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To quote the title of an Eighth Doctor Big Finish production, we are back on terror firma.
After last week's lackluster episode, this week gave me the two things I love most in Doctor Who: a historical episode, and an alien Big Bad doing the crazy-eyed most.
"Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror" stars Goran Visnjic as Nikola Tesla, a genius history was unkind to until only as recently as the 1990s. This episode celebrates him while depicting Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) as a thieving d*ck. For obvious reasons, this is my favorite episode in years.
This post contains spoilers for Doctor Who Season 12, Episode 3, "Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror."
The episode follows Tesla as he is judged and disbelieved by the frightened, science-questioning people of his time, right down to his real-life efforts to communicate with Mars. In this episode, however, he connects — and responds — leading to the titular horrors that threaten to undo the entire world.
These evils are the work of Queen Skithra (Anjli Mohindra, better known as Rani Chandra from The Sarah Jane Adventures) serving Sarah-Parish-as-the-Empress-of-Racnoss realness, doing the absolute whole entire most in her heavily made-up and prosthetics-laden role. She is a scorpion queen who cannot do so they steal from better beings, including Nikola Tesla. The Doctor, however willing Tesla is to sacrifice himself to save the world, won't let that happen. While Ryan, Yaz, and Graham have limited things to do, they do so with aplomb and very excellent period-appropriate attire (Yaz in Victorian dress is a sight I didn't know I needed but MY GOD I did).
"Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror" is one of only a handful of Doctor Who episodes both written and directed by women, scribed by Nina Metivier and directed by Nida Manzoor (in fact Chris Chibnall's run as showrunner has presented two episodes featuring both a female writer and director, the first time on Doctor Who since the '80s). They walk that line historical Who episodes often cross — the Doctor doesn't inadvertently inspire Tesla (as previous seasons have done as jokes — I'm looking at you, "Shakespeare Code" — and as the 13th Doctor avoided in last season's potentially incredibly problematic but ultimately powerful Rosa Parks episode). Rather, the episode just relishes in the greatness of the subject and exists around him. The Doctor saves the day, but not at the expense of the memory of a true icon.
This episode is fun, smart, and everything we love about Doctor Who. Here's to many more.