This was about the most entertained I’ve been by Doctor Who probably since Chris Chibnall took over. I still think The Witchfinders and It Takes You Away are the episodes to beat, but the one thing I can say about Nina Metivier’s script is that it was fun. Sadly, elsewhere there are plenty of flaws, but let’s try and be positive, eh?

This doesn’t try and reinvent the form in any way. The Doctor and her new celebrity historical pal team up to rid the Earth of aggressive aliens. Good. That’s the kind of story you can tell in 45 minutes. It should work – and by and large – it does. Tesla is an interesting figure, his rivalry with Edison gives the narrative a few millimetres of depth, and it’s perfectly understandable that the story didn’t want to go into Tesla’s misogyny or views on eugenics.

And you can’t say it’s slow and boring either. It’s a – sometimes bewildering – whirlwind of narrative beats, flinging us from Niagara Falls to Wardenclyffe to the Orient Express (for some reason) to the Skithra ship while viewers struggle to catch a breath. And director Nida Manzoor tries, and largely succeeds, to give the breakneck narrative some quieter moments to breath in.

There are two big problems with this episode as a whole. Even for a space-adventure-romp kind of story, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and often what is said does not match what is depicted. The Skithra are scavengers (or at least, this lot are). They don’t really know how to work their stolen technology and it keeps on breaking, meaning they have to find someone skilled to repair it for them. You might think that it’s in their inability to maintain their weapons and means of transport that the seeds of their destruction will be sown, but this isn’t the case – indeed what we actually see is all of their tech working flawlessly first time, every time.

The first mis-matched piece of tech they are seen brandishing is a Silurian weapon, which the Doctor diagnoses as “alien”. The trouble is that the Silurians are native to Earth and ruled the planet 70 million years ago. Does that make the Skithra time-travellers as well? If so, it doesn’t come up again. And then – rather than kidnap a scientist at the same time as they are making off with all of this hooky gear – they pick a barely technologically advanced planet and zero in on one inventor virtualy at random. Tesla could no more fix their devices than my cat could change the oil in your car.

And why do they bother making bad copies of the people they kill? They can’t pass as the people they are duplicates of, and they never try to. The scorpion versions look great, but if they aren’t interested in pretending to be humans, why do they ever bother with this kind of disguise? And the plan to deal with them is a bit ho-hum as well. It’s the latest in a long line of big zappy tower things – see also Partners in Crime, The Vampires of Venice, The Idiot’s Lantern and probably more besides. And again, what we’re told doesn’t match up with what we see. First we’re told – again, yawn – if we kill the Queen, then all her brood will die too. Then, the Doctor – who hates guns – turns Tesla’s mast into a great big gun to blast the Skithra ship out of the sky. Then, what in fact happens is that teleporting the Queen back on board her own ship causes all of her brood to teleport back with her. Huh!? And then the zappy thing just looks like it makes the Skithra ship go away. A pretty poor solution, as – whether it makes sense or not – Rani from the Sarah Jane Adventures cos-playing as Queen of the Racnoss seemed very keen on Tesla, so she’ll probably be back in ten minutes or so.

Now, to be fair, a lot of this is fridge logic, and on first watch, it all goes by so quickly, that not all of this niggles. The playing of Goran Višnjić and Robert Glenister is strong enough and the twist that the Queen isn’t on board the ship do work well. What did not evade me on first watch is that whereas two weeks ago, two famous women from history can’t be trusted to keep their traps shut without being mind-raped by the Doctor, this week, two famous men from history can see the inside of the TARDIS, meet aliens from other planets, handle and inspect off-world technology and be left at the end of the story with all of their memories intact.

But the biggest problem with this story is that the regular cast just troops around after the Doctor with no stake in the plot at all. There’s an attempt here to make the interaction with Tesla and the Skithra to mean something to the Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker plays the “dead planet” line beautifully. But it never really works. Are we really supposed to buy the Doctor – who stole a TARDIS from Gallifrey – having the murderous moral high ground over the thieving Skithra? But at least there’s a nod in the direction of who the Doctor is. With the other regulars, they are just along for the ride or doing dad jokes in the background. Graham’s gun doesn’t work, Yasmin can’t get people off the streets without Edison’s help, Ryan as usual, might as well have not bothered turning up.

In fact, if you’re interested, here’s the whole episode with every single line from the companions cut out. Doesn’t hurt it in the least. I could probably have lost all of Dorothy Skerrit’s lines too, if I’d tried.

To be clear, I don’t really blame Metivier for this. What’s she supposed to do, after fourteen full episodes have resolutely refused to give these three anything remotely resembling characterisation? Suddenly giving them recognisable human failings and desires would jar, but apparently she’s not allowed to write any or all of them out, so she shoves them to the fringes of the narrative and concentrates on the guest stars. I might well have done the same thing.

So, overall this is decent. After the slurry of the last few weeks, that seems like a relief, but this would be a run-of-the-mill episode in any of Series 1-10. This is at the level of The Long Game or The Lazarus Experiment or Cold War or Time Heist. Why do I have a nasty suspicion it’s going to prove to be the highlight of this season?

3.5 out of 5 stars