Doctor Who Season 14: ‘The Devil’s Chord’ review — A musical medley with more promise

Jessica Cullen
Ruby Sunday and The Doctor stand against a brick wall in Doctor Who 'The Devil's Chord'

‘The Devil’s Chord’ is an improvement on the first episode of Doctor Who Season 14 — but only by a small amount.

We’re out of the talking baby farm, and that’s what counts! A time-traveling jump into an already-established London is a pretty decent concept for a follow-up episode, since this is an ol’ reliable storyline for Doctor Who.

In ‘The Devil’s Chord’, the Doctor and Ruby take a trip back to the ‘60s after Ruby requests to witness one of the world’s greatest historical events: the recording of the first Beatles album at Abbey Road Studios. This, tied in with a music-thieving villain and plenty of tongue-in-cheek period references, gives Season 14 a boost, but only just.

While the concept itself is solid and there’s a hamminess and operatic turn that makes ‘The Devil’s Chord’ pretty enjoyable, it’s never quite pushed far enough or maintains a steady central focus. As a result, we get a slight motivation problem and one of the worst on-screen iterations of the Beatles in recent memory. Sam Mendes, you’re fine.

The Off-beatles

For context, the episode follows the Doctor and Ruby as they travel to 1965 to check out the creation of The Beatles’ first album at Abbey Road Studios (then named EMI Recording Studios). But in this reality, a time-hopping villain known as Maestro has stolen the world’s music, which means that everyone (even Paul, John, George, and Ringo) don’t know how to play.

Let’s get this out of the way: the Doctor Who version of The Beatles is unnerving and bad. They’re The Beatles in name only. Obviously, in a post-Peter Jackson’s Get Back world, the bar is high for any kind of Beatles exploration in media, but it’s never been this dire.

Naturally, given the plot, this version of the band would be underwhelming, and that results in one of the funniest moments of the episode where the Doctor and Ruby are forced to watch them perform a truly damp squib of a song.

The Doctor and Ruby Sunday stand against the TARDIS holding each other in The Devil's Chord

Overall, the episode might have been punchier if there had been a more playful attitude with the concept of a world without music. The Doctor makes a memorable joke about non-diegetic sound — more of this would have done wonders.

The Doctor and Ruby get groovy

We’re still yet to really get into the swing of the Doctor and Ruby’s relationship, but at least in ‘The Devil’s Chord’ they both have more to do, and a cool costume change and dramatic final showdown makes the whole affair feel a little more classic Who than ‘Space Babies’. (They’re still doing far too much squealing and screaming for my liking, though.)

At this point, it’s starting to become clear that the central arc of this season is Ruby herself. Whether they manage to give Millie Gibson enough to prove that she’s worthy of this build-up remains to be seen, but they’ve only got six more episodes to do it.

With the episode being bogged down by discount-level impressions and a lack of emotional connection between the leading duo and the story, we’re not quite there yet.

Hit it, Maestro

2023 might have had Bradley Cooper running around in a prosthetic nose and waving his baton, but 2024 belongs to Doctor Who’s Maestro. A classically cheesed-up villain with a flair for the dramatic, Maestro is a villain you can get on board with because they’re so damn fun.

Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro in Doctor Who Season 14: The Devil's Chord

Played by two-time Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon, Maestro steals the show as a piano-lurking music-consumer. Her introduction is genuinely menacing and catches you off-guard, and throughout the rest of the episode, Maestro brings the colour and spark that’s missing for about 80% of the episode.

There’s no doubt that Monsoon is having fun with the role, and is a villain in the most classic sense. There’s not a huge sense of danger, but Maestro is too fun to really get caught up in the stakes of it all.

Doctor Who Season 14 ‘The Devil’s Chord’ verdict: 2/5

This is without a doubt an improvement on ‘Space Babies’, but it’s not fully-formed enough to be a real winner yet. We’re still warming up, and ‘The Devil’s Chord’ is heading in the right direction with a jolly concept and memorable villain, but it’s hindered by baffling Beatles, a lack of commitment to the bit, and what feels like three different (but equally grating) endings.

‘The Devil’s Chord’ will premiere on Disney+ on May 10 at 7pm ET, and on BBC iPlayer on May 11.

For more Who, check out our guides to the best Doctor Who Christmas specials, and everything else you need to know about Doctor Who Season 14.