DW Reviewed | 12.4 Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

~Spoilers ahead! ~

12.4 Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror – Nina Metivier

Story & Review

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror opens with the man himself, appealing to a crowd of potential funders for his next big project: generating electricity using hydropower. This doesn’t go well and soon things get worse as his lab is attacked by a mysterious red-eyed man with a Silurian gun. The same night, Tesla discovers a green, glowing sphere, the Orb of Thassar and the Doctor arrives having followed a trail of energy left by the sphere.

The mystery of this episode – who is after Tesla and what that sphere is – initially leads to Thomas Edison, his real-life rival. The focus of this episode, like Series 11, is on the historical side but here the sci-fi elements don’t feel tacked on. There are parallels made between the Skithra, a scavenger species who steal technology and Thomas Edison. The Skithra, identifying Tesla as the brightest mind of his time want to kidnap him and keep him as an engineer.

3. The Sphere

The highlight of this episode was Goran Višnjića who plays Tesla. He steals every scene he is in and is portrayed as a quiet, intelligent man. Seeing him working with the Doctor and standing in the TARDIS felt right and I loved that the only TARDIS reaction we see is Tesla’s. They’ve been sparing with the reactions to the TARDIS in the past series but I’ll forgive it if the intention is to save it for significant people rather than omit it just for the sake of being different from its predecessor.

8. Tesla in TARDIS

There is a connection between Tesla and the Doctor that feels genuine for this iteration of the Timelord who is an inventor herself. Having said that, although her enthusiasm for history is believable, the lessons still feel a bit wedged in with the Doctor spouting facts at her clueless companions. I particularly dislike the concluding speeches we’re getting that feel too much like a classroom setting. The history works better where we see Edison and Tesla interact and the public response to each. There is a mob, for example outside of Tesla’s home at the start of the episode and, towards the end when Edison and Yaz are trying to clear the streets of New York, Edison manages to do it by warning the public that Tesla is running a dangerous experiment.

As a lot of time is spent with the low-ranking scorpion-Skithra, there isn’t a lot of direct conflict between the Queen of the Skithra and our characters which the episode suffered from. The two confrontations between the Doctor and the Queen are done really well however. First when Tesla and Yaz are teleported onto the Skithra’s (stolen) ship, the Doctor beams herself up, immediately stands between the Queen and her friends and talks for long enough to teleport them back to Earth. The second confrontation has some excellent dialogue and I loved seeing the Doctor’s quick thinking and how she tricks the Queen back onto her ship, ready to be zapped by Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower.

When you die they’ll be nothing left behind. Just a trail of blood and other people’s brilliance.

Overall, the writing for this episode is solid. There are parallels between the Skithra stealing tech with Edison who is said to not have any of his own ideas. The alien threat is believable and the Doctor gives a fair warning before resorting to zapping them. She is also shown to be clever multiple times in the episode (which shouldn’t be refreshing but it is). The script is really tight too and I spotted things in the rewatch that I didn’t the first time such as the idea of lost legacy symbolised with the Orb of Thasslar that is supposed to spread stories and a legacy but ultimately doesn’t, relating to Tesla too.

Fun Parts

  • ‘I made it. Mainly out of spoons.’ – the Doctor about her latest Sonic Screwdriver
  • Graham’s lines from pretending to know Tesla to making the AC/DC joke we were all waiting for

Wibbly-Wobbly Timey Wimey

  • Bit odd of the Doctor to comment ‘why Tesla’ from the 1900s as if time travel is available to all species
  • The Doctor and the untouched past: I’m feeling generous this week and will attribute the fact that the Doctor doesn’t wipe Tesla/Edison’s memories but did wipe Ada Lovelace’s because the pair don’t learn anything about the future (and talking about aliens is mad) whilst Lovelace learns about things that are directly related to her future and would mess up history in a big way.

Monster of the Week

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The Skithra Queen’s design is so similar to the Racnoss that it would make a lot of sense for the two species to be related. Her design is more interesting than the clumsy giant scorpions but I was disappointed that we don’t really see her in a full shot till the end of the episode and it turns out she’s not a scorpion lady at all but is humanoid form. It feels like a wasted opportunity. I would have liked to see more of her, and have understood earlier in the episode that they were a hive species.

Concluding Thoughts

This episode is definitely one of the better ones of Chris Chibnall’s era. It has all the right ingredients for a good plot and objectively I can say it was good. But I still can’t help shake the fact that I didn’t feel excited at any point. It doesn’t feel ‘right’ which isn’t a proper critique. After rewatching, the only thing that feels missing is Murray Gold. I’ve mentioned this so many times now but the soundtrack doesn’t provide that emotional core that I associated with Doctor Who. (Plus those scratchy Skithra violins, oh my gosh were they bad.)

There are lots of things that I was nitpicky about in Series 11 that look like they are slowly being resolved. The TARDIS playing a significant part as it used to is much appreciated, the Doctor taking charge and being clever is wonderful – I’m also liking how they’re leaning into the Doctor-as-inventor characterisation in this series. She’s feeling like the Doctor a lot more now, balancing humour with seriousness and I love it.

Queen of Skithra: Have you ever seen a dead planet?
The Doctor: I’ve seen more than you can possibly imagine.

Hooray for wearing period clothing. About bloody time.

2. Dressed to Impress

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