Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror was the fourth episode of series 12 of Doctor Who.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

New York City, the turn of the 20th century. For Nikola Tesla, his grand ideas for revolutionising electricity and communication are proving to be a hard sell to the public. His business rival, Thomas Edison, may not want him to succeed, but surely even he cannot be behind the sudden appearance of hostile alien scavengers? The Thirteenth Doctor and her friends are about to find out.

Plot[edit | edit source]

From in front of Niagara Falls at the start of the 20th century, the inventor Nikola Tesla introduces a group of men to a new method of harnessing electricity. Moving inside his laboratory, he demonstrates to them a wireless electrical system. The group is impressed until he admits he needs an investment of $50,000 to continue. An investor called Brady recalls Tesla's claims of receiving a signal from Mars and backs away from the deal. As the lights flicker, a man enters to declare an emergency.

Tesla and his assistant, Dorothy Skerrit, discover a dead man nearby. She believes he may have been killed by Tesla's apparatus, so he sets to work on it alone. That night, he realises some parts had been stolen and discovers a small green orb floating. Hearing mysterious noises, Tesla and Dorothy attempt to hide from a figure that turns out to be the Doctor. However, she is interrupted by the appearance of Brady with a gun, but he is shot by a laser bolt. The Doctor shows an escape route to Tesla and Dorothy.

Finding a passing steam train heading to New York City, the group enter to find Graham, Yaz, and Ryan in period costume. The Doctor explains they were visiting the area when she picked up a strange energy reading that led her to Tesla. Realising who Tesla is, she introduces him to her friends. As the Doctor calls him "a big fat liar", the train jolts and a figure with an energy weapon breaks in. The Doctor uses her sonic screwdriver on the door and they run, but Ryan halts at having to jump between the train carriages. Eventually making it through, the being drops through the ceiling. The Doctor grabs its weapon, it generates lightning in its hand, and the Doctor separates the cars. Revealing its face with glowing red eyes, it turns out to be another of the investors from Tesla's presentation, but the carriage drifts away. The Doctor reveals his weapon to be Silurian made and confronts Tesla over his claims of not having seen anything strange. However, Tesla does not intend to hand over the orb to her. As a result, the Doctor promises to not let him out of her sight.

Arriving in New York the next day, the Doctor's friends discover a crowd of protesters gathered against Tesla and his attempts at using AC electricity, which they deem too unsafe. They enter his office as Tesla leaves to start hitting things nearby. Dorothy lets the Doctor and friends enter Telsa's lab, where the Doctor explains his history to her friends. Tesla finally shows the Doctor his orb, which the Doctor identifies as an "Orb of Thassor" - belonging to one of the ancient races who created them to share their knowledge. However, it appears to have been modified at some point. As the Doctor scans it, Tesla takes interest and bonds with her over also being an inventor. As they talk, Dorothy enters with a letter from a Mr Morgan explaining he is pulling his funding from Tesla's Wardenclyffe project. Just then, a camera goes off at the window which Dorothy places on an employee of Tesla's long-time rival, Thomas Edison. Wondering what he could be after, the Doctor, Graham, and Ryan go to visit him while Yaz stays behind with Tesla and Dorothy.

Visiting Edison as he gives a speech about the dangers of AC, the Doctor manages to convince Edison about getting his hands on alien weapons and they head inside. Walking through a significantly more advanced laboratory than Tesla's, Edison denies wanting to steal it from Tesla as he has enough products of his own. Edison explains that he gave Tesla his first job in the US, but upon not giving him the payout for his work, he quit, started work in digging ditches, and has been bitter ever since.

Meanwhile, Yaz asks Tesla about his Wardenclyffe project, and he explains his plans to be able to transmit all of humanity's knowledge wirelessly, although he has no investors. In Edison's lab, two men argue about building parts and a piece drops to the floor. As one of them bends down to get it, the red-eyed figure appears and electrocutes everybody else standing up in the room. Just as the man steps up, he is spotted.

Edison begins to theorise that the Doctor is hired by Tesla to sabotage his tracking of Tesla's work as the red-eyed man enters. Edison recognises him as one of his workers but the Doctor realises he has no human readings. As he attacks, the group flees and discovers the human he took his appearance from, dead in the lab. Edison is upset but the Doctor refuses to let him shoot the red-eyed creature. Instead, she asks for zinc. In Tesla's lab, he hooks the orb up to his work station and confirms it is emitting too much energy. He and Yaz consider it is scanning for something. As the Doctor's group hides, she uses the trail of zinc to trap the creature behind a wall of fire. Asking it to reveal its true form, its face distorts and it disappears.

The Doctor's group runs down the street as the Doctor phones Yaz to update her. Before Yaz can lock the doors, Dorothy enters, being held hostage by two of the killed men, both with glowing red eyes. The creatures explain they do not want the orb but came for Tesla instead. As they reach out, the two creatures, Yaz, and Tesla vanish and land in a darkened large room full of giant scorpions. Spotting their leader, a female and more humanoid scorpion, she welcomes Tesla by name.

The Doctor retrieves her TARDIS with Graham, Ryan, and Edison in tow and picks up Dorothy from Tesla's lab. Inside, the Doctor attempts to bypass the aliens' cloaking technology while Dorothy and Edison take in the sights. The Doctor realises the orb has been hacked to receive information about the period and it has been searching for Tesla. Meanwhile, Tesla discovers he is in the throne ship of the Skithra, high above New York, and he is talking to their queen. As she reveals she is responsible for his mechanical parts disappearing, she orders him to get to work on her ship and weapons. The Doctor searches for a trail to follow, leading Dorothy to remember Tesla's claims of a signal from Mars. She states they need to travel to Wardenclyffe.

At the lab in Wardenclyffe on Long Island, where Tesla has already moved some of his work, the Doctor and company find the "Teslascope" that he discovered the signal with. As Graham and Edison argue, the Doctor finds the signal readout.

On the Skithra ship, Yaz and Tesla examine some equipment. Doing so, the queen states Tesla must use his engineering prowess to prepare them for battle, but he refuses. The queen commands her legions to kill Yaz. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds a "Braxium Bouncer, Mark III" in her toolbox for her to reach the ship with. However, she acknowledges she cannot get them back until it recharges but tries to make the group not worry. As the queen prepares to kill Yaz, the Doctor appears and stops her. She realises the ship and most of the technology on it has been stolen from other races, which is why the queen needs an engineer to fix it. The queen states that she chose Tesla because of his intelligence and the fact he answered back to their call - something he did not realise worked. As the Doctor carries on talking, she distracts the Skithra with a simple camera just as the bouncer recharges and the three are teleported out.

In Wardenclyffe, everyone reconvenes, with Tesla shocked to see Edison in his lab. With Tesla following everyone else into the TARDIS, the Doctor uses the orb to talk to the Skithra Queen and tells her to leave Earth, but she responds that she will have Tesla or the Earth will be destroyed. Overwhelmed, Tesla leaves again and the queen sends her disguised minions to find them.

Tesla finds himself saddened at how he has to turn himself in and his plans for inventions will never be realised, but the Doctor refuses to let him and tells him to explain the Wardenclyffe project. She realises it could be used to generate a single bolt of lightning and hit the ship. Edison, however, dismisses the idea and he and Tesla argue about their respective ideologies. As Graham breaks them up, the Doctor concocts a plan: she and Tesla will finish the Wardenclyffe tower as she extends the TARDIS shields, Edison and Yaz will clear the streets, while Dorothy, Graham, and Ryan will work up materials to defend themselves.

Yaz attempts to generate panic on the streets to no effect, so Edison helps by playing on the public's existing fear of Tesla's experiments. Meanwhile, Graham and Ryan look through Tesla's inventions and find a "prototype death ray" as the Doctor plugs the TARDIS into the tower. As a disguised Skithra appears in the streets, Edison pulls out a pistol and attempts to shoot it. However, several more in their scorpion forms appear and start chasing them. Yaz and Edison find a hidden door leading them back to Wardenclyffe.

The two arrive just as a large group of Skithra amass at the shields and the lab is boarded up. Although outnumbered, the Doctor plans to take out the queen to ruin the species as they work as a hive. However, once the tower powers up, the shields will drop thirty seconds before it fires, leaving the group to fend the Skithra off themselves. As the tower charges up, the Skithra begin attacking the lab, but the Doctor receives a signal as the Skithra stop attacking. With the prototype death ray failing, the Doctor realises she cannot attack the queen on the ship because she has landed at Wardenclyffe instead.

With the queen immediately disarming Edison, she threatens the group, but the Doctor puts herself first, having committed to defeating the Skithra as they were already given the chance to change. The Doctor attempts to take the bouncer, but she is apprehended by a disguised Skithra and it is given to the queen. However, the Doctor reveals this was part of her plan; throwing off the Skithra and sonicking the bouncer, the queen is teleported back to her ship with the rest following. Tesla activates the tower and the Skithra ship is electrocuted, leaving them no choice but to fly away.

The next day, Edison admits to Tesla how impressed he is and offers him a chance to work for him again, but Tesla turns him down. Meanwhile, the Doctor and friends say goodbye to Dorothy. Although Yaz is convinced these events will change history and make Tesla more famous, the Doctor reveals that time stays as normal - Tesla will be forgotten and die penniless, though his actions remain and his inventions change the world. Tesla arrives and begs the Doctor to look at the TARDIS, but she convinces him that his inventions are more important. He agrees and, thanking the group, says that no matter what anyone believes, he will always work for the future. As he leaves, the Doctor leads her friends towards the very future Tesla helped shape.

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Story notes[edit | edit source]

  • The official synopsis dates this story to 1903. However, this date is not given in the episode. The Thirteenth Doctor describes Nikola Tesla as "an inventor from 1900" when questioning why the Skithra sought him out. As, historically, the tower at Wardenclyffe was completed in 1902, the story is likely set in 1903 and the reference to 1900 was intended as an approximation. Indeed, a newspaper image is briefly seen in the episode that dates Tesla's discovery of the transmission from "Mars", some months earlier, to 1903.
    • The letter from J.P. Morgan refusing to fund Tesla was historically received on July 14, 1903. According to reports, that night Wardenclyffe tower "came alive shooting off bright flashes lighting up the night sky", which does seem to confirm the story as happening at that time.
    • PROSE: History's Finest eventually confirmed that the Doctor's encounter with Tesla took place in 1903.
  • Robert Glenister, who plays Thomas Edison, previously appeared as Salateen in the 1984 serial The Caves of Androzani, making him one of the select few actors to have appeared in both incarnations of the programme.
  • Anjli Mohindra, who plays Queen Skithra, was a member of the main cast in the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures. She played Rani Chandra from 2008 to 2011. This is Mohindra's first appearance in televised Doctor Who.
  • Bradley Walsh and Anjli Mohindra have worked together before on the Sarah Jane Adventures serial The Day of the Clown. In that story, Walsh played the story's antagonist, Elijah Spellman. This story sees their roles reversed with Walsh now playing a companion and Mohindra playing the villain. Mohindra said that, even though she and Walsh had worked together before, he did not recognise her due to her excessive make-up. She initially believed he was merely joking with her but it was only when he asked to see a picture of her so he could say hello to her if he passed her in the street that she realised he was being serious.[1]
  • Although newspapers in the real world did cast reports on both Tesla's and Edison's views, the newspaper used in the episode, New York Bugle, was never a real-world paper, nor were the headlines "Tesla: I Heard Message From Mars" and "Edison: Shut Down Tesla". The closest possible real-world connections would be newspapers New York Herald and New York Times, both active at the time.
  • A sign in the story says Night of Tesla Terror, a play on the title Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror.
  • It is unlikely that Edison would have procured a pistol as he was noted for his anti-violence beliefs.
  • In the real world, Tesla was not the sole inventor of the radio, the technology having been worked on both before and after his work on it.

Myths[edit | edit source]

The Racnoss would return. This was proven false.

Ratings[edit | edit source]

  • 4.04 million (BBC overnight)[2]
  • 5.20 million (BBC final)[3]

Filming locations[edit | edit source]

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Production errors[edit | edit source]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

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Continuity[edit | edit source]

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