Empress Of The Skithra
The great thing with setting such a low bar is that whatever comes next will inevitably be better. Doctor Who returns this week for a much-improved slice of sci-fi, one that finally gives the Doctor some creative and intelligent characterisation and successfully picks up the shattered remnants of the show and delivers something that actually resembles one of the Doctor’s adventures.
The episode begins with Nikola Tesla introducing his electricity to a group of investors who decide it’s far too fantastical to invest. When one of the workers is killed by the electricity, Tesla hides away when a mysterious assassin arrives until the Doctor shows up and immediately helps the others run away on a train to New York. After introducing themselves and educating the companions on who Nikola Tesla is, they continue running until the Doctor unhooks the train carriage and leaves the hooded figure stranded.
Questioning Tesla and his assistant, they all arrive in New York dressed to impress…apart from the Doctor who decides to stay in her normal attire. They make it to Tesla’s lab where he shows her the Orb Of Thassor, an object that helps spread information. Afterwards we receive more background behind Tesla who discusses his world-view, which mirrors that of the Doctor too. Harold Green, someone who works for Edison, snaps a photo of Tesla in his lab, prompting the Doctor and her companions to question Edison over what he’s doing.
At the lab the creature from earlier arrives and blasts everyone with red lightning. It turns out this creature is impersonating the form of Harold Green and as the Doctor arrives, she tries to talk to it but when that fails, she’s forced to run. Eventually they manage to trap the red-eyed menace, prompting the Doctor to again ask what it wants. Whatever the creature is, there’s more than one and they grab Tesla, transporting him to their ship as Yaz reaches out and finds herself teleported too.
A ship full of scorpion-like creatures called the Skithra are the ones responsible for the hijack and as the Queen reveals herself (in an outfit that looks very similar to the Empress of Racnoss) she reveals that they’ve grabbed Tesla in order for him to repair their ship. It turns out the creatures have also hacked the orbs and in order to find him, leading the Doctor and his group to hurry down to Tesla’s workshop. She grabs a teleporter and makes her way into the ship where she addresses the Skithra personally and finally acts like the Doctor, questioning what the Skithra need and distracting it long enough to transport Tesla and Yaz back to the workshop again.
As the episode reaches its dramatic crescendo, the group work together to power up the tower while Yaz and Edison clear the streets. The Skithra arrive and chase them while at the tower even more show up but thankfully a shield keeps them at bay. While the Doctor prepares to attack, she suddenly realizes that the Queen isn’t on the ship anymore and is actually now down on Earth.
The Doctor then finds herself face to face with the Queen, where she’s caught off-guard as she asks whether the Doctor’s ever seen a dead planet. It’s something that hits really close to home and as she picks up a contraption from the side, the Doctor manages to outsmart the aliens and traps them on their ship as she blasts it with the ray from the tower. With the threat averted, the Doctor and her companions say goodbye to Tesla where the episode ends.
What’s this? No agenda-driven writing? A fun and interesting episode chock full of action and comedy? The Doctor actually talking to the creature rather than running away or fighting? Is this 2006? In all seriousness though Doctor Who, for the first time in a long time recovers well from the disaster last week to finally deliver something that actually feels worthy of the prolific time lord’s name.
While the jury is still out for the companions and their one-dimensional character arcs (three companions is far too many, we need a death to tighten up the group), Whitaker’s hyperactive, bouncy take on this character is finally given enough scope to actually slot into that Doctor role. It’s not perfect, and the inconsistent script writing is again a real issue, but last week appears to be a blip in what’s otherwise a pretty enjoyable episode. Let’s hope this keeps up for next week too.
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