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Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — The Devil’s Chord

I’m actually thankful circumstances brought me to review this episode of Doctor Who Series 14. When I first saw it, it was much later in the evening, and right after Space Babies, which annoyed me greatly. So those circumstances might have had me in a less than receptive mood. The meta dance at the end didn’t help either. So starting fresh…

The cold open was strong, ominous, and introduced the Maestro, a larger than life god from one of the pantheons. A good start, especially as they played into the opening credits. 

Ruby suggests going to see the Beatles, and while we all agree that the Beatles are THE BEATLES, I call nonsense on the Doctor being so giddy about seeing them. He can admire and respect them, of course, but he’s a bit OTT regarding them. Seeing everything he’s seen…? Ruby conveys all the giddiness needed, as a 19 year old girl.

Finagling their way into EMI, we come to the first logistical issue. 

Yes, all the music is dull. Bad. Everyone’s pretty much disgusted with it: John, Paul, everybody — and this has been going on for 35 years? Why do recording studios, orchestras, bands, dancers even exist at all? The last gasp would have come and gone well before 35 years and millions of production costs. Let’s face it, if everyone’s disgusted by music, they’re certainly not going to be buying it for over three decades. Seems like a very long and winding and unlikely road just to stretch things to get to the Beatles for a Doctor Who episode.

And we get our recurring guest star, and one of the linchpins of the “there’s something bigger going on here”: the cafeteria lady cameo.

Onto the roof… it’s nice to hear the Doctor talking about Totter’s Lane and Susan, but then, we get another strange declaration from the Doctor regarding the Time Lords. An indication that when the Time Lords died, the event spread out across time and space — so he has no idea if Susan or any of the rest are alive. I admit to being very lost by this strange new announcement. Was there a third time the Time Lords all died? Because we, and the Doctor, now know that they didn’t die at the end of the Time War. And when the crazy-nut Master allegedly killed them, it certainly looked like he just fire bombed the planet, from which they’d survive to regenerate again anyway, probably. If they’re not Cybermen. If there were some new destructive event that wiped them out over time and space, it’s new to me. The Flux only did just so much damage, that wasn’t it. So, was that false information, or…? Frankly, that confused me.

Onto the confrontations themselves. The Doctor has Ruby play a miserably sad song, presumably to attract the villain, but when the Maestro emerges, the Doctor freaks, scurries, and hides. He’s making a habit of that. He does strike back nicely with the sonic remote (it’s definitely not a screwdriver), but realises he’s in way over his head and cries a bit. He confesses his soul was torn in half by the bi-generation and he can’t go through that again. So, the bi-generation wasn’t as fun and glorious as we were made to believe…

The Doctor and Ruby pull a Fourth Doctor and Sarah in Pyramids of Mars by going back to present day to see what would happen without music, and as usual, devastation. Honestly, there being no good music anymore as the cause of more wars that destroy the planet? Bit of a reach. I mean, music is great, but humanity never needed musical excuses to get into wars.

The dark stage exposition works well regarding the whys and wherefores of the Maestro’s presence, although I’m guessing that the Maestro’s only a child of the Toymaker in a symbolic way. Usually with various god pantheons, it seems like everyone’s related somehow, even tangentially; otherwise, it might seem like an unlikely coincidence that the Toymaker’s kid shows up so soon after he did. 

Note though, that it was then the Maestro mentioned “The Oldest One”, which one might assume is a different being from “He Who Waits” who’s mentioned later. 

Onto the final battle. Okay, the Doctor’s figured out that the right set of chords can banish the Maestro. He does tell a bald face lie about never calling himself a genius. Come on Russell, how many other incarnations have called themselves that or something close? It’s bizarre little false comments like these that set off my “something’s not right” sense. But I digress. 

Piano vs fiddle, and the Doctor has the upper hand until he flubs it, and everything looks doomed until Lennon and McCartney save the day on the piano. Fair enough. That all worked fine.

But seriously, Russell, you’ve got:

  • Your Disney budget
  • An episode with the Beatles in it
  • A planned music battle
  • And music has to save the day…

Why on earth couldn’t you buy the rights to some tunes that sound like they could save humanity? Yes, I know Beatles music is expensive, but you already bought the rights to some Bowie for the trailers. Having a Beatles episode with nothing but bland, public domain music is a bit of a disappointment. Russell can hang with great writers like Dickens, Shakespeare, and Christie in stories — but music? It’s a shame, because better music would have really helped to sell the confrontation.

Finally, the meta ending dance. I think this was just — plain and simple — a bad choice. Once again, if good and proper music has now come back into the world and things are quickly becoming joyous and electric… you’re already at a recording studio, chock full of musicians, instruments, equipment, and very likely dancers anyway! The Doctor could easily have taken advantage of the excitement, jumped on stage and belted out a fun song on the spot. Absolutely did not have to go meta. And the fact that Russell made that choice is, again, odd. And that twist song was annoying and underwhelming. They could have turned me around with a good song, but eh. I think Russell said he wrote or co-wrote that song. He should stick to writing dialogue, and Murray Gold should have told him it was rubbish. Let Murray write the song himself.

The Doctor and Ruby could’ve had a fun jam session with everybody, including The Beatles and said their goodbyes. And then sure, have a tiny bit of meta fun with the street lines. That would have been lovely. 

So in the end, I applaud the performances of Ncuti Gatwa, Jinkx Monsoon, and Millie Gibson who showed a bit more range this time out. I thought the concept was pretty solid as well.

But I thought the Beatles were misused, lamentably so, and the music itself was underwhelming and a wasted opportunity. 

I initially gave this story a 1 out of 5 for reasons I mentioned at the start, but fair’s fair. Upon reassessment, I’ll go 2.5 out of 5. With better music and better choices, this could have been a 5. 

Now please, by all means — let’s go Boom.

Rick Lundeen

Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — The Devil’s Chord

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 5 min
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