I was so happy to see the Doctor and friends go on an adventure with Nikola Tesla this week. It was a real treat, and a major step up from last week. I enjoy when Doctor Who takes the time to give us a glimpse into the lives of historical figures, especially when it’s someone under-appreciated.
We began this episode with the great inventor himself, Nikola Tesla. He is trying (and failing) to obtain investors to work on his next project when tragedy strikes. A man is found dead, seemingly electrocuted. Blame is immediately cast upon Tesla’s equipment. A mysterious man with shocking powers attacks. Fortunately, the Doctor arrives and helps Tesla to escape via train. It turns out that she was in this time and place hunting for a strange energy signature. What follows is a fun trip down a rabbit hole of aliens, rivalries, and electricity.
Nikola Tesla was truly a brilliant man in real life. Over the last few years, I think his name has seen greater recognition than it has in the past (due in no small part to the car company). But, I’m glad for any effort to provide the public with knowledge of his work. Everyone knows Thomas Edison. While he certainly contributed value to the world, he paled in comparison with Tesla. I love that this episode bore tribute to that.
This week’s adventure reminded me a lot of a classic Matt Smith episode, “Vincent and the Doctor.” In that story, the Doctor and a companion travel back in time and meet Vincent Van Gogh. He was a brilliant artist and a true genius but the people of his time didn’t recognize it. He was also troubled by an extraordinary monster. The writers used the show to help me gain an appreciation for Van Gogh that I did not previously have. I was certainly aware of some of his pieces through cultural osmosis, but I didn’t know much about him or the work that he did. Vincent may not have been properly understood as the wonder he was by his contemporaries, but it’s important for us to remember him now. I hope this same principle applies with Tesla to viewers of this week’s Doctor Who adventure.
There were solid performances all around for this episode. I wish Nikola Tesla could have been played by David Bowie again, as he was in The Prestige, but Goran Visnjic performed the role admirably. I did find his mustache a bit funny looking. The rest of the make up and costumes were great. I especially loved Graham’s bowler hat.
I’d also like to quickly mention the music. Doctor Who is often blessed with an excellent score, and this week was no exception. I found that it was rousing when it needed to be, and contemplative when it was called for. For some reason it just really stood out as lovely this week.
I really enjoyed that Yaz was able to get some solid screen time. She has been too often under-utilized throughout her time in the TARDIS. It was great that she was able to help Tesla examine the alien orb and realize that it was a scanning device. She asked exactly the right question by wondering what it was searching for. I always love when the companions do more than go along for the ride.
I appreciate that the Doctor got a little bit angry this week. Over the course of the story, we learned that an alien race of hideous scorpions called Skithra are trying to kidnap Tesla. When the Doctor thwarts their plan, their Queen threatens to obliterate all life on Earth. She then has the temerity to ask whether the Doctor had ever seen a dead planet. Jodie Whittaker really showed the subtlety she can bring to her role as a flash of pain, anguish, and anger tore across her face. But only for a moment. The Doctor immediately regains her composure and channels this energy into formulating a plan. She transports the Queen back to her ship and then Tesla blasts the ship with a bolt of TARDIS-powered lightening. The Skithra quickly retreat, but it doesn’t seem like they were killed. We could easily see them again one day.
The Skithra were a highly appropriate enemy for this episode. Tesla’s greatest enemy in real life was Thomas Edison. Edison was not a good person, as far as I can tell. One of his flaws was that he would take the inventions of others and release them as products under his name. Unlike the Skithra, he did produce inventions of his own, but he also took from others. The Skithra travel the galaxy conquering and stealing. They have fundamentally given up all desire to invent, tinker, engineer, and create. They want only to scavenge. They steal the tools and weapons of others and use them for personal gain.
This is really the message of this episode. Don’t be like the Skithra. Be like Tesla. Live for the future. Live to make the world a better place. It’s possible that you will be unappreciated but it’s still worth doing. The power of the mind to create is the greatest gift that man has, we must not squander it.