***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***
I actually don’t have much to say about this episode. It’s a perfectly serviceable story in the now-solidified “New Who” formula: the Doctor meets a famous person from history and helps them defeat an alien threat. “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” is a good episode, it doesn’t fumble any of the balls it’s juggling the way the previous episode, “Orphan 55,” did, but it’s not all that memorable. Well, there is perhaps one thing that stands out in the episode: Goran Višnjić. His portrayal of Nikola Tesla is charming and charismatic. You can see why his assistant Dorothy is so fond of him!
The joy in both the Doctor and Tesla at meeting a fellow scientist/inventor is contagious and makes for a lot of fun. The rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison makes for good television. Unfortunately, I thought a lot of Graham’s jokes fell flat this time around, which is a shame because Graham is usually pretty funny. When Tesla and Edison are arguing at one point, Graham tries to get their attention by shouting, “Oi, AC/DC!” But it’s more an eye-rolling line than a hilarious one. On the other hand, Nina Métivier’s script manages to find something for all three companions to do, which is no small achievement.
The villain is an odd choice. The Queen of the Skithra looks so much like the Racnoss from the 2006 Tenth Doctor episode “The Runaway Bride” that I’m left wondering why they didn’t just make her a Racnoss instead. I’m certainly not against new monsters, but the resemblance is so striking it left me wondering why they bothered making her a different species.
So yeah, it’s not a groundbreaking episode but it’s not a bad one, either. I think one of the reasons it’s not resonating with me more is that I was so taken with the two-part season opener that featured the return of the Master and his revenge on the Time Lords that these standalone episodes are automatically going to feel like filler to me. I’m dying to get back to that plot line!
There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share for this episode. One of the Skithra is wielding a Silurian blaster, and of course the Silurians have been around since their first appearance with the Third Doctor in 1970’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” (Yes, that’s the actual title it was broadcast under!) The actress who played the Queen of the Skithra, Anjli Mohindra, also appeared as Rani Chandra in the Doctor Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Chronicles (on which, coincidentally, Bradley Walsh also appeared, although not as Graham). Robert Glenister, who played Thomas Edison, appeared on classic Doctor Who as Salateen in the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “The Caves of Androzani.” And finally, Goran Višnjić starred on ER back in the 1990s and 2000s with Alex Kingston, who is known to Doctor Who fans as River Song.