The Haunting of Villa Diodati

This post contains spoilers for The Haunting of Villa Diodati.  If you’ve not seen it yet, come back after watching!

HoVD Doctor, Mary, Yas

Save the poet, save the Universe.

The Thirteenth Doctor

 

Synopsis

Lake Geneva, 1816.  Lord Byron and the Shelleys prepare for a night telling ghost stories, but their villa seems to have ghostly presences all of its own.

Review

It’s probably to the benefit of this story that it has broadcast on a weekend where the UK has been suffering under the winds and rain of ‘Storm Dennis’ and also that it coincided with the release of another period drama (Emma.)  However, I think that this might just be my favourite television Cyberman story – possibly jointly with World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls.  I love the way that this takes the tropes of a haunted house story and twists them neatly with the inclusion of the Lone Cyberman, and this is certainly the creepiest story of the Whittaker era to date.

Maxine Alderton’s debut story for the show is pretty damned strong.  She does some good initial work, setting up the guest cast of Lord Byron, the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont and Doctor Polidori early on through the cold open, the dancing scene and the scene with Ryan, Mary and Polidori at the piano, allowing everyone a satisfactory introduction.  Byron seems to get more of the lion’s share of the story than the Shelleys though which did bug me a little. The story does revert to somewhat standard haunted house and horror movie tropes, however, I really like the idea of the interior of the Villa being changed to make it into a ‘panic room’ for the Guardian of the Cyberium.  Despite the tone of this story being creepy and grim in places – especially the moment that the Cyberman picks up Mary’s infant son William – there is still some room for humour, with most of these moments being given to Graham, allowing Bradley Walsh to really shine.  These are helped by some good direction by Emma Sullivan, who emphasises gags like the one below with some good visual moments too – the looks that the Doctor and Graham shoot each other are fantastic.  Another example is the look that Fletcher shoots the Doctor when she tastes the dust from the destroyed disembodied hand.  The direction also helps with the fear factor too, which helps give the villain of the piece some real threat.

Yes, because it is a truth universally acknowledged…

Wrong writer!

…that one’s driver will park one’s carriage imprudently too far from whence one is going.

Graham O’Brien and the Thirteenth Doctor

Haunting of Villa Diodati

We get to see the Lone Cyberman, who was first mentioned in Fugitive of the Judoon by Captain Jack Harkness.  The design on this is fantastic giving us a drastically different Cyberman to the ones that we have seen previously.  This Cyberman is incomplete, showing more organic components than we have seen previously from usual Cybermen and this emphasises the body horror that is core to what makes this enemy of the Doctor so scary.  Like with the Daleks, it is good to have a story that stresses that even just the one Cyberman is enough of a threat which this certainly does.  The moment that Mary confronts the Cyberman to try and get him to address his humanity is fantastic and stresses that emotions like love aren’t going to provide us with a simple solution like previously, only for the Cyberman to reveal that he only spared Mary’s son because he’s a “pathetic runt” is really effective.  I like the fact that the Cyberman trying to come back through time is causing things like the weather, but equally the reveal that the ghosts that Graham was seeing weren’t part of this is a really nice moment.

Are you the Guardian?

No sir, I am the valet.

The Lone Cyberman and Fletcher

With regards to the Doctor and her companions, this story puts them into a really interesting place heading into the finale.  The Doctor and her companions are brought into conflict regarding Jack’s message about the Lone Cyberman, with Ryan stating that sacrificing Shelley’s life would save billions, which leads the Doctor into a speech which is probably the best part of the episode.  This really highlights the burden on her shoulders as a Time Lord in trying to weigh up what the right thing is to do, and with the ramifications of letting the Lone Cyberman get what it wants clearly pretty disastrous, the Doctor must be pretty confident in her abilities to atone for her error.  There have been more moments of conflict between the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham this series, which is an improvement on last series.  She did get some lighter material as well and is particularly enjoyable in her scenes opposite Byron.  Meanwhile, the companions do get like some nice individual moments in the story, with Ryan talking to Mary at the piano, Graham’s hunt for the toilet revealing the first moments of the haunting of the house and Yaz with Claire Clairmont.

This enigmatic person of yours – would you trade them for reliable and dull?

My person’s a bit different.

Claire Clairmont and Yasmin Khan

Verdict: A really enjoyable haunted house story with a science fiction twist, The Haunting of Villa Diodati continues a strong second series for Jodie Whittaker and is amongst the best television Cybermen stories. 10/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Lewis Rainer (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Maxim Baldry (Dr John Polidori), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Stefan Bednarczyck (Fletcher) & Sarah Perles (Elise).

Writer: Maxine Alderton

Director: Emma Sullivan

Behind the Scenes

  • The Eighth Doctor previously met Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in The Company of Friends and Mary would become a companion of this incarnation of the Doctor in several Big Finish audio stories.
  • The Doctor mentions having met Ada Lovelace in Spyfall, Part Two.
  • The Psychic Paper is shown not to work at all after getting wet. It’s previously been shown not to work when a lie is just plain unbelievable – like in A Christmas Carol.

Best Moment

The discussion in the cellar regarding what to do with the Cyberium and Shelley – see below.  It’s a great moment which shows how the Doctor’s decision is not simple and I’m intrigued to see how this series will wrap up!

Best Quote

I can’t keep him away much longer.

Then don’t.

Doc!

Stop fighting.  It’s okay.

Jack’s warning!

Jack isn’t here, stuck in a house with that.

Exactly.  You didn’t want us near it a minute ago.

I’ve just been inside his brain.  there’s a super-computer fused to a cerebral cortex.  He’s the only one who knows how to get that out!

Don’t let the Cyberman have what it wants.

I know, because armies will rise and billions will die.

Shelley’s going to die if that stuff stays inside him.

Shelley’s only one life against all those others.

What are you saying?  How can you condemn him to death like that?

But is he, Ryan?  His thoughts, his words inspire thousands for centuries.  If he dies now, who knows what damage that will have on future history?  Wordes matter.  One death, one ripple and history will change in a blink.  The future will not be the world you know.  The world you came from, the world you were created in won’t exist, so neither will you.  It’s not just his life at stake.  It’s yours.  You want to sacrifice yourself for this?  You want me to sacrifice you?  You want to call it?  Do it now.  All of you.  Yeah.  Cos sometimes this team structure isn’t flat.  It’s mountainous, with me at the summit, in the stratosphere.  Alone.  Left to choose.  Save the poet, save the universe.  Watch people burn now or tomorrow.  Sometimes, even I can’t win.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham O’Brien, Yasmin Khan, Ryan Sinclair and Mary Wollstonecraft

HoVD Shelley's Room

Can You Hear Me?

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Can You Hear Me?  If you haven’t seen it yet, please come back after watching!

Can You Hear Me

 

Synopsis

Team TARDIS answers calls for help from deep space, 1380s Aleppo and Sheffield.

Review

Can You Hear Me? starts with an interesting premise delivers some sorely needed backstory for one of the companions and explores an issue that it is clear that Chibnall really likes – the impact of the companions’ travelling in space and time on those left behind in the shape of Ryan’s friend Tibo.  Almost coincidentally, this story has been broadcast at the start of Mental Health Week and does have some messages about mental health and toxic masculinity which are important to hear.

CYHM Zellin

The story starts with the basis of fears and focuses on nightmares as something for the two villains of the piece to prey on and the story does this suitably creepily.  A major factor here is the performance of Ian Gelder as Zellin, who doesn’t do much but laugh softly in the first few moments of his time onscreen, but imbues it with such menace as he appears in people’s darkened flats and the effect used when his fingers disconnect from the rest of his hand is really effectively done.  The threat is helped greatly by the direction by Emma Chambers, and helps to make him and later Rakaya feel like a real threat to both the Doctor and the Universe as a whole.   That was something that was really lacking from Whittaker’s first series and her second has seen a vast improvement in this respect and I especially liked the idea of Zellin being a God that was bored.  Speaking of direction, and to address the point more broadly, I’ve been very pleased with the way the show has played around with lighting of the TARDIS this season, exemplified here by the appearance of Zellin in the control room.  Zellin’s fellow immortal, Rakaya, is equally sinister once freed from her prison, keeping two planets apart that the pair have spent a long period of time trying to destroy.  I do feel that their combined threat is dispatched a bit too easily, having hyped up the ability of the immortals to change their form at will, but are completely undone by the sonic screwdriver.  The creature extracted from the nightmares of Tahira doesn’t look fantastic, sadly, in a story that looks stunning, even if it does contribute to one of the episode’s strongest moments in the cold open.

The use of nightmares as a plot point allows us to see the fears of Ryan, Graham and Yaz in turn, with Ryan fearing the impact his absences are having on his best friend, Graham worrying about his cancer returning and wallowing in his survivor’s guilt and Yaz revisiting her feelings of abandonment after running away from home.  The Doctor is also subjected to this, meaning that we do get a further glimpse of the Timeless Child as well as a reminder of the Master’s message relating to Gallifrey and as we are in the last stretch of this series, it’s nice to get a reminder of where we might be heading in a few weeks time.   Potentially, this story could have been helped by being a two-parter, with the reveal that Zellin has made the Doctor fall into a trap being a cliffhanger, giving the story more time to breath and explore the nightmare and fears in a bit more detail.

CYHM Yaz

It is Yaz’s nightmare that really stands out, with her subconscious mind feeding her an image of her sister Sonya, who we see earlier in the episode celebrating an anniversary (presumably of Yaz coming back home), urging her to ‘do it right this time.’  This is much-needed development for Yaz, who really suffered last series’ focus on Graham and Ryan’s relationship and their grief at the loss of Grace.  This gives us a hint at Yaz’s life before she met the Doctor and before she joined the police, with the arrival of the police officer and the talk she gets, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, inspiring her to potentially become a police officer, although the story doesn’t explicitly state this.  It also allows us to see more of the relationship between her and her sister –  which is really lovely.   Ryan’s nightmares circulate around an Earth on fire and the Dregs from Orphan 55 combined with the struggles that he sees his friend Tibo having at the start of the episode.  Tibo serves to reflect what could have potentially happened to Ryan had he not gone with the Doctor after Grace’s death.  I think this works well too by bringing back a character that we have seen previously this series – Tibo appeared in the opening to Spyfall, Part One as one of Ryan’s friends who he was playing basketball with.  Of the three companions, Graham’s dream scene feels as though it falls a little bit flat and is a bit too predictable, but his talk with the Doctor at the end of the episode is good, even if the Doctor doesn’t come across fantastically in her response to him.

Do it right this time.  I won’t be calling anyone.  No point. You’re weak.  You run. Nobody’s coming, Yaz.  You’re alone in the dark.

Sonya

The story also focuses on an issue which Chibnall seems quite keen to explore, the issue of what happens to those left behind by those who go traveling with the Doctor and the impact of adventures through time and space.  This was previously addressed in The Power of Three, where Amy and Rory had to choose between their lives at home and their lives with the Doctor.  Ryan and Yaz here have a conversation at the end of the story regarding this, which seems to imply that one of them will be leaving at the end of the series.  I think there is possibly too much potential with Yaz, but potentially one or both of Graham and Ryan may be leaving at the end of the series, leaving us with a significantly less crowded TARDIS.  Ryan certainly seems quite shaken up by the events of this episode and his concern for his friend and the life that he is missing out on might just drive him to leave the TARDIS.   These companions are certainly not in the same place they were at the beginning of the series.

CYHM Ryan

Yes! Gods back in their box.  We need to get this back to the monitor platform and all those people out of the TARDIS jacuzzi.  Come on!

Thirteenth Doctor

The Doctor takes a back seat to her companions for the majority of this episode, with the focus on their home lives more, but Whittaker continues to develop her Doctor.  I’ve seen some criticisms of her conversation with Graham as calling her glib and uncaring about his medical concerns which I understand.  Not to say that her reaction is right, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to this incarnation of the Doctor – I can certainly imagine Peter Capaldi or Tom Baker reacting in a similar fashion.  I really liked the fact that the Doctor was at somewhat of a loose end once the companions left until she had a mystery to solve and she was pretty good in her scenes with Zellin and Rakaya and thought that the moments where she forgot – or genuinely didn’t know – she wasn’t with the companions were great.

Verdict: An interesting premise which is largely executed well, but with some niggles.  It is good to see Yaz get some backstory and development here though. 7/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Rakaya), Ian Gelder (Zellin), Aruhan Gailieva (Tahila), Nasreen Hussain (Anita Patel), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Willie Jonah (Old Tibo), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Khan), Sirina Saba (Maryam), Amanda Liberman (Mum), Everal A Walsh (Gabriel), Michael Keane (Fred), Anthony Taylor (Andrew) & Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien).

Writer: Charlene James and Chris Chibnall

Director: Emma Sullivan

Behind the Scenes

  • Ian Gelder previously portrayed Dekker in Torchwood: Children of Earth, as well as playing the voice of the Remnants in The Ghost Monument.
  • The first televised Doctor Who story to feature animation in any form.
  • The Eternals are alluded to in relation to Zellin – the Doctor previously faced off against other Eternals in Enlightenment and Ghost Light and reference is also made to the Toymaker.

Best Moment

Probably the flashback chat between Yaz and the police officer, and the return to give her the 50p.

Best Quote

Now listen to me – Earth is not your plaything.  You’re wrong about humans. They’re not pathetic, they’re magnificient.  They live with their fears, doubts, guilts.  They face them down every day and they prevail.  That’s not weakness, that’s strength.  That’s what humanity is.

The Doctor

 

Praxeus

This post contains spoilers for Praxeus.  If you haven’t seen the episode yet, come back once you have!

Praxeus Doctor

OK.  So with the understanding that was pretty alarming, don’t be overly alarmed.

The Doctor

Synopsis

What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer washing up on a beach on the island of Madagascar.

Review

After the bombastic nature of last week’s story, Praxeus may seem a bit more by the numbers for the Chibnall era, especially with its story evoking contemporary issues relating to climate change and pollution.  In this way, it seems as though the obvious story to compare it to is Orphan 55, however, this feels much more cohesive than the third episode of this series and I generally had a better time watching it.  This story manages a large guest cast better than the former story and I certainly felt much more engaged with this.  It’s not perfect, but it is a good fun romp.

Praxeus Jake

I’ve spoken in reviews of previous episodes how much I have enjoyed the fact that the writers and production team seem to have realised that the companions are allowed to be separated from the Doctor for prolonged amounts of time and this story starts with the companions separated from her from the off.  This allows for interactions between the companions sorely lacking from the last series and having Graham and Yaz being together, with Ryan being on his own did all involved all sorts of favours.  The biggest beneficiary of this is Yaz, who ultimately gets to go off and explore the Praxeus facility under the Indian Ocean, accompanied only by guest travel vlogger Gabriela.  This allows the writers a chance to show how far Yaz has come since travelling with the Doctor and gives her a de facto companion.  Graham continues to be the show’s biggest asset, bringing some light comedy to some darker moments, such as when he is revealed to be holding a device telling him there’s unusual activity on the other side of a wall, only for Yaz to gently reveal that he’s holding the device the upside down.  This fish out of water material does really help endear Graham to the audience, especially when Yaz and Ryan seem much more capable of taking the weird and wonderful life of travelling with the Doctor in their stride.  Ryan also benefits from spending time away from the Doctor, also spending time towards the start of the story with Gabriela in Peru, although there is definitely a lot of repetition of Ryan and guest female characters spending time together, usually on the TARDIS this series, which is starting to show through.  I still think that one member of this TARDIS team will be leaving at the end of this series, although I’m not sure who I want it to be anymore – I was pretty sure I wanted Ryan to leave, but now I’m pretty attached to all three of them.

Like Resolution and Spyfall before it, Praxeus is a story with a global scope and it isn’t afraid to show it off, with the story moving at a pace to match the globe-trotting antics of the Doctor and her friends.  I think the fast-paced start helped me along with the story, although some parts do feel as though they drag, for instance the scene with Ryan and Gabriela in the hospital.  There is also a sizeable guest cast here, but they do feel as though they get enough time to be fully rounded.  Warren Brown’s Jake is particularly interesting as a policeman on sabbatical, who feels out of place when compared to his husband, the missing ESA astronaut Adam and their relationship really does come front and centre in the closing moments of this episode.  I was quite happy that they didn’t go for the inevitable step of killing one of them off, which would have felt like a major misstep to me.    Gabriela starts off as pretty annoying but I did begin to warm to her by the episode’s conclusion, whilst Suki Cheng’s about-face was suitably surprising, although I did feel that the death of Aramu, her assistant, wasn’t really handled terribly well.  I did like the fact that the Praxeus infection had come to Earth from an alien civilisation who wanted to use Earth as a petri dish, and the Doctor’s outrage at this was suitably well played by Jodie Whittaker.

I’m a sucker for a scientist.

The Doctor

The Praxeus infection is well brought to life by some great special effects and good direction, which makes the infection feel like a real threat.  The birds carrying the infection are suitably creepy – there is certainly something unsettling about birds moving in a flock like they do here.  Even though the cause of their infection is undeniably Earth-based, the fact that the Praxeus infection has been brought by an alien influence makes this story potentially more palatable than the Dregs in Orphan 55.  The scaling effect of Praxeus is really nicely done and the way that its victims explode certainly makes it memorable.  It almost goes without saying in this era, but the show looks absolutely beautiful, with the show making full use of filming in South Africa again.

Praxeus Gabriela

Verdict: A strong outing albeit with some reservations but good FX work and a story with something for all of the main cast and guest cast to do! 8/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), Molly Harris (Suki Cheng), Joana Borja (Gabriela Camara), Gabriela Toloi (Jamila Velez), Soo Druet (Joyce), Tristan de Beer (Zach Olsen) & Thapelo Maropefela (Aramu).

Writers: Ed Tighe and Chris Chibnall

Director: Jamie Magnus Stone

Behind the Scenes

  • This isn’t Warren Brown’s first role in the Doctor Who universe, as he plays Sam Bishop in the modern UNIT Big Finish series, as well as previously having appeared in Industrial Evolution and Signs and Wonders and the Jago and Litefoot story Dead Man’s Tales.

Best Moment

I think the moment with Graham having the device the wrong way up in his hand is probably my highlight.

The VFX effects used for the Praxeus infection are also pretty good.

Best Quote

THAT’s why you smell of dead bird! I though you’d changed your shower gel.

The Doctor

Closely followed by:

Didn’t teleport into an active volcano! Result!

Yasmin Khan

Praxeus Doctor - infected

Fugitive of the Judoon

This review contains spoilers for Fugitive of the Judoon. If you have not seen it yet, please return once you have watched it!

Fugitive of the Judoon

Synopsis

The Doctor and her companions are drawn back to Earth when the Judoon start to attack Gloucester looking for a fugitive.  Can the Doctor protect the city?

Review

We’ve reached the mid-way point of Series 12, and goodness gracious, this episode certainly teases of big reveals to come.  We had the surprise return of a fan favourite character, which would in any other circumstances be the headline here, however, other revelations come to light which means that it pales into insignificance.  This review will be getting into some serious spoiler territory, so please look away now if you haven’t seen it yet!

Going into this story, we knew that we were getting one returning alien in the shape of the Judoon.  The rhino-headed ‘trigger happy’ police mark their first major appearance since their debut, and they really form a sort of narrative shorthand here which allows the story to progress.  Despite being the titular antagonist, they do seem to disappear from the narrative for quite a large period of time and their defeat in this story seems largely rushed – at some point I thought that I’d missed the announcement that this was a two-part story.  Still, it’s nice to see them return and we get some insight into how their society works when Ruth breaks the horn off the lead Judoon.  I suppose, unlike the Daleks or the Cybermen, they don’t have so many avenues to go down and it is difficult to find something different for them to do – but I do quite like the fact that they immediately think that they will get paid twice for accidentally delivering two Doctors!

FotJ Doctor

Something that took me quite by surprise was the return of Captain Jack Harkness!  Part of me had written off ever seeing Barrowman return to Doctor Who so it is great to see him back.  It took me by surprise so much that I did not recognise his voice when Graham appeared on the stolen ship.  It’s a shame that we did not get to see him interact with the Doctor, but I do get the feeling that he’ll be back and his conversations with the companions is great fun – more like his initial appearance in The Empty Child than some later era Torchwood.  With his dire warning delivered to the companions of the threat posed by ‘the Last Cyberman’, this could be seen to be a bit derivative of the ‘You Are Not Alone’ message delivered to the Tenth Doctor by the Face of Boe, however, it is probably a wise move to tease another returning monster.  The door is certainly left open for Jack’s return and given Barrowman’s fondness for both the show and the character, I can’t see it being long until we see the immortal former Time Agent returning.  The one thing I would say is that his little subplot did not contribute too much to the story, but it’s nice to be reminded that this character is out there in the universe getting into trouble!

 Just tell her this.  I’ll see her again.  Maybe not soon.  When she needs me, I’ll be there.  In the meantime…tell her…beware the Lone Cyberman.  You don’t know what a Cyberman is yet, do you?

No.  What are they?

An empire of evil…in ruins right now…brought down to nothing…finally.  But that could all change if she doesn’t listen to this message.

Captain Jack Harkness and Ryan Sinclair

Then we come to the reveal of something potentially huge.  The mild-mannered Ruth is revealed to be an earlier incarnation of the Doctor, and going from her TARDIS interior, it is possible that she is an incarnation predating William Hartnell’s incarnation.  That being said, this all might be some level of subterfuge and this particular individual might just be an imposter.  I personally saw the twist of the Doctor using the Chameleon Arch coming a couple of miles off, but I was unsure about which other Time Lord either Lee or Ruth may be. There was some misdirection, especially when the Doctor discovers her TARDIS buried underground and Ruth opening a box containing a laser rifle, which was really well directed.  Nida Manzoor deserves plaudits  We also encounter another Time Lord in the form of Gat, and it is nice to see a minor Gallifreyan appear as an agent of a mysterious higher power, also from the past.

The Doctor and her companions spend a lot of this episode separated here, which I feel might be preparing us for an impending departure of one, some or maybe even all of them.  As with the majority of this series, I feel that there is enough to warrant having three companions and the story uses this well, to allow us to spend enough time with the Doctor and Ruth before the episode’s big reveal and equally we don’t feel shortchanged with the amount of time we spend with Jack.  It is important for the story for Ruth to feel like a real person, so the delving into her ‘fake’ past is necessary for the audience to buy into her as a character, and the misdirection that Lee is the fugitive is given enough weight to feel potentially viable. When the Doctor and her companions are reunited, we get one of the most affirming moments for this TARDIS team.  I really like the fact that we are starting to see a different side to this Doctor, evidenced when we see her snap at her companions at the beginning and the end and her malaise seems to be showing no signs of ending.  I’m not the biggest fan of Ryan, but his speech to the Doctor at the end of the episode is really well delivered by Tosin Cole and it’s possible that I’m warming to him – maybe just in time before he potentially leaves?

FotJ Gat

Verdict: A really enjoyable return for the Judoon which sees the return of another familiar face and a mindblowing twist.  9/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness). Jo Martin (Ruth Clayton/The Doctor), Rita Ayru (Gat), Neil Stuke (Lee Clayton), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Michael Begley (All Ears Allan), Judith Street (Tourist), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Judoon) & Simon Carew, Richard Highgate, Richard Price and Matthew Rohman (Judoon).

Writer: Vinay Patel & Chris Chibnall

Director: Nida Manzoor

Behind the Scenes

  • John Barrowman returns to Doctor Who for the first time since his cameo in The End of Time Part Two in 2010.
  • The Judoon made their debut in Smith and Jones, and would have brief cameos in The Stolen EarthThe End of Time, The Pandorica Opens, The Magician’s Apprentice and Face the Raven.
  • The Judoon Captain is named as Pol-Kon-Don in honour of Paul Condon, BBC online producer and convention organiser who sadly passed away in 2019.

Best Moment

The moment that Graham arrives on the ship that Jack has stolen – and we hear that voice.

Best Quote

Time is swirling around me.  The Master, Captain Jack Harkness, Ruth.  Something’s coming for me.  I can feel it.

Let it come.  You’ve got us.

Ryan…I’ve livevd for thousands of years, so long I’ve lost count.  How long have you been here?  You don’t know me.  Not even a little bit.

Don’t talk to him like that!  

Yeah, I’m not having that.  We do know who you are.  You’re the woman that brought us together, the woman that saved us and loads of other people.  You’re the Doctor.  Whoever you were in the past or are in the future, we know who you are right now.  Right?

Right!

The best person we know.

And whatever is coming for you, we’ll be here.  Cos we’re your mates.

Well, not just mates.  Family.

The Doctor, Ryan SinclairYasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien

 

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

This review contains spoilers for Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror. If you have not seen this story, please come back after you have seen the episode!

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror

If I’d known we were getting a royal visit, I’d have put the kettle on.

Thirteenth Doctor

Synopsis

In 1903, the Doctor and her companions are drawn to strange alien signals surrounding Nikola Tesla. What do the Skithra want with him and has he really discovered a message from Mars?
Review

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror shines the light on one of history’s forgotten figures and plunges it into the current war and throws an extra-terrestrial threat in the form of the Skithra. In that way, it feels like a standard “celebrity historical” episode, like The Shakespeare Code or The Unquiet Dead before it, however, the fact that the story is less convoluted than some of others in this series so far does not mean that it is not enjoyable.

One of the highlights of this episode is the performance by Goran Visnjic as Nikola Tesla and part of this is down to the fact that we spend the opening minutes of the episode with the inventor and his secretary, Dorothy, before the Doctor and the alien elements are introduced. This helps us to care about the character in what is quite a sympathetic portrayal of Tesla, similar to that of Vincent Van Gogh in Vincent and the Doctor. However, unlike Vincent, Tesla is a character who could be argued to be history’s forgotten man, with his greatest invention erroneously credited to others. The underlying message of the story relates to realising your full potential, and Tesla is possibly a perfect candidate to be front and centre here. The moment that he realises that the Doctor created her sonic screwdriver and that she is an inventor too is really nicely played and for once, it is nice to see someone as excited to meet this Doctor as she is to meet them. He is a man who is infinitely curious, seen by his responding to the message from Skithra and is seen to be fully ahead of his time.

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror Edison

Edison, on the other hand, is portrayed in a different light. He is a character who is broadly played as a bit of a fool, with a hint of jealousy that the Skithra have chosen Tesla over him to aid them. It is a nice performance from Robert Glenister, who is seen to soften in some good scenes with Yaz, especially on the streets of New York that hint at something more under the surface but he is quite an antagonistic character. Tesla is deservedly the focus of this story, with Doctor Who using its educational remit to shine a light on his inventions.

The aliens of the piece are the Skithra, whose Queen at least looks and acts like a relation of the Empress of the Racnoss. Whilst the Queen’s performance may be seen by some to be quite overplayed, it didn’t really bother me too much, whilst the scorpion-like Skithra were quite effective. The scenes where the aliens chase Yaz and Edison through the streets of New York seem very realistic and the prosthetics used for the Queen were quite effectively done. There is a parallel drawn between the aliens and Tesla as the Doctor states that the Skithra will be forgotten as they have not made a contribution, while arguably, Tesla is largely forgotten for his contributions to some of the most important discoveries of the 20th Century and beyond, perhaps bringing home the tragedy of Tesla’s death in poverty. I’m not a fan of the whole ‘hive mind’ solution to the plot though, as I feel that this contradicts what we see earlier on in the episode where the Queen kills one of her kind for interrupting her, and that whole ‘destroying the Queen will destroy all the Skithra’ feels like a quick fix for a story that’s really well-paced on the whole. I have seen some criticisms of the Doctor for blowing up the Skithra’s ship in the closing minutes, however, unlike previous occasions, the Doctor has sufficient evidence to suggest that they aren’t going to be dissuaded from taking Tesla or destroying the Earth in order to make the solution sit slightly better with her character.

The Doctor and her companions work quite well here. Jodie Whittaker continues her positive development of the Thirteenth Doctor, with a particular highlight being her response to the Queen Skithra regarding planets burning. Her enthusiasm for meeting historical figures is great, and although I did rather enjoy the fact that this got subverted when she was excited about seeing Tesla’s lab, only for the reality to be quite disappointing! Graham is great as usual, and I like the fact that, although he’s now been travelling with the Doctor for some time, he still finds the experience so utterly bewildering. His dynamic with Edison was interesting, with Graham not trusting Edison one jot. Yaz is good in her scenes with Tesla and, once they’ve been kidnapped by the Skithra, calm in a crisis, whilst Ryan does feel like he doesn’t do anything here, but his chat with Dorothy in the TARDIS is really nicely written and performed.

Verdict: Nina Metivier’s debut story is quite a fun and straight forward romp around the ‘Current War’. Elevated by decent guest performances by Visnjic and Glenister, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a pretty strong celebrity historical. 8/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Goran Visnjic (Nikola Tesla), Robert Glenister (Thomas Edison), Anjli Mohindra (Queen Skithra), Hayley McGee (Dorothy Skerritt), Eric Hayden (Mr Sorenson), Shaun Mason (Foreman), Robin Guiver (Bill Tatlow), Brian Casper (Mr Martin), Russell Bentley (Mr Brady) and Paul Kasey (Harold Green)
Writer: Nina Metivier
Director: Nida Manzoor
Behind the Scenes

  • Robert Glenister previously appeared in The Caves of Androzani opposite Peter Davison’s Doctor, meanwhile, Anjli Mohindra previously played Rani Chandra in The Sarah Jane Adventures, appearing opposite David Tennant in The Wedding of Sarah Jane and Matt Smith in The Death of the Doctor.

Best Moment

Edison trying to find common ground with Tesla, talking about the impossibility of the TARDIS, only for Tesla to reveal that he completely understands how the dimensions work.
Best Quote

Just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own.

Yasmin Khan

Nikola Tesla - protest