Thursday, January 23, 2020

Doctor Who 12x04 Recap: “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” (Thomas Edison is a Bad Guy but not THE Bad Guy) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”
Original Airdate: January 19, 2020

At Niagara Falls, Nikola Tesla shows off his newest inventions to a group of investors who, though awed, are put off by his request for $50,000. It doesn’t help his pitch that Tesla has recently said he received contact from Mars. And then one of his workers turns up dead. So it’s not the best investment pitch. While investigating how the worker died, Tesla discovers there are parts of his machine missing and a strange alien orb floating around his generator. When he hears more strange noises, he pockets the orb, grabs his assistant Dorothy, and hides.

Right about then is when the Doctor bursts in. She’s been tracking a strange energy signal. One of Tesla’s investors is shot dead by an unknown creature in a cloak. The Doctor, Tesla, and Dorothy escape to a night train where the rest of the Fam is waiting. But the creature has followed them. They’re just able to escape and the Doctor glimpses a very human-looking hand under its cloak and steals the attacker’s gun (a Silurian blaster). The alien is actually Tesla’s dead employee, now with glowing red eyes and energy powers. 

Knowing that Tesla found something, the Doctor tries to convince him to hand over the orb but he refuses. So Team TARDIS has to stick around with the inventor for a while. Outside his lab in New York, Tesla deals with protestors, stirred up by rival Thomas Edison, who think his inventions are dangerous. He gives the Doctor the orb after all and she identifies it as an Orb of Thassa, a species all about invention. The orb is supposed to spread information but it’s been repurposed somehow. While puzzling over it, the Doctor and Tesla bond because they’re both unusual inventors believing in something beyond Earth. Unfortunately, Tesla’s ambitions are stymied by a lack of investors and Edison’s constant smear campaign.


The Doctor’s working theory is Edison is somehow behind the attacks on Tesla, so she goes to visit the man himself. He’s intrigued by the blaster but seems innocent of cooperating with aliens to beat Tesla. The same cloaked figure from the train kills everyone in Edison’s lab with a burst of energy. It then possesses one of Tesla’s employees and tries to attack the Doctor, Edison, and the others. As they run out, the Doctor realizes that alien is assuming the form of dead people to conceal its true self from them. Meanwhile, Yaz and Tesla connect wires to the orb and discover it is scanning all around them.

Two of the aliens take Dorothy hostage to force Tesla to cooperate. He and Yaz are teleported to a ship that’s hovering cloaked above New York. There they meet the Queen of the Skithra, a race that takes technology and resources from other races. Now they want Tesla to repair their ship and build them new weapons. Initially, he seems compliant until Yaz convinces him to resist. This act nearly gets Yaz killed but thankfully the Doctor has been busy. Realizing the orb was sent to specifically find Tesla, the Doctor uses it to locate the Skithra ship. Then she builds a transporter to get her there and bring Yaz and Tesla back.

So the Doctor interrupts Yaz’s execution but now must stall for time as the transporter recharges. Luckily, the Doctor is really good at talking and distracting. She manages to get the three of them to Wardenclyffe Tower, Tesla’s true lab. But the Skithra aren’t done yet. Either they get Tesla or they kill everyone on Earth. He’s ready to give himself up but the Doctor thinks they can fight. Tesla explains that Wardenclyffe Tower is essentially WiFi and that sparks a thought in the Doctor. They can use the tower to zap the Skithra ship with enough energy to send them away.


Everyone prepares for this plan but there’s one major issue: in order for the TARDIS to send enough energy through the tower, it has to lower its shields, which are the only thing keeping the Skithra from killing them all. They all agree to fight long enough to kill the Skithra queen on the ship, knowing the others will flee. But when the aliens burst in, they don’t attack and the queen isn’t on the ship. She’s right there in the lab. The Doctor tricks her into taking the transporter from earlier, thereby sending her back to the ship after all. Tesla zaps the ship and all of the Skithra are teleported back before the ship blasts off into space.

After saving the world together, Edison tries to make amends by inviting Tesla to come work for him again. But Tesla, despite knowing his inventions will likely bankrupt him, would rather keep working independently. Yaz is disappointed that Tesla’s heroics won’t change his future, which is to die penniless and largely forgotten.

Final Thoughts:

  • This was a more familiar Doctor Who episode with somewhat silly aliens, a historical place and people, and a lot of technobabble to save the day. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a little bit bored the whole time. There’s an emotional component missing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It is very telling that once again, the companions don’t really have anything to do, especially once Dorothy, Tesla, and Edison all join the adventure. 
  • There is some commentary in this episode about the treatment of immigrants and the power of innovation over stealing others’ ideas but it’s very unexplored. Mining these issues more deeply might have made for a richer plot.
  • “The internal dimensions transcend the external” is Tesla’s way of saying, “bigger on the inside.”


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