February 26, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Doctor Who “Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror”

The Doctor, her companions, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison need to work together to stop some alien scavengers.

Huh.  I thought there was something familiar about that evil alien monster at the center of this episode.  Turns out it’s the same actress who played Rani over on The Sarah Jane Adventures.  That’s pretty cool.

Granted, she was wearing a lot of prosthetics, so I have no idea how I recognized her at all.

Well, it’s time for the Doctor to meet and gush over another historic figure, and this time it’s Nikola Tesla, the inventor who, um, even the Doctor admits never actually invented much.  But he’s a brilliant mind with a lot of great ideas.  He just lacked the funding and such to see his ideas through to the end, especially with a certain Mr. Edison’s goons breathing down his neck.

So, it would be a bit of a surprise to Tesla and his plucky female assistant when both the Doctor (and friends) and an assassin of some kind that looks like one of Tesla’s recently killed investors all show up at about the same time.  The assassin isn’t human.  OK, neither is the Doctor, but that doesn’t matter much.  There’s a chase on a train, the Doctor manages to get everyone off, and it’s back to Tesla’s lab where they spot an Edison spy and decide to go talk to Edison.

OK, to cut to the chase a bit, I would have thought that any portrayal of Edison in an episode where Tesla is set up as the hero would be a very negative one, and to be fair, Edison doesn’t come off completely well as a man more interested in profit than anything else.  But despite all that, and even with Graham to more or less pegging why the guy is sending spies around Tesla’s lab, Edison actually isn’t a villain here.  The real baddies kill all of his lab employees at one point, and Edison isn’t happy about that, and he does help the Doctor and Tesla foil the baddies in a smaller way, using his fame and rep at one point to get a street cleared before aliens invade.

See, it’s Doctor Who, so of course there are aliens.  These aliens are the Skithra, scorpion-like beings that can take a more human form to hunt for Tesla (or Edison) to do services for them.  The Doctor onboard their ship more or less figures out what they are:  scavengers.  They have a lot of advanced tech the Doctor recognizes.  But it’s from a lot of different civilizations and it’s breaking down.  They also aren’t exactly pacifists like Tesla, a man who refuses to build weapons but will go with the Skithra and their nasty Queen Rani because she’s threatening to destroy the city below them otherwise.

Apparently, just because you can swipe a lot of alien tech, that doesn’t mean you know how to fix it when it wears down.  Tesla might be able to do that.  The Doctor, meanwhile, won’t let them.

There does seem to be another theme to this Doctor:  all kinds of bad guys seem to underestimate her and assume she’s not that smart for some reason.  She’s not playing dumb like some past Doctors.  They just assume the motormouthed woman is somehow less intelligent than she actually is.  The fact that she gets a little miffed every time that happens is a nice touch.  Some Doctors might have gotten outright offended at that idea.

But no, Tesla and the Doctor build a machine to blast the Skithra ship with lightning while Edison and the companions slow the aliens down.  There’s some stunts involving teleportation as the Queen assumes the Doctor would be foolish enough to try and do the same trick twice (the Doctor most assuredly is not), and in the end, Edison will offer Tesla a job, Tesla will decline, and Yaz will learn that Tesla will still die penniless despite saving a whole lot of lives, but his ideas will live on.

Didn’t Amy Pond need to learn the same lesson about van Gogh?  Well, yes, but this episode’s final reveal still had a very different tone, and there were more defeated aliens in the end.  I’ll call that a win.