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!
If I’d known we were getting a royal visit, I’d have put the kettle on.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own.