Doctor Whosday – S12 E4 “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”

The Doctor and Fam meet with the Man Who Invented the 20th Century.

SUMMARY

Nikola Tesla (Goran Višnjić) and his aide Dorothy Skerritt (Haley McGee) are attempting to gain funding for a new project, but is interrupted by reports of a problem at the Niagara plant. After finding out that parts are missing, Tesla finds a small glowing orb and sees a humanoid figure attack him. He, along with Ms. Skerritt, are rescued by the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), who reveals that the orb is an alien device. The Doctor, Tesla, Skerritt, and the Fam (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill), get attacked by the same figure, but they manage to escape. Following Tesla to his New York office, they find that Tesla is being protested by many people and spied upon by agents of Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister). 

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Hey, it’s image recognition on a Tesla that actually works!

The Doctor confronts Edison, only for the same mysterious figure to appear and kill everyone in Edison’s lab except the man himself. They manage to trap the figure, who is revealed to be a giant scorpion in a bodysuit. The Doctor tries to warn Yaz and Tesla of the threat, but they’re abducted. The scorpion creatures are revealed to be a race of interstellar thieves known as the Skithra, ruled over by a queen (Aniji Mohindra). They’ve been tracking Tesla to try and have him repair their ship, choosing him because he was the only scientist able to detect their signal. The Doctor pulls Tesla and Yaz back from the ship and uses Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower to shoot beams of electricity to drive off the Skithra’s ship. Yaz is saddened to learn that Tesla’s future is unchanged by the events of the episode, and that he still died penniless and mostly unappreciated. 

END SUMMARY

Much as how the last episode felt like a poorer version of “Voyage of the Damned,” this episode feels like a poorer version of one of the figure-centric episodes like “Vincent and the Doctor” or “The Girl in the Fireplace” and suffers from the exact same problem as the last one: Nothing ever makes the impact it should. The episode constantly feels like the team is running from place to place only for the Doctor to deliver a short exposition about its importance or the importance of the people in it. While the Doctor usually explains things to companions, this episode felt a lot like overkill in that department, mostly because she was talking AT the listeners like they were audience surrogates, rather than WITH them like they were characters in the same scene. 

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They literally run down all the stuff that exists in New York at this time period.

What may upset me the most is that I was seriously anticipating this episode. Nikola Tesla was an underappreciated genius who either did, or was rumored to have done, some of the craziest stuff in the history of science. There is so much you could work with in an episode like this that would be both interesting and potentially scientifically accurate, but this time they focused instead on his relationship with Thomas Edison. Now, it’s hard to talk about Tesla without bringing up Edison, due to the confirmed occasions in which Edison screwed Tesla over, the most famous of which was not giving him a promised $50,000 reward mentioned in this episode. But it would have been so much more interesting to just focus on the mind of a mad genius, rather than have to bring up and explain an already-existing conflict and try to show it and also the alien plotline. Instead, we basically just get a pair of half-portraits of the good parts of Tesla and the bad parts of Edison. Rather than seeing them as people in the episode, they’re both just the archetypes the writers wanted to associate with them.

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Even while Edison is trying to help, he has to slander Tesla.

Now, Thomas Edison, while a giant d*ck, was not a total villain. He got his start in technology by rescuing a small child from a runaway train, leading the boy’s father to give him a job at the telegraph office, which allowed him to fund independent experiments in chemistry and electricity. He invented a ton of devices and was one of the first people to encourage funding of science for the sake of science. Unlike Tesla, Edison vowed never to make weapons or sell them, believing that non-violence was the only correct way to resolve conflict (something this episode directly contradicts).  Tesla, while he did have much more noble goals in regards to helping the world through his research, also believed in some less-progressive ideas, like eugenics. They both are extremely interesting people because they were so complicated.

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Reminder: The guy on the right tried to make a Death Ray, not a Hug Ray.

This episode just feels like another missed opportunity. I like the message that the episode takes against people like the Skithra who just use the work of others rather than producing themselves, but it gets muddled when you have to exposit it, rather than let us feel it. Despite the fact that Tesla was, in many ways, a sympathetic character, I don’t think they ever do more than have him try to get “genius” or “impressed” moments. You know, some people who were important also had things they liked outside of those things, guys, or they talked about them with passion and dedication. This episode just felt flat on that account. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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