Doctor Who Series 14 Episode 2 Review: The Devil's Chord

by 24britishtvMay 11, 2024, 4 a.m. 21
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But with “The Devil’s Chord”, it feels like the new era has decisively arrived. The swinging 1960s setting is a great choice, and not just because of the fashions (though they are naturally on point). It’s familiar enough to ground us, but not somewhere the show has spent much time since, well, the 1960s. And the focus on music, and its integration into the narrative and visuals, feels fresh and invigorating.

The episode doesn’t do a huge amount to unpack the concept that music is the only thing holding the human race together, but it’s a great concept regardless, and leads to some genuinely innovative places. We’ve seen Doctor Who villains suck the life out of people, but we’ve never seen them suck the music out of them, to be consumed like food, or wielded like a magic spell from a wand. We’ve never seen the Doctor trapped inside a drum, or the companion trapped inside a double bass. We’ve never seen Doctor and companion furiously duetting on a piano imbued with the potential energy of future Beatles albums while a demented god strikes back with vicious counter melodies from a violin.

Honestly, this review could just be a bullet point list of the episode’s cool details. The knocking from inside the piano, so simple yet so effectively creepy. The spine-chilling scene where the Doctor removes all the sound from the area, leaving Maestro silent and intrigued, which again feels like something we’ve never seen in this show before. Maestro using a tuning fork like a sonic screwdriver. The unsettling, fantastically realised flash forward to apocalyptic 2024 – and Millie Gibson’s heartbreaking “Where’s my mum”. The clever use of musical concepts like the titular chord, building on the ongoing theme of superstition intruding on reality, and Aeolian tones – set up as a throwaway, very Doctor-ish explanation (because of course he’d know the proper name for the phenomenon) then paid off with universally destructive consequences. Delightfully cheeky touches like Maestro playing the first notes of the theme tune to lead into the credits, and the Doctor’s “I thought that was non-diegetic” line. I could go on.

It’s a huge relief in some ways, because there were reasons to be apprehensive. Back in February, when it was announced that Sam Mendes would be directing four inter-linked Beatles biopics, it sounded like the toughest casting assignment of all time. There are few other bands where the general public is so intimately familiar with every member – whose voices, mannerisms and interpersonal dynamics are as well-known and beloved as their music. Then we heard that Doctor Who would also be casting versions of the Fab Four, and alarm bells started ringing – casting can be hit and miss, and if the Beatles were going to be a major presence in the episode, a misstep could conceivably have sunk the whole enterprise.

Happily, they pulled it off. George and Ringo have basically no lines – which I guess is appropriate – but Chris Mason and George Caple make a pretty solid John and Paul. While neither looks that much like their respective Mop Top, they capture just enough of their personalities to maintain the illusion, while also bringing a level of nuance that helps sell the quieter, more emotional moments – Mason’s voice cracking on “Why do I wake up crying” is particularly effective. It’s debatable whether the performances could have sustained heftier screen time, but they’re used just enough to resonate.

And ultimately, The Beatles aren’t actually the headline here – that’s Jinkx Monsoon.

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