Timestamp #296: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

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Doctor Who: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
(1 episode, s12e04, 2020)

Timestamp 296 Tesla Night of Terror

Two great minds collide at the turn of the century!

The place is Niagara Falls. The time is 1903. The man is Nikola Tesla and he is marketing his new method of harnessing electricity through a wireless system. The assembled group is impressed until he names the price tag of $50,000. That ask is one too far, and an investor named Brady publicly flounces after recalling Tesla’s claims about a signal from Mars. The whole affair is interrupted by the discovery of a corpse nearby.

Tesla and his assistant Dorothy Skerrit wonder if the man may have been killed by electric shock. That night, Tesla realizes that some parts have been stolen and discovers a green orb floating nearby. Tesla and Dorothy find the Doctor, then Brady holding a gun. When Brady is killed by a laser blast, the Doctor helps Tesla and Dorothy escape.

They end up on a passing steam train heading to New York City. After introducing the fam in their period costumes, the Doctor helps everyone escape from a cloaked attacker wielding a Silurian blaster. The attacker is one of the investors from the meeting.

The Doctor explains that her team was visiting the area when they found a strange energy reading that led them to Tesla. When Tesla doesn’t cooperate, the Doctor decides to stick to his side. When they arrive in New York City, they run into a protest staged against Tesla and his science of alternating current. Once past the protest line, the Doctor talks to her companions about Tesla’s future achievements. Tesla eventually shows her the orb, a device she identifies as an Orb of Thassor. It belongs to an ancient race who created it to share knowledge, though this model has been modified.

The Doctor and Tesla bond before Dorothy arrives with a letter from Mr. Morgan, an investor who just withdrew his support. When a spy for Thomas Edison snaps a photo from a window, the Doctor decides to visit the rival inventor. Edison decides to give the Doctor and companions a private audience when confronted with the Silurian weapon, but he denies wanting to steal from Tesla and explains their history together, claiming that Tesla is bitter.

Meanwhile, Yaz asks Tesla about his Wardenclyffe project. He muses about his plans to transmit all of humanity’s knowledge wirelessly – the dreams of databases and mobile phones – but he has no investors to realize his dreams. The orb activates just as the red-eyed assassin arrives at Edison’s facility and electrocutes all of the engineers. Edison theorizes that the Doctor’s team is trying to sabotage his work. They are interrupted by the assassin and flee, realizing along the way that it can mimic people. Specifically, dead people. She uses zinc to trap the creature behind a wall of fire, but it disappears after being confronted.

The Doctor tries to warn Yaz, but Dorothy arrives, the hostage of two assassins wearing dead men’s bodies. The creatures teleport Tesla and Yaz to a room filled with scorpion-like aliens. The Doctor arrives moments later with Edison in the TARDIS and takes Dorothy along as they pursue the aliens. The Doctor realizes that the orb has been hacked to receive information about the period. It has been searching for Tesla, and after Dorothy recalls the claims about signals from Mars, the Doctor sets a course for Wardenclyffe.

The leader of the scorpions introduces herself as the Queen of the Skithra. She has been scavenging Tesla’s equipment and wants the inventor to prepare them for battle. When Tesla refuses, the queen decides to kill Yaz. Luckily, the Doctor arrives with a Braxium Bouncer (Mark III) to teleport the humans home. The Doctor realizes that the Skithra ship is made from stolen tech and the queen needs someone to fix it. Once the bouncer recharges, the Doctor teleports herself, Yaz, and Tesla away.

Of course, Tesla is surprised to find Edison in his private lab. He’s even more surprised by the TARDIS. Once inside, the Doctor issues an ultimatum to the Skithra to leave Earth. The queen sends her disguised minions to find Tesla while he ponders her decision to either take him or destroy the Earth. The Doctor asks him to explain his Wardenclyffe project, realizing that could generate an electric bolt and hit the Skithra ship. Edison disagrees, but the Doctor presses her plan into action.

Tesla and the Doctor work on the tower after extending the TARDIS shields around the area. Edison and Yaz clear the streets while Dorothy, Graham, and Ryan fortify the laboratory. The Skithra attack as the tower charges – there’s not enough energy to keep the shields up at the same time – and the queen lands at Wardenclyffe before the tower can fire.

The queen threatens the group as the Doctor confronts her. The Doctor tries to take the bouncer, but the queen takes it instead. The Doctor activates the device with her sonic screwdriver, teleporting the queen back to her ship. Tesla activates the tower and blasts the ship, forcing the Skithra to teleport back before leaving the planet for good.

As everyone recovers, Edison offers Tesla a job, but Tesla turns him down. Yaz wonders if the events they witnessed will change history, but the Doctor laments that Tesla still dies forgotten and penniless. His inventions still change the world, though, and as the team says farewell, Tesla promises to work for the future.

In what seems to be a better version of the previous episode, we get a good monster mystery with a good historical basis to go with it. The setting of 1903, which is never directly stated in the episode, is an approximation based on events: The real Wardenclyffe Tower was completed around 1902 and was primarily funded by investor J.P. Morgan; the real letter from Mr. Morgan was dated July 14, 1903, and was a refusal to fund Tesla’s project after the inventor changed the project’s scope; and that night, the tower apparently came to life with bright flashes of light.

Indeed, we don’t speak enough about Nikola Tesla. I spent a lot of time learning about him in my physics studies, but the rest of the world thinks more about Thomas Edison when considering electricity. The resurgence of popular interest in Tesla over the last few decades has been amazing to watch.

The villains of this piece, the Skithra, could have easily been the Racnoss. True, the Empress and her people that we met in The Runaway Bride were supposed to be the last of their kind, but this is Doctor Who, where everything is made up and the continuity has been fluid since 1963. The queen was a mindbender since I’m used to seeing actress Anjli Mohindra as Rani Chandra on The Sarah Jane Adventures. She and Bradley Walsh crossed paths in the Whoniverse during The Day of the Clown.

Robert Glenister, the actor who played Edison, is also a familiar face. We last saw him as Salateen in The Caves of Androzani.

I loved the mystery behind the Skithra, and even though they come across as more violent versions of Star Trek‘s Pakleds, the menace and creepiness were a lot of fun. The Braxium Bouncer (Mark III) bit was a nice double-cross in an era where the Doctor seems more reactive than proactive.

All told, I really enjoyed this episode and consider it a great step forward for the season.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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