‘The Devil’s Chord’ on ‘Doctor Who’: Your questions answered from Mashable

Doctor Who is back with a new Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), a new companion in Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), and a whole new season of time-travel adventures, courtesy of returning showrunner Russell T Davies. With scads of past seasons of lore to pull from, Season 14 started off strong with “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord,” a double-header that took audiences to a far-flung future and a mop-topped past. Lucky for us Whovians, both episodes are rich with Easter eggs.

The first Easter egg in “The Devil’s Chord” is the tritone itself: a dissonant chord that has indeed unsettled listeners for centuries. But the packed musical episode has plenty more to reveal about the Beatles, the Maestro (Jinkx Monsoon), and the rest of the Pantheon that the Doctor may soon face. Let’s dive in.

The Doctor’s wardrobe is on point.


Credit: Disney+

The TARDIS, a time-traveling spaceship that is bigger on the inside, has a wardrobe room to help its inhabitants dress up in the style of whatever era they happen to be visiting. We heard its location described in “The Unquiet Dead” (Season 1, episode 3), when Rose (Billie Piper) needed a dress for 1860; it was in the same place in “Thin Ice” (Season 10, episode 3), when Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) had to dress for 1814.

The wardrobe also helps the Doctor decide how he’s going to dress in each incarnation. Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor appears to be going for a novel strategy: Wear different clothes, but perfectly fabulous ones, on each outing. And wigs too, apparently, mentioned and shown off here for the first time. (Technically, Matt Smith was wearing a wig for his final outing as the Doctor in 2013, but that’s because he was filming Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River at the same time. This is the Doctor’s first canonical wig.)

As for the music that accompanies the Doctor and Ruby as they strut out of the TARDIS and into 1963 London? Incongruously, that’s “California Soul,” a 1967 hit by married songwriters Ashford & Simpson. If you follow tech news, you might remember it from Apple’s California-themed iPhone 13 launch in 2021.

This was the Beatles’ big day.


Credit: Disney+

Monday, February 11, 1963 was the day the Beatles went to EMI Studios and changed music history forever. (As the Doctor correctly points out, it was not yet called Abbey Road.) What they’re supposed to be recording — with the help of George Martin, whom we see in the control room — is their seminal first album, Please Please Me.

No, it did not contain any songs about dogs; that’s the doing of a new and dastardly foe. The “loss of music” plot is a clever way for the show to get around using actual Beatles music, which is notoriously expensive to license. For example, Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner spent $250,000 for a single play of a single track from Revolver.

But back to the real-life music and Please Please Me. This immortal 14-track LP was recorded in three sessions on a single day. The Beatles were worn out from touring, as they’d just been doing shows at Sunderland in the northeast of England two days earlier, but they still gave it their all.

John Lennon in particular was not in good shape, nursing a cold. The incredible power of his voice on the final track, “Twist and Shout,” comes from the fact that you can hear his vulnerable vocal chords literally being torn apart. He lost his voice for much of the next week.

RIP Cilla Black.

Dismayed by the lack of talent in the Beatles, the Doctor and Ruby run to the next studio, where they find British singing superstar Cilla Black (played by Liverpudlian actor Josie Sedgwick-Davies). “Don’t let me down, Cilla,” the Doctor mutters. Cilla’s lackluster performance confirms that something is very wrong in the realm of music.

Admittedly, the timeline is a little off here. Cilla Black, who spent the latter part of her career as a beloved TV host and died in 2015, was a friend of the Beatles from the old days in Liverpool; they sang together on occasion. She did sign with their manager, Brian Epstein, but not until September 1963. She released “Love of the Loved” (which Lennon and McCartney gave her) the following month, and soared to the top the charts by 1964.

The Doctor talks about his granddaughter Susan.

If you’re an old-school Doctor Who fan, you were probably pointing at the screen like that Leonardo DiCaprio meme during the scene on the rooftop with the Doctor and Ruby. He said Totter’s Lane! (That’s the location of the junkyard where we first met the Doctor, played by William Hartnell in 1963). But more importantly: He said Susan! (He also said she might be dead because of the Master’s genocide of the Time Lords, which apparently rippled out through space and time, so… swings and roundabouts.)

Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), as she was initially known, was introduced as the Doctor’s granddaughter in that first episode on November 22, 1963. But Ford soon grew frustrated with her moody, otherworldly teenage character, who tended to have little agency. She left the show in 1964. Other than returning with a Hartnell lookalike for brief scenes in the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors,” she has not been seen and has barely been mentioned in the show since.

We also don’t know anything about Susan’s parents; indeed, Doctor Who subsequently seemed embarrassed by the initial suggestion that its mysterious lead once had at least one kid and one grandkid. But given the season arc about the search for Ruby’s parents, it seems Davies might take the opportunity to clear up the Doctor’s family situation. Carole Ann Ford is still alive, and she seems willing to participate. Might we see Susan one more time?

Breaking the fourth wall: The Maestro and the Doctor winked at us.

At the end of Gatwa’s Christmas special, “The Church on Ruby Road,” a character named Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson) talks directly to the audience. “Never seen a TARDIS before?” she winks.

Well, it seems Mrs. Flood’s cheekiness wasn’t a one-off. In “The Devil’s Chord,” the Maestro clearly and specifically winks at the audience too — right before attacking the old woman who dared play Debussy’s “Clair de lune” on her piano. The Doctor also winks, right before the final song number. Does that mean Mrs. Flood, the Maestro, and the Doctor are all members of this still-mysterious “Pantheon” of god-like beings?

“Pyramids of Mars” is revisited.

When Ruby insists that the Maestro can’t win — because Ruby herself is from the future and knows everything turns out alright — she’s making a classic Doctor Who companion mistake.

Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), beloved companion of the Third and Fourth Doctors, famously made that same error regarding a superhuman villain in 1975’s “Pyramids of Mars,” a fan favorite episode set in 1911.

And when the Doctor snaps Ruby out of her complacency by taking her to post-apocalyptic London in 2024, explaining that this is the future if the Maestro wins, he’s doing exactly what Tom Baker’s Doctor did in that classic serial. Although as you can see, the show had a slightly lower budget at the time.

The Mrs. Mills piano is real.

In his battle with the Maestro, the Doctor uses a famous old EMI piano that’s supposedly thrumming with musical energy. This specially customized Steinway Vertegrand, which had been in the studio since the 1930s, was known as the Mrs. Mills piano; it was named after popular music hall pianist Gladys Mills, who often appeared on the BBC. The Beatles used it on “Penny Lane” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

And if you want to hear what it sounds like to play the Mrs. Mills piano, Abbey Road studios is pleased to sell you a software version, endorsed by Sir Paul McCartney itself.

The Beatles’ magic chord isn’t what you think.


Credit: Disney+

In the finale of the episode, that Mrs. Mills piano is sent flying from the midst of the Maestro’s music battle. This flings the iconic instrument away from the Doctor, who was trying to capture the Maestro by playing a specific chord. But the day is saved when the tune is completed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who read the floating notes and unleash their latent musical energy at last. (The Beatles famously never learned to read sheet music, but we’ll allow it.)

But what is that chord? You might sense a reference to the end of the Beatles’ most highly regarded song, “A Day in the Life,” from the end of their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, that famous chord — played on four pianos at once, with microphones moving in to catch the echoes so the fade-out seems to last forever — was an E major, a powerful chord often used in rock tunes.

Best we can tell, thanks to sound-detecting AI apps, is that Doctor Who uses a C major in that scene. (The chord appears to have nothing to do with the respective positions of Lennon and McCartney’s hands on the keyboard, which seem random.)

That leaves us wondering. Was Davies too worried about lawyers for the Beatles label Apple Corps to give us an E? Is that chord, in the context of an ending provided by the Beatles, effectively copyrighted now? Does its association with “A Day in the Life” make E the truly terrifying devil’s chord here?

What’s the “twist at the end”?

The unusual closing number, “Always a Twist at the End,” is essentially a dad joke based on the popular 1960s dance move, as well as a reference to the Beatles’ hit song, “Twist and Shout.” It also seems designed to needle Doctor Who fans who take the show too seriously.

Heads will explode as hardcore fans try to answer the question: Did that song really happen? Was there some residual energy from the defeat of the Maestro that made everyone in their vicinity do a dance number, perhaps in the style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, “Once More, with Feeling”?

Regardless, the obvious twist is introduced at the end of the song: the re-emergence of the young boy, Henry Arbinger, which is likely a sign that the Maestro is not as defeated as you might think.

But there’s also a literal twist hiding in the dance scene: Susan Twist. The actor also showed up in “The Church on Ruby Road” as the woman in the pub asking Ruby to play her favorite seasonal song, and in 2023’s “Wild Blue Yonder” as Isaac Newton’s maid.

Davies has hinted she’s important to the show’s future, so… expect yet more Twist(s) before the end.

Doctor Who streams Friday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET on Disney+, where available, and simultaneously on May 11 at midnight on BBC iPlayer in the UK.