Giant alien scorpions came for Nikola Tesla in last night’s Doctor Who, so far the best episode of the new season but still well below average for the series as a whole. The conflict between Tesla and Edison is portrayed somewhat effectively even if the episode’s attempts to simplify the drama indulge in significant mischaracterisations.
Once again, the episode’s highest point is in its guest star, in this case Goran Višnjić as Nikola Telsa. He’s no match for David Bowie’s take on Tesla in The Prestige but he does a good job conveying the man’s passion and bitterness.
Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) are especially pointless in this episode, their doofusy one-liners never passing as comedy. Yaz (Mandip Gill) is decent enough as someone for the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to explain things to but one still misses companions with a spark of their own personality.
The episode’s conclusion brings to mind “Vincent and the Doctor” as the Doctor tells Yaz about how Tesla’s vision would be unappreciated in his own time but would have a profound effect on the future. Except, unlike with Van Gogh, the Doctor’s reasoning is tenuous as the episode attempts to argue that Tesla invented wi-fi. I suppose this is an attempt to dumb things down for kids watching whose concept of the Internet is shaped by how they connect to it when at a coffee shop. The makers of the show apparently had no faith viewers would appreciate an inventor’s theories about radio waves.
Edison (Robert Glenister) is presented as the villain in the conflict between the two, signified by the fact that Edison’s the only one who thinks to use a gun against the giant scorpions, but fundamentally the episode’s argument that Tesla can only have worth if one can directly point to some specific, profitable invention of his in use to-day is, essentially, the philosophy Edison espouses in the episode, delivered in petulant villain tones by Glenister. Of all the problems with the Thirteenth Doctor era, the impression that it has no idea what it’s trying to say is the most pervasive. Though the wasted space companions is a close second.