'Doctor Who' Season 12 Episode 4: The real story of inventor Nikola Tesla and the Wardenclyffe Tower

'Doctor Who' Season 12 Episode 4: The real story of inventor Nikola Tesla and the Wardenclyffe Tower
(BBC and Wikimedia Commons)

In the fourth episode of Season 12 of 'Doctor Who', the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions, Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh), Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) go back in time and meet the inimitable Nikola Tesla (Goran Višnjić), the visionary who was never lauded in his lifetime.

The Doctor also met the villains of the week, the Sithra, an alien race that steals technology from other races, who wanted to kidnap Tesla to make ships and weapons for them. In a bid to save Tesla and the Earth, the Doctor devises a plan to convert Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower into a weapon that then shoots a lighting strike at the Sithra ship, thereby defeating them.

The Sithra alien race is fictional, while Tesla, of course, is not and neither is the Wardenclyffe Tower. As explained on the show, Tesla did indeed lose funding from JP Morgan to complete it, but let's start from the beginning.

The tower was also known as the Tesla Tower and was designed and built by Tesla at Shoreham, New York, in the early 1900s intended to transmit messages, telephony and even facsimile images across the Atlantic to England and to ships at sea based on his theories of using the Earth to conduct the signals.


A still from 'Doctor Who' (BBC)

When the opportunity arose, Tesla convinced financier JP Morgan that his electrical transmission system would be superior to that of Guglielmo Marconi's, and Morgan signed a contract to give Tesla $150,000 for the project while taking 51% ownership.

However, as Marconi began developing and honing radio signal transmissions, Tesla began making many design changes and asked Morgan for more money. Morgan then backed out, refusing to give Tesla any more funding.

Still, Tesla persisted. But as Marconi on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean managed more achievements, Tesla kept running into more roadblocks and though construction on the tower began in 1901, the project was eventually scrapped in 1906. 


Tesla keeps inventing, as the Doctor tells Yaz, Ryan, and Graham, but (also as mentioned in the episode) Tesla was bad at business, and this led to him accumulating many debts. By 1915, the Wardenclyffe Tower had to be foreclosed and it was demolished two years later to be sold for scrap. Sadly, the inventor never could make any of his later visions come to life again.

That Tesla was far ahead of time is well-known today. In 2012, Jane Alcorn, president of the nonprofit group The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and Matthew Inman, creator of web cartoon The Oatmeal, joined forces to honor "the Father of the Electric Age", by preserving the Wardenclyffe facility as a science center and museum.

The Doctor speaks to Nikola Tesla on 'Doctor Who' (BBC)


They initiated the "Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum" fund-raising campaign on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site, to raise funding to buy the Wardenclyffe property and restore the facility. Even Elon Musk contributed to the campaign.

In July 2018, the Wardenclyffe site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in December 2019, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was awarded a $750,000 Regional Economic Development Council grant from New York State to transform the only existing laboratory of inventor Nikola Tesla into three unique attractions: a museum honoring Tesla and his legacy; a center for education and research; and an entrepreneur and technologist innovation program.

So while Nikola Tesla was never acknowledged for his contributions to humanity in his lifetime, Tesla remains one of the most important historical figures today, as acknowledged by the Doctor.

'Doctor Who' airs on BBC America on Sunday nights at 8/7c.


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