Doctor Who: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

That title’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

This fourth episode this season is a solid entry. In terms of its structure, its pacing and its form, it resembles nothing so much as a Russell T Davies-era outing. Which, I think, is a good thing. For a change, the Doctor is active throughout, confident and capable. She actually scores a few wins this time out, which was great to see. The rest of the cast is in fine form, looking good in their period gear even though once again they really don’t have all that much to do this time out. Yaz is the most utilized, which is good as she’s the character most often waylaid in previous weeks. But I wish she got just a few more moments that were truly her own, ones that could help define her character better.

And that, I think, is my problem with the three-companions concept–it’s not so much just with the numbers splitting the focus, it’s also with the fact that, given that limitation, nobody has quite been given enough individual definition beyond the skills of the various actors. We know that Yaz is a policewoman in training–why don’t we ever see those skills in evidence? And why did she choose to become a copper? What drives her, what is she interested in, what is she afraid of? In previous seasons, I feel like I had at least some handle on questions such as these when it came to the Doctor’s companions, but with this group, nobody has truly tackled them to my satisfaction and succeeded in making any traits part of the characters. Ryan’s aphasia, for example, as virtually been a non-issue since the opening of last season–if that’s a condition that he struggles, with, then dammit, let us see him struggle with it!

The guest cast was good this time out, and it was relatively limited so we weren’t pulling that much time away from the regulars. Goran Višnjić gave a lovely performance as Nikola Tesla, a man whom history would pass by. I found that I wish had done a bit more with the fact that the Fam characters are aware that all of Tesla’s activities aren’t going to lead him to the success he’s looking for. I was put in the mindframe of the Vincent Van Gogh episode from long ago–I feel like there’s a greater sense of tragedy there that could have been mined more thoroughly; it’s touched upon by Yaz and the Doctor right towards the end, but I feel like there was more that could have been done with it.

I also had a bit of an epiphany halfway through the week concerning an element of the show that I hadn’t considered before. And that’s the music. While it’s been uniformly good throughout, there’s something missing, and I’ve finally honed in on what it is: the Doctor, this Doctor, no longer has a signature theme. All of the previous ones did, and its use was one of the cues that the Doctor was either doing or about to do something magnificent and cool. But Jodie doesn’t really have a theme (or if see does, it’s subtle enough that it hasn’t made any impact upon me.) So instead of the clockwork energy of Capaldi’s theme or the manic zaniness of Matt Smiths, or the grandiosity of David Tennant’s theme, Jodie’s actions are accompanied by regular incidental music. I’m a big believer in the power of the regular bit of key music–I wish that Marvel Studios would employ such themes more often (and how much mileage did they get out of the Avengers theme in the last two movies, eh?) So consider this my demand and desire for this series: Doctor number 13 needs a hero theme!

Also, in terms of stupid things that likely don’t bother anybody else but me: was anybody else troubled over the past few episodes when the Doctor either called people or took a call on a cellular phone in a time period without any cellular network? Yes, I know it’s all magic Gallifrey time travel technology, yes I know Christopher Eccleston made Rose’s cell phone able to call through time. But it still bugs me here, especially when the technology is used so frivolously (and none of the native characters so much as even asks about it.)

The Skithra looked good, although they looked so much like the Racnoss (as most people watching te series trailer at the start of the season thought they were) that I wonder why the production team didn’t just make the leap. They wouldn’t really have had to change the make-up at all. Anjli Mohindra chewed the scenery as the Skithra Queen in much the same fashion that Sarah Parish did more than a decade ago. If nothing else, she came across like a Doctor Who villain given that delivery.

So a solid effort. Not a home run, but a decent base hit. The pace was good, the production looked nice, and the Doctor was in better form than usual.

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

  1. Weeks behind, I like that I am able to share my own thoughts here. I understand your need to find at least something notable, but this episode once more showed me how flawed the basic approach (and possibly abillities) of the current writing team are. I had a chance to see a youtube video with the ‘best monologues of the doctor’ and they all shared one thing: the monologues were all about himself, about how he could understand everyone (from Vincent van Gogh to a living sun) because of all he has done and seen. It is not enough to have a doctor who can run around and be in charge of the action – this version may know more than her companions (but never more than me, which makes me think the companions are just dumb), but she never solves a situation be understanding something or someone. This may be why she is more for a current audience: she only comments on everything. Understanding is no longer an issue. But when previous doctors showed understanding they moved us, where this one just remains outside of everything.

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