The Devil’s Chord

Posted in Episode by - May 11, 2024
The Devil’s Chord

Aired 11 May 2024


Following a stylish but ultimately light-hearted affair to start this latest run of adventures with Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor at the TARDIS helm, Russell T Davies and “The Devil’s Chord” look to the swinging sixties to amplify the scope and danger confronting the Doctor and the entire universe as the malevolent Maestro follows in the Toymaker’s wake.

Few musical groups- if any- are so intricately linked with the very images and definition of an era as The Beatles are with the 1960s, and while it’s only natural that this particular group should focus in an episode dealing with the importance of music, the questions of just how Doctor Who would manage to get around the limitations of casting and including their beloved songs remained a important ones since this episode’s announcement. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to feature the quartet relatively sparingly while nonetheless having at least John and Paul vital to developing the abstract threat humanity faces as well as to delivering the ultimate resolution. To that effect, George and Ringo are little more than physical presences in the background, and while Chris Mason ad George Caple are hardly doppelgangers of John and Paul respectively, they successfully capture their personalities to make the nuanced emotions stemming from a world devoid of musical resonance and depth as well as the subconscious knowledge that something more exists resoundingly effective.

As such, Jinkx Monsoon is tasked with developing the narrative weight of this episode through the bold introduction of the malevolent Maestro. That Davies continues to revisit the infringement of superstition and more intangible threats into this universe following the Fourteenth Doctor’s actions is a bold but welcome decision, and Maestro seeking to end music on Earth and then of the music of the spheres throughout the universe to remain a so-called solo act certainly expands upon the type of threat that the Toymaker recently offered. While both of these figures can effectively operate outside of the known parameters of physics, Maestro as a threat does suffer at least somewhat because of the more abstract nature of music being sucked out of people compared to the relatively straightforward rules of the games that the Toymaker had to follow. A physical manifestation of musical staffs and notes coming out of victims and being used as a weapon of sorts is certainly visually unique, but it’s a somewhat jarring means of conveying Maestro’s power as intended.

Still, with even the fascinating concept of music being the force that has held humanity together and kept it from complete despair not really being explored beyond a brief foray to an alternate version of 2024, Monsoon makes the most of every second on screen to bring this larger-than-life character to screen with a brash confidence. Maestro is a scenery-chewing figure who absolutely knows their implicit power, and while that energy may be off-putting to some viewers, Monsoon effortlessly switches between menacing and humorous to ensure that neither the Doctor and Ruby nor viewers can fully anticipate this villain’s motivations or subsequent moves. Whether this foe remains a one-time threat or returns to wreak havoc in the future remains to be seen, but Maestro is eminently capable of matching the Doctor’s wits as evidenced by the use of a tuning fork to circumvent the evocative and effective shroud of silence, and the final battle via music and instrumental entrapments are certainly resounding highlights of the more visceral nature of the threat posed.

Ncuti Gatwa continues to excel early on as the Doctor, and the empathy, curiosity, wit, determination, and charisma displayed again create an enthralling incarnation of the Time Lord who is impossible to ignore. The narrative decision to have him immediately run away from the threat before him for the second episode in a row is an interesting one that lacks some of the intended impact, however, even with the understandable fear bolstering his explanation that his last encounter with a being like Maestro ripped his soul in half through bigeneration. It also makes Ruby’s stated faith in the Doctor never running away fall flat, but Gibson herself is nonetheless an incredibly vivacious presence as Ruby showcases her own musical talents while trying to wrap her head around the malleability of timelines and unknowingly revealing a darker mystery behind her existence with snow from her past again manifesting when threatened. This duo has already cemented itself as a wholly dynamic and engaging one, boding incredibly well for this latest iteration of the franchise. And while Davies’s decision to straddle the line between welcoming new viewers and incorporating six decades of canon isn’t wholly seamless as the Doctor waxes poetic about his granddaughter and living in Totter’s Lane before then delving into the genocide of his people, it’s nonetheless a firm reminder of the legacy of Doctor Who and that the past is very much important to this series that is just as much about looking to the future. These early episodes have showcased an incredible ambition and confidence, and though not everything has landed perfectly including the bold musical dance number at episode’s end here, it’s hard to fault the sheer enjoyment and fun that have come out of this dual-episode premiere.

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