Doctor Who 12×4 Review: “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”
Damn, I really dig this version of the theme song, It gives me old school vibes.
And Goran Višnjić – one of my favorite actors in ER – is in this? I’m already hyped and we’re only 90 seconds into the episode.
Warning: spoilers ahead…
Višnjić plays Tesla, the famous inventor, and the episode doesn’t take long before there’s a death and strange period-appropriate murder machines chasing down the Doctor and company.
Nina Metivier’s script is a love letter to Tesla and his oft-overlooked genius, and the scene where the Doctor and Tesla discuss the challenges and passions of invention is absolutely wonderful. The entire episode is suffused with details and passion on the subject, and the casting and set design are excellent.
The episode also continues the run of having solid, creepy monsters in the Skithra. What appear to possessed human with funky electrical issues gives way to what essentially are space scorpions, and the Skithra Queen’s costume job is impressive. The concept of an alien species scavenging technology and unable to repair it is hardly a new one but is well-implemented here.
What is really moving about this episode are the deeper themes of unfulfilled dreams and potential, often due to our own flaws. The best bits of the episode are Tesla’s quieter moments when reflecting on setbacks and his dreams of a better future at odds with the realities of business and the more savvy Thomas Edison. Who can’t relate to the idea that someone could have been more or done more had they had better luck or opportunities? Tesla is the perfect archetype for this trope and Metivier’s script deftly weaves this motif into the narrative.
The episode is a little darker than what we’ve typically seen out of Chibnall’s run, which seems to be a burgeoning theme this theme. The Doctor’s speech to the Skithra queen about dying forgotten and Yaz’s lament of Tesla’s inevitable fate are thematically consistent with the episode and highlight Metivier’s skills.
The script is also unapologetic in how it portrays Edison’s very American business attitude, and overall the hypocrisy of Americans telling Tesla to go back to his country despite being an American citizen. It’s sadly timely and depressing how much progress America hasn’t made in this arena, and I for one appreciate the pointed jab.
“Nikola Telsa’s Night of Terror” is the best crafted episode so far of Series 12. From the script to cast to visual effects, the episode is a highlight under Chibnall’s stewardship of the series. It doesn’t have the social impact of Series 11’s “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab”, but the very personal focus on Tesla makes it rise above the rest. It lacks a scene such as the climax of “Vincent and the Doctor”, but having Telsa visit the future and see the real impact he wound up having would have been too much of a callback. Leaving on a quieter and more somber note fits the tone of the story, even if part of me was screaming for a similar ending for Tesla. In the end, it was the right choice.