Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror (TV story)

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


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.


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 have 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. Brady is suddenly shot by a laser bolt, and 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. Suddenly, 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. After Ryan jumps to the next carriage, their pursuer drops through the ceiling, but the Doctor grabs its weapon and the group move to the next carriage, which the Doctor then separates from the rest of the train. The figure generates a ball of lightning from its hand and throws it, but misses its target as the carriages get further apart. Lowering its hood, the figure reveals itself to be one of the investors from Tesla's presentation, but he has glowing red eyes. Now safe, the Doctor reveals the 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 in front of Tesla's lab. They are protesting against his attempts at using AC electricity, which they deem too unsafe. The Doctor and her group move past the protesters and Dorothy shows them the lab while Tesla lets out some of his frustrations. When he returns, Tesla finally shows the Doctor his orb, which she 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, with Dorothy identifying the photographer as an employee of Tesla's long-time rival, Thomas Edison. Wondering what Edison 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 get a private discussion with him after Ryan shows him the alien weapon. Walking through a significantly more advanced laboratory than Tesla's, Edison denies wanting to steal anything 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 in the room.

Edison begins to theorise that the Doctor is hired by Tesla to sabotage his tracking of Tesla's work when the red-eyed man enters, interrupting them. 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.

Back in Tesla's lab, Tesla 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. After she asks it to reveal its true form, its face distorts and it disappears.

The Doctor phones Yaz to warn her not to let anyone into the lab, but before Yaz can lock the doors, Dorothy enters, being held hostage by two of the murdered 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 large darkened room full of giant scorpions. Their leader, a female and more humanoid scorpion, 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 TARDIS interior. The Doctor realises the orb has been hacked to receive information about the time period and it has been searching for Tesla. She 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.

Meanwhile, Tesla and Yaz discover they are in the throne ship of the Skithra, high above New York, and are talking to their queen. The queen reveals that she is responsible for Tesla's mechanical parts disappearing, and orders him to get to work on her ship and weapons.

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 Tesla discovered the Mars signal with. As Graham and Edison argue, the Doctor finds the signal readout.

On the Skithra ship, Yaz and Tesla examine some equipment. The queen states Tesla must use his engineering prowess to prepare them for battle, but he refuses. In response, 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 that it will need time to recharge before she can return. 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, which was proven when answered back to their call - something he did not realise had worked. As the Doctor carries on talking, she distracts the Skithra with a 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 that could 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 on ways 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 and they 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, meaning the group will have to fend the Skithra off themselves.

As the tower charges up, the Skithra begin attacking the lab, but the Doctor receives a signal and 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. The queen immediately disarms Edison and threatens the group. 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 Doctor teleports the queen back to her ship, with the rest of the Skithra 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 allow him a 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.



General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.





Cultural references from the real world[[edit]]

  • Graham calls the train they travel in the Orient Express.
  • The Doctor calls the Queen of the Skithra a queen of "shreds and patches," referencing a lyric from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado.







Story notes[[edit]]

  • 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.
  • In early versions of the story, which was referred to simply as Tesla, Tesla and Dorothy would have left Wardenclyffe after suspecting sabotage, eventually meeting the Doctor's group on the train. A group of aliens called simply 'the Scorpions' that could possess humans into becoming 'Electric People' would have appeared.
  • A recorded but unused scene showed the Skithra attacking Dorothy, rendering her unconscious until Edison realises that only one of Tesla's prototype inventions could restart her heart.


The Racnoss would return. This was proven false.


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

Filming locations[[edit]]

(All DWM 570 supplement)

Production errors[[edit]]

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.

to be added


Home video releases[[edit]]

DVD and Blu-ray releases[[edit]]

  • This story was released as part of the Complete Twelfth Series boxset on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1/A on 9 June 2020, in region 2/B on 4 May 2020 and in region 4/B on 3 June 2020.

Digital releases[[edit]]

  • In the United Kingdom, this story is available on BBC iPlayer.

External links[[edit]]