on with Missy’s sudden change of heart and where the Master overall fits now into the Whoniverse.
Episode Grade– B-
“Death by Scotland” should be a band name, don’t fail me Internets.