Rona Munro vividly reimagines her latest Doctor Who script in a new Target novelisation of The Eaters of Light
Continuing the tradition established in recent years, BBC Books have recently published a new wave of Doctor Who Target novelisations. This latest collections sees more modern-era stories adapted for the page. These include Series 4’s The Fires of Pompeii, as well as Series 10’s The Eaters of Light. First broadcast in 2017, The Eaters of Light saw the long-awaited return of writer Rona Munro to Doctor Who. Now, Munro has come back to Doctor Who once more to adapt her latest script into novel form.
The Eaters of the Light sees the Twelfth Doctor, Bill, and Nardole travel back to 2nd-century Scotland in an effort to discover the true fate of the lost Ninth Legion of the Roman army. However, their investigation soon brings them up against a terrifying creature from another dimension that threatens to consume all light in the universe.
Munro Channels Classic Target, Making Major Changes to her Original Story
Rona Munro‘s approach differs rather significantly to that of other authors who have recently adapted their own scripts into Target novelisations. Other writers have largely reproduced their television stories in prose format, with a few added extra details. Munro, on the other hand, channels the classic Target books by making major modifications to The Eaters of Light.
Few aspects of the original episode are reproduced verbatim on the page. Instead, Munro takes the essence of each scene and remoulds it into a new but recognisable shape. In doing so, she’s able not only to adjust her script to better fit this new format, but also to extract fresh, new stories from her source material.
The Eaters of Light Allows the Picts and Romans to Take Centre Stage
Rona Munro ultimately shifts the focus of The Eaters of Light away from the Doctor and his companions. Instead, she places the Picts and Roman legionaries they encounter at the centre of the story. The Picts in particular are treated with more respect, especially by the Doctor. On screen, he continually questions the Gatekeeper Kar’s capabilities. He shows little sympathy towards her for allowing the Eater of Light to break free in order to defend her people against the Roman army.
By contrast, the novelisation draws more strongly on the ‘professor’ aspect of the Twelfth Doctor’s character than his more aloof side. Despite its presence on the back cover of the book, his line from the television episode referring to the Picts’ village as a ‘muddy little hillside’ is absent from its pages. Instead, the Doctor shows far more compassion towards the surviving Pictish children and teenagers. He’s far more impressed by the tools they’ve crafted to guard their community against the Eaters of Light, for example.
In fact, the Picts, along with the Romans, are quite literally central to the novelisation of The Eaters of Light. Munro has divided her story into thirds, dedicating its middle chapter to the stories of Kar and the surviving Romans’ leader, Lucius. Munro explores their past lives side-by-side in vivid detail, as she chronicles how they came to be in the situations the TARDIS crew initially find them in. This strengthens the parallels between them as two young people burdened with great trauma and responsibilities beyond their years. Furthermore, Munro provides powerful descriptions of their respective struggles, culminating in their brutal confrontation on the battlefield. This chapter further endears these characters to the reader, making their inevitable sacrifice at the story’s conclusion all the more heart-breaking.
Munro‘s Transformation of The Eaters of Light Sacrifices Some Important Moments
However, these enlightening additions to the story often come at the cost of several important moments from the original episode. Perhaps most understandably, the episode’s final scene, in which Bill and Nardole are surprised to find Missy waiting back in the TARDIS, is cut. This ultimately helps the novelisation to exist as a standalone story, by removing it from Series 10’s overarching narrative.
By contrast, the omission of other elements of the television story is more keenly felt. The novel removes the conversation between Bill and Lucius during which she explains that she’s only ever been attracted to women, and he surprises her with the fact that he and his fellow Romans are mostly bisexual. Book Two’s exploration of Lucius’ relationship with fellow legionary Sextus somewhat makes up for this. Nevertheless, it’s a shame to lose this moment of kinship between people born centuries apart from one another.
More surprisingly absent is Bill’s revelation that the TARDIS ‘auto-translates’ all languages into English, allowing her to understand the Romans. Subsequently, this alters the later interaction between the Romans and Picts wherein they’re shocked to be able to understand one another for the first time. Whilst the two groups do ultimately find common ground and bond with one another, their initial meeting has less of an emotional impact.
Munro Presents a Moving Re-Imagining of The Eaters of Light
Rona Munro‘s novelisation of The Eaters of Light expands greatly on her original story, allowing her to tell a brand-new tale within the frame of the one we’re familiar with. She goes above and beyond simply adapting her script into a prose format. By centring the story’s ordinary human characters, Munro presents a deeply moving narrative. Although this comes at the expense of some aspects of the episode as broadcast, it nevertheless provides with a renewed appreciation for The Eaters of Light‘s guest characters, and drives home the weight of the ultimate sacrifice they make to save our universe.
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro is available to purchase now in paperback and ebook from all good book retailers.
“To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world!”
The Doctor takes Bill and Nardole back to 2nd century Scotland to learn the fate of the ‘lost’ Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army. 5,000 soldiers vanished without explanation – how?
The search for the truth leads the Doctor and his friends into a deadly mystery. Who is the Guardian of the Gate? What nightmare creature roams the wildlands, darkening the sky and destroying all in its path? A threat from another dimension has been unleashed on the Earth, and only a terrible sacrifice can put things right…