TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 19 January 2020; Running Time: 51m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Nina Metivier; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tim Hodges, Rebecca Trotman; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Amy Riley, James Spinks; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Goran Višnjić (Nikola Tesla), Robert Glenister (Thomas Edison), Anjli Mohindra (Queen Skithra), Haley McGee (Dorothy Skerrit), Paul Kasey (Harold Green), Robin Gulver (Bill Tallow), Erick Hayden (Mr Sorenson), Russell Bentley (Mr Brady), Brian Caspe (Mr Martin), Shaun Mason (Foreman).
      Synopsis: 1903. On the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s generator plant. Who or what is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work? Has he really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison fit into these events? The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham must join forces with one of history’s great minds to save both him and planet Earth.
      Comment: An improvement on Orphan 55, but problems still remain with Chris Chibnall’s vision for the series. The positives include a more coherent story, excellent visuals and convincing production design. The story itself is rather generic, despite the interesting setting in turn of the century (19th to 20th) New York City. Chibnall continues his fascination with lesser remembered historical figures, who are given a platform to raise awareness of their important contribution. This time its Tesla and his innovative use of electrical current. The invading monsters here resemble the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride – substituting scorpion-like beings for spiders – but repeating the Queen of the Hive theme – even down to similarities in make-up design and the way Mohindra’s interpretation closely matches that of Sarah Parish. The story again needs more room to breathe and develop its theme of the competition between Edison and Tesla. There is again too little room for the three companions to contribute to the story effectively and the production team need to see the errors of their way in over-crowding the TARDIS. Whitaker is also partially sidelined here in favour of building up the historical elements in the story and the script gives her little scope to add depth to her performance. The need to cram as many elements into a 50-minute story as possible leaves the thing too crowded to fully satisfy, but there are signs that a strong story may be just around the corner. For me, two-parters are the way forward. Spyfall, despite its flaws, demonstrated this. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a standard Who story told at breakneck speed in a series that is finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate the story-telling strengths that have kept it popular for nearly sixty years.

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