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Doctor Who Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Review by Paul Bowler
The Doctor and her companions travel to 1903 in Series 12‘s fourth episode, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, at the edge of Niagara Falls where something is going very wrong with Nikola Tesla’s generator plant. It seems someone, or something has been sabotaging the inventors work. So has Tesla actually received a message from Mars, and how does his rival, Thomas Edison fit into such a bizarre series of inexplicable events? With the world facing imminent peril the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham have no choice but to team-up with one of histories most maverick inventors if they are to save him and planet Earth!
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is an engaging and exciting addition to Series 12 written by Nina Metivier and directed Nida Manzoor – who are both newcomers to Doctor Who. Indeed, Doctor Who’s historical adventures are often at their most captivating when they are focusing on the somewhat lesser known, though still eminently significant historical figures. So this episode featuring the inventor and “Father of Electricity” Nikola Tesla is a terrific showcase for a man that has sometimes seemed overlooked by the history of science.
This story really gives Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor a chance to shine as the Time Lord gets to meet Nikola Tesla, brilliantly played by ER’s Goran Visnjic, who is in competition with his famed rival Thomas Edison (played by Robert Glenister who first appeared in The Caves of Androzani as Salateen in 1984), and the episode also features Canadian writer and actor Haley McGee as Nikola Tesla’s assistant, Dorothy Skerritt. Nina Metivier’s excellent script cleverly captures the rivalry between these two enigmatic inventors, and it skilfully weaves it into an exciting Doctor Who adventure bursting with insightful and exciting moments.
Tesla’s struggles to gain investors for his Wardenclyffe Project and an accident at his generator plant at Niagara Falls leads to the discovery of a strange floating orb, and with the Doctor’s impromptu arrival its not long before the sparks really begin to fly! When an alien using a human image and brandishing a Silurian weapon strikes, the Doctor, Tesla and Dorothy Skerritt flee with the Time Lord and her companions to New York where the orbs secret is soon revealed. Built by an ancient race of inventors and explores, the Orb of Thassor was created to share their vast legacy of knowledge and discoveries throughout the entire cosmos. Now the orb has been hacked and reprogrammed by the aliens disguised in stolen human images for their own nefarious reasons.
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror gives the Time Lord’s companions plenty to do as well, and its nice to see Tosin Coyle, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh getting a good share of the action in this episode as Ryan, Yaz and Graham take in the period setting of this adventure. The Doctor and her friends investigation leads to Tesla’s rival, Thomas Edison getting caught up in the action. The scenes involving Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are a joy to behold, especially when they get to travel in the TARDIS and Tesla is quick to grasp the concept of the time machines startling interior dimensions; unlike his rival who just sees an opportunity to make a quick buck from the experience. Fortunately Graham is on hand to quickly put Edison in his place!
Filming for this episode took place on the New York City set at Nu Boyane Film Studios in Bulgaria, with the set suitably dressed for the period, it further heightens the smoky industrial tone of the story. The setting of the golden age of New York provides a stunning backdrop for this adventure to play out against, the cast deliver great performances all round, and Nida Manzoor’s terrific direction perfectly balances the high-stakes drama and action.
It seems Tesla has been targeted by the scorpion-like Skithra, a species that have a nasty habit of stealing tech and faces. When Tesla and Yaz are teleported to the cloaked Skithra Throne Ship hovering over New York they are confronted by Queen Skithra, played by Bodyguard’s Anjli Mohindra. The monstrous scorpion creature believes Tesla is an engineer with superior intelligence because he responded to the Skithra’s signal (which inadvertently made Tesla think he’d received a message from Mars), and she intends to force him to use his knowledge to repair her ships stolen technology. Using a handy portable teleport device the Doctor rescues them and returns to Wardenclyffe for an electrifying showdown with Queen Skithra!
As historical Doctor Who stories go this one is right up there with some of the best the modern series has produced. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a superlative mix of bold ideas, exquisite costumes, great special effects, and music. Jodie Whittaker is on fine form as the Doctor, she has some wonderful scenes with Goran Visnjic who is superbly cast as Nikola Tesla, and Robert Glenister is also excellent as Thomas Edison. I really liked the interaction between the characters in this episode, especially during the build up to the face-off with Queen Skithra at Wardenclyffe with everyone splitting up into three teams to complete essential tasks, and there’s a great moment where the scorpion-like Skithra chase Yaz and Edison through the streets.
There’s also a great confrontation between the Doctor and Queen Skithra, where the scorpion Queen asks the Doctor if she’s ever seen a dead planet, an especially pertinent aside from the alien in light of what has recently happened to Gallifrey and the Time Lord is visibly moved as she briefly reflects on what has happened to her homeworld.
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror felt like a very traditional kind of Doctor Who story. It was full of exciting action, had a great period setting, and boasted some of the finest characterisation we’ve seen in far in Series 12. Queen Skithra was dispatched in a rather predictable way at the end, but that’s only a minor quibble in what was otherwise a superbly written and directed episode. Indeed, Tesla’s own story forms a poignant epilogue for the episode, and it’s a moving, beautifully uplifting closing scene. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror was an electrifyingly good Doctor Who adventure, it ticked all the right boxes, and is easily the biggest highlight of Series 12 so far!
Images Belong BBC
About The Author
Hi, I’m Paul Bowler, blogger and reviewer of films, TV shows, and comic books. I’m a Sci-Fi geek, a big fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek, movies, Sci-Fi, Horror, Comic Books, and all things PS4.You can follow me on Twitter @paul_bowler,or at my website, Sci-Fi Jubilee, and on YouTube and Facebook