Doctor Who’s latest escapade, “The Devil’s Chord”, not only dives deep into the swinging sixties but also throws in the iconic Beatles, a zany new villain, and a fascinating musical twist, creating an episode teeming with creative energy. This distinctive chapter marks a daring experiment in the storied series.

Russell T Davies has long stated his admiration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how the programme influenced the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who. With this latest regeneration of tales from the TARDIS, he has been able to create a musical episode.

Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Timothy Drake (JEREMY LIMB) Maestro (JINKX MONSOON),BBC STUDIOS AND BAD WOLF, Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Timothy Drake (JEREMY LIMB) Maestro (JINKX MONSOON),BBC STUDIOS AND BAD WOLF, Photo by James Pardon

All-the-things musical episode starts with a request from the Doctor’s (Ncuti Gatwa) companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Ruby loves the Beatles and wants the Doctor to guide the TARDIS to 1960s London, specifically the iconic Abbey Road Studios, during the recording of The Beatles’ first album. (Side note: In 1963, the studio was still called Emi Studios.) However, the two time-travellers quickly discover that music no longer exists; humanity has mysteriously lost the ability to create music that touches the soul, including The Beatles, who struggle to produce coherent tunes.

The crisis is orchestrated by Maestro, a vibrant and flamboyant villain portrayed by Jinkx Monsoon, who emerges from a piano in an early scene of this episode, demonstrating their otherworldly origins and powers. Maestro, a child of the elemental Toymaker, possesses the ability to manipulate and consume music, literally sucking the musical essence out of people and the environment, leaving behind a song-free world. Their dramatic entrance sets the stage for their agenda: to hoard all musical talent and leave the world barren of melodies​​​.

Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Paul McCartney (GEORGE CAPLE) The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Paul McCartney (GEORGE CAPLE) The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,Photo by James Pardon

Jinkx Monsoon’s Maestro steals the show as a camp, theatrical villain with a profound connection to the series’ lore. They are the offspring of the Toymaker, the villain that the 15th Doctor defeated with the 14th Doctor in The Giggle. Maestro embodies the thematic essence of music and play, wreaking havoc by stripping humanity of its musical ability. This character’s flamboyance and power uniquely challenge the Doctor, intertwining Maestro’s personal vendetta with universal peril.

The absence of music in “The Devil’s Chord” leads to a grim portrayal of Earth’s future. Music, often described as the soul of humanity, is integral not only for its entertainment value but also for its ability to express and evoke deep emotional responses. The episode delves into the dystopian consequences where, without this vital form of expression, society begins to unravel. Emotional connections deteriorate, and cultural expressions are stunted, increasing despair and aggression among the population. The Doctor starkly illustrates when it takes Ruby back to her own time, 2024, where the future’s lack of music’s soothing and cathartic properties has led humanity into a nuclear holocaust.

The psychological impact of music’s loss is palpable throughout the episode. Characters display a range of emotional disturbances, from confusion and frustration to deep melancholy and anger. The Beatles, depicted struggling with their inability to create music, serve as a microcosm for the more significant human condition, highlighting the creative void that has afflicted humanity. This void affects individuals’ mental health and diminishes communal bonds often forged and strengthened through shared musical experiences​​​.

Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf, Photo by Natalie Seery
Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf, Photo by James Pardon

The Devil’s Chord has a rather simplistic plot. It is basically a repeat of The Giggle. The Doctor and Ruby challenge Maestro to a musical showdown. The Devil’s Chord resulted in the Maestro’s birth. Another chord results in their death. It is as simple as that. Maestro and the Doctor play a game of musical catch while John Lennon and Paul McCartney provide the closing note. Between those ends, music reigns supreme. I was half expecting the two to break into a rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Ncuti Gatwa’s portrayal of the Fifteenth Doctor in “The Devil’s Chord” continues to be a delightful amalgamation of whimsy and gravitas. The delight as Ruby and the Doctor ran to the TARDIS’ wardrobe room was a joy to see. As was the strut both characters display on their stylish transformations. And while we were already aware that the 15th Doctor was a fashionista, this episode confirmed it.

Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf, Photo by Natalie Seery
Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf, Photo by Natalie Seery

However, it was surprising to see the Doctor fall back into negativity as he lost confidence and despaired about how to defeat the Maestro. The Doctor was still grappling with the consequences of his battle with the Toymaker, providing a stark contrast to the earlier lighter and more carefree version.

The resolution sees music restoration to the world and ends with a spontaneous and celebratory musical number involving The Beatles and other characters. This serves as a victory dance and a poignant reminder of music’s integral role in human culture and emotion. The Doctor and Ruby reflect on their adventure, contemplating the fragility of human joy and the power of art to unite and heal.

Cameo Appearances

Murray Gold, the composer long associated with Doctor Who, has crafted the series’ iconic scores from 2005 to 2017 and also makes a musical cameo in the episode. His inclusion is a thoughtful homage to his significant contributions to the series, particularly in how his music has defined the modern era of Doctor Who. In “The Devil’s Chord”, the inclusion of Gold is symbolic, highlighting the theme of music’s profound impact on Doctor Who’s narrative power. The episode features a scene where Gold is seen playing the piano during the climactic musical sequence, further blurring the lines between the show’s diegetic and non-diegetic elements. This serves as an insider nod to long-time fans, acknowledging how integral Gold’s compositions have been in evoking emotions and enhancing the storytelling through music​.

Another surprise was the inclusion of cameos from stars of “Strictly Come Dancing”, Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe. This integration serves as a playful nod to the British public’s love for the dance competition show. The presence of these well-known dancers adds a layer of meta-entertainment, particularly as they participate in the celebratory dance number at the episode’s climax. This scene not only restores music to the world within the story but also merges the worlds of Doctor Who and mainstream British entertainment, creating a festive, cross-genre spectacle that appeals to fans of both series. It cleverly aligns the return of music with a dance celebration, reinforcing the theme of revival and joy that music brings​.

Conclusion

Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Maestro (JINKX MONSOON),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon
Doctor Who S1,11-05-2024,2,Maestro (JINKX MONSOON),BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

“The Devil’s Chord” is a vivid, albeit chaotic, musical addition to the Doctor Who saga. It is a testament to the series’ enduring ability to reinvent itself, introducing new elements while respecting its rich history. Despite its narrative complexities and occasional overreach, the episode is a celebratory blend of music, history, and adventure, encapsulating the timeless appeal of Doctor Who. The episode, while not without its flaws, is a bold declaration of the show’s capacity for innovation and entertainment, ensuring that the legacy of the Doctor continues to evolve in exciting new directions.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Then it’s simply a re-working of ‘Yellow Submarine’, with the ‘Blue Meanies’ being replaced by Maestro. Sounds very childish & unsophisticated.

    • If you’re lucky enough not to have seen it I envy you. That was the worst episodes I’ve seen since 1987.

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