‘Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror’ introduces the Doctor to Tesla and Thomas Edison. One of the hallmarks of ‘Doctor Who,’ besides a base under siege and running down corridors, is meeting historical characters. And really, you can’t do a show about time travel without bumping into some famous people from the past. This week it’s Nikola Tesla, brought to life by Goran Višnjić (‘ER,’ ‘Timeless’), and Thomas Edison as realized by Robert Glenister (who also appeared in Peter Davison’s final outing as the Fifth Doctor).
Tesla and the Doctor
Višnjić’s portrayal of Tesla is a sight to behold. The chemistry between Jodie Whitaker and he is healthy, leading to one of the better realized historical characters of the last few years. You’ll almost wish he could join the TARDIS team, nevermind the implications to the order of history. He even comes with a companion in the form of Dorothy Skerrit (Haley McGee.) She gives us one of the best explanations for why you stick around someone like Tesla. Or as Ryan and Graham realize, someone like the Doctor.
The Business of Edison
The rivalry between Tesla and Edison is on full display in the episode. While writer Nina Metivier and Višnjić bring an excellent depth to Tesla, the same isn’t the case for Glenister’s Edison. He instead is a little flat as the archetypical business villain. The portrayal here feels a bit more like a missed opportunity. This episode could have been ‘Doctor Who’s first actual historical since 1982’s ‘Black Orchid.’ Edison is more the entrepreneur here, appearing to take credit for other people’s work more than the inventor he was. Having the Doctor around to settle a pivotal event between Telsa and Edison could have been much more interesting than the underwhelming alien threat-of-the-week.
The Queen of the Skithra
Where to even begin with the Skithra? I find it a little hard to believe that the design, especially that of the Queen (Anjli Mohindra, ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’), wasn’t directly taken from the Racnos of ‘The Runaway Bride.’ Did the production team lose the right to use the Racnos after it was too late to change the look and performance? Whatever the case may be, the Skithra offers little in the way of threat.
Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror?
Their initial appearance in the episode is somewhat more threatening. The Skithra are capable of taking on the visage of humans they had just dispatched. So Tesla and Edison find themselves under attack from those who seemed to be on their side. Unfortunately, their actual appearance is a CGI scorpion. The Doctor and Tesla decide they can eliminate the threat by zapping the Queen because of their hive mind. This idea might have played pure, except there is nothing in the episode to support that. One of the human appearing scorpion drones gives information to the Doctor and gets assassinated for it. The scorpions continuously run into one another in a later chase scene. Not exactly the best representation of a group of minds working as one now, is it?
“The future, for which I have really worked, is mine”
The lack of suspense from the Skithra could have ranked ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terrors’ a little lower in my mind, but the performance of Goran Višnjić saves the day. Hopefully, we’ll get to see him return to the TARDIS someday, even if only in audio adventures like so many other popular characters. The episode is an improvement over ‘Orphan 55,’ but would do better to trust it’s characters to form a moving story.