Sunday 12 May 2024

The Devil's Chord - A Review

The second of the new episodes is our first Celebrity-Historical of the RTD2 era. Ruby asks to see the Beatles record their first album, so it's off to Abbey Road, St John's Wood, in 1963.
The street chosen for filming looks spot on - though why there would be a 1967 Volkswagen present I don't know. (It has also been pointed out that London was in the middle of a blizzard when this episode is supposed to be set).
The Doctor and Ruby have donned period outfits and we get some appropriate music - except for anything original by the Fab Four due to the heavy rights costs.
The episode is all about music, much of which is diegetic (meaning it isn't just on the soundtrack, but heard by the characters within the drama themselves. The Doctor even comments on this).
The episode is 10 minutes longer than its predecessor, and this is pretty much taken up by three musical sequences.

In the 1920's a frustrated composer has found the Lost Chord, and when played it unleashes Maestro (Jinkx Monsoon). 
They turn out to be the offspring of the Toymaker. Whilst he was the embodiment of games, Maestro is the embodiment of music. 
Cast a drag queen as an evil god-like figure and you are in serious danger of an over-the-top performance totally unbalancing an episode. Luckily, this doesn't happen. 
It's certainly a huge performance, but the affectations match the nature of the character.
God-like beings are this year's running theme, alongside the secret of Ruby's parentage and identity. How the two will fit together (if at all) is unclear so early on. All we know is that there's a bigger villain (the boss / the one who waits) still to be seen. (And we've been promised a link with UNIT history and a big name guest for the finale).

Maestro's scheme is to reduce the universe to silence, so music is being stamped out. The Beatles record childish nonsense, as does Cilla Black. 
We get a Pyramids of Mars sequence as the Doctor takes Ruby to her own time to show her what will happen if Maestro succeeds.
Much of the episode is taken up with confrontations between the Doctor and Maestro - something which was sorely lacking with The Giggle. Then, the actual meeting of the Doctor with the Toymaker proved underwhelming. Davies makes sure that Gatwa and Monsoon get a better deal than Tennant and NPH did.
Naturally, the climax involves a musical duel. 

With a 1963 setting, there are lots of references to the series' earliest days. The Doctor points out that he is living in Shoreditch with Susan at the same time (though why the First Doctor wasn't already investigating Maestro we'll never know). The Doctor suggests that Susan may be dead - speaking about the Master's genocide of the Time Lords rolling through all of time and space. However, he only thinks this, and isn't sure - which is strange. RTD2 is basically saying that the Doctor hasn't tried to find out.
Look out for the posters for "Chris Waites and the Carollers" - the band which preceded "John Smith and the Common Men".

Actress Susan Twist has been appearing in small roles since the Specials. She was Newton's servant, and the Steeleye Span fan at Ruby's Christmas gig, for instance. Here she is the studio canteen tea lady.
The episode ends with a musical number - one which might have worked better had it been integrated into the story - i.e. part of the duel which defeats Maestro.
This is introduced by the Doctor pointing out that many of his travels often involve a twist in the tail. (The episode has a lot of breaching of the fourth wall, from the Doctor and Maestro, as well as the role of music).
This sequence has resulted in some interesting theories. Does a mention of Susan prefigure her return? Is having "Susan Twist" in every end credit sequence RTD2's way of hinting at her appearance forming some sort of twist in the series - hiding something in plain sight? It was suggested by the Meep that the Big Bad might be two-hearted after all...
There's a hint that we may see Maestro again, as her harbinger / prelude - a young schoolboy - was still around after her defeat.

For me, the musical number was a bit of fun and I didn't mind it in the least. I actually enjoyed it better when I watched the episode a second time. The only thing I will say is that the final sequence on the famous Abbey Road crossing was quite unnecessary. The director simply didn't know where to draw the line.
Some people to look out for: Tom Baker era costume designer June Hudson as the old lady, and composer Murray Gold and Strictly personnel Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe cameo in the musical number.
For me, a huge improvement on Space Babies. (I gave that a second watch as well, but it still did nothing for me).
Hopefully something less fantastical next week, as Moffat returns with an episode inspired from a sequence from Genesis of the Daleks. Whimsey and fantasy are acceptable paths to explore, but not all the time. We do need to see some decent hard sci-fi in the series as well.

1 comment:

  1. the original script says that the musical final sequence at least, is provocked by a kind of the "liberation" of music off maestro's defeat, sort of like how the "state of play" from toymaker's allowed to the tardis duplication at the end of the giggle; a writing flaw in my opinion, there should've been some indication of that, wether visually or in dialogue