Season 10: Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
KAR: Let me tell you about the Romans. They are the robbers of this 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.
It’s not hard to side with the disposed and the oppressed. In fact, I believe that is the imperative of all decent people. If, for one reason, one must choose between a powerful nation-state and an oppressed people-the marginalized should be chosen every time. But what happens when the oppressed not only become an oppressor, but their actions also sow the seeds of their own potential destruction?
It is not surprising that Kar and her people hate the Roman soldiers. Such a feeling of visceral hatred is understandable. The Roman soldiers were intent on destroying an essentially defenseless village. But what is interesting about this episode is that it humanizes both the Romans and Kar’s people. And it does this through the notion that there is a much bigger and more dangerous enemy that needs to be feared and defeated. Fear is not always a good thing. In fact, fear is what led Kar to do the unthinkable: release the “Eater of Light” in an effort to defeat both the Roman Legion and the monster:
KAR: I have to stop it. This is my fault. I’m the Keeper of the Gate. I have to put this right.
DOCTOR: So, you were supposed to guard the gate while everyone else went off to war. But you had strangers at the door, and a guard dog in the attic, so you let the beast come through.
KAR: It was the only thing that could defeat them.
The Doctor’s attitude in this episode, is in my opinion particularly off-putting. Especially because he spends the majority of the episode with the poor Scottish farmers and he essentially berates their fear and hatred of the Romans, though the Scottish farmers had good reason to be afraid and to despise the Romans. The Roman Army, like imperialist armies everywhere, were ruthless. Their wars easily turned into massacres. When they wanted land, they went and conquered it, damned whatever the original inhabitants of the land want to do. To the people in the path of a massive Roman Legion, they weren’t just protecting “a muddy little hillside,” but their own lives and independence. Contrast the Doctor’s attitude towards the farmers, with Billy’s attitude towards the Romans. Billy is compassionate, though she has no qualms calling them out on killing defenseless farmers:
LUCIUS: One man? You think one man can save us all?
BILL: Come and meet him. He came here to meet you. He’s met loads of people like you. The terrified, the desperate. And he always helps. He always makes a difference.
LUCIUS: There are painted barbarians up there. They outnumber us. There is a beast of darkness that laid waste to an entire legion in less than an hour. No one man can make a difference to that.
BILL: Maybe that’s what you don’t learn when you think it takes five thousand highly trained soldiers to slaughter a bunch of Scottish farmers. Yes, one man can. And he’s here.
But the Doctor is correct in pointing out that Kar, in trying to do anything to protect her village and her people from the twin dangers of the monster and the Roman Legion, instead created a situation where she placed millions of other people at risk. She felt that she and her people were backed into a corner and the only to win was to unleash a greater evil, in the hopes that the monster and the Roman Army would destroy each other. Instead she placed herself in the position of potentially destroying her own village along with millions of other lives, a good portion of those just as vulnerable and marginalized as she and her people. Her actions moved her from just being oppressed to being actively involved in the potential slaughter of others.
In my academic studies, I’ve realized that many things are not “black and white.” Even when it comes to horrendous actions that impact the marginalized and oppressed, the way the marginalized and oppressed react, especially if they ever gain a measure of power, often serves to perpetrate and expand the very violence they themselves once experienced.
My mind for the past few days has been on Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestine. Yes, yes there are Palestinian terrorists that kill innocent Israeli civilians, but the amount of damage that they actually inflict is miniscule in comparison to the violence that the state of Israel inflicts on the Palestinians. Yet despite the fact that modern day Israel has one of the best, highly trained, and technologically advanced military in the world the memory of the Holocaust and the disgusting rise anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the world, is used as evidence of their nation being under threat. The US gives Israel billions of dollars’ worth of aid, making the nation of Israel one of the top receivers of US aid. And while Israel is in the midst of a hostile region, US aid, combined with Israel’s military prowess and the economic weight it has in the region, essentially assures that any attempts at militarily attacking Israeli sovereignty and existence is bound to fail.
Israel often defends its use of violence by referencing the Holocaust. Despite the myths that some anti-Semites perpetrate, the Holocaust was a tragic, horrible, indefensible crime against humanity. Hitler was intent on exterminating the Jews in Germany and if possible, worldwide. While other groups were also the target of Hitler’s attacks: the disabled, gypsies, members of the LGBT community, the mentally ill, etc the Jewish people were the special focus of his genocidal regime, killing up to six million Jews. (For estimates of other groups killed in the Holocaust visit the Holocaust Museum webpage.) In Eastern Europe, in countries like Poland, the Jewish population fell from three million to 45,500 by 1950 as a result of forced explosion, refugees fleeing, imprisonment, and mass slaughter. Moreover, while the US is praised for its involvement in World War II, the US also suffered from strong anti-Semitism and xenophobia and refused refugees. In the most infamous case, the German ocean liner St. Louis, carrying 937 Jewish refugees was denied port of entry in Miami, in 1939. Almost a quarter of the refugees on that ship went on to die during the Holocaust.
Be weary of anyone telling you that the Holocaust was not that bad.
The desire for a homeland, which had been something that Zionists organizations and groups had wanted for awhile, accelerated after the Holocaust. This desire is understandable after what had just occurred. Although help for persecuted Jewish people did arrive, it arrived too late to save six million people. Having their own country might prevent another such tragedy from occurring. But like Kar, in this episode of Doctor Who, in an attempt to save themselves from oppression and slaughter, the state of Israel and its government has ended up perpetrating injustice.
Now the state of Israel’s reaction to perceived threats has differed significantly from the way the Roman Legion in this episode reacted: the Romans ran away. Instead, the government of Israel has reacted by increasing its military power, driving out millions of Palestinians, shooting and killing nonviolent protesters or protestors throwing rocks, killing peaceful activists, locking up children in military detention, making it virtually impossible for Palestinians to travel, limiting Palestinian access to water, electricity, and jobs, and by allowing Israeli settlers to take over private land. These actions are justified using the language of fear and protecting the homeland. But the problem is that this type of reaction and use of fear, fuels more violence. Israel’s plan, if it can be called that, to protect itself, seems to be based on the notion that if they eradicate the Palestinian people, then all their problems will be solved.
In this way, the Israeli government is acting similar to Kar. Jewish people were slaughtered by the German government and were let down by other Western powers until these powers entered World War II. And in a desperate bid to ensure that they will never again be at the mercy of the genocidal fantasies of an evil man, they created their own nation, with the blessing of the United Nations. But in doing so, they displaced 750,000 Palestinians from their home. And they continue to kill and oppress Palestinians. To be sure, they do face a real threat, but their biggest threats are nation-states such as Iran and Syria. These nation states support non-state groups that feed on the Palestinian people’s oppression. The individuals who feel driven to participate in suicide attacks, are responding to a hopeless situation.
Again, the Doctor is being a grade A jerk in this scene. Remembering the dead is essential in seeking to prevent other such deaths from reoccurring. In fact, the deaths of many Holocaust survivors, could arguably be contributing to the rise of Holocaust deniers. The tangible ties to such a horrific time period are being forgotten and the potential for horrific consequences to occur is great. So the Doctor’s flippant attitude towards Kar is a bit much.
On the other hand, Kar is using the deaths of her loved ones, and the role she played as a way to avoid her current responsibility. In a similar way, the Israeli government is manipulating and using the very real pain, and the continued suffering of the Jewish people, to justify the violence and oppression of Palestinians. The Israeli government uses the horrific Nazi Germany crime against the Jewish people, as justification for their continued refusal to take seriously the peace process.
Now some people may say, “the Palestinians don’t want peace. If they did they wouldn’t be supporting terrorists and killing Israelis.” I’m going to be blunt, I do not support acts of terrorism but let’s be real. The Palestinians have very little recourse. They protest peacefully they get shot by Israeli soldiers and demonized. Some use violence and whole towns and cities are placed under siege and denied access to basic essentials. Not to mention that acts of terrorism, disproportionately impact Palestinians rather than Israelis.
In this episode, Kar did what she thought she needed to do to prevent her people from being needlessly slaughtered by a much larger force. But by doing so she not only put her own people at risk but also the rest of the world. In a similar vein, the Israeli government, in seeking to provide a safe space for Jewish people to avoid a repeat of the horrific Holocaust, have decided that Palestinian lives are worth very little. Their claim to land, their rights for freedom, food, water, movement, and self defense are denied. But is the Israeli government really successfully protecting Jewish people by eradicating Palestinians? Or are they instead, potentially sowing the seeds of their own destruction?