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Review of The Devil’s Chord by NyssaUnbound

13 May 2024

“Favorite story across all of Doctor Who in any medium” is a difficult concept for me. My mind tends to sort things more like a tier list than an itemized ranking. If I had to pick one right now, as I write this, it would probably be the 8th Doctor book “The Blue Angel”. It’s wild and bold and experimental and weird, and it just works.

Sometimes stories are “weird” because they have weird images, like a giant owl attacking a shopping mall, or a man with a glowing green elephant for a head. Sometimes stories are “weird” because they have weird structural elements, like having fully half of a book taking place in a parallel universe where there’s no sci-fi elements and the Doctor and companions all share a house and oh no the overnight frost has just killed all their flowers. “The Blue Angel” does both of those and more. The roommate AU is effectively framed as the A-plot, and is somehow even more surreal than the stuff with the giant owls and the elephant man (you know, the stuff that’s actually happening in the canon universe), even when the B-plot decides to devote significant time to being a Star Trek parody. Anyway, “The Devil’s Chord” is this, but for TV.

To me, Doctor Who should always be experimenting, pushing boundaries, breaking rules. That’s why I love the wilderness era so much, you don’t get much weirder or more experimental than that. The thing is, once you’ve pushed a boundary, the boundary’s moved, so you have to go even farther to push it again and again. The ideal Doctor Who story doesn’t feel like a Doctor Who story. Like “The War Valeyard”, or “All of Time and Space”, or “Heaven Sent”, or “Scherzo”, it should take you on a journey from “What could that collection of words possibly mean?” through “Wait, you can do that?”, before ending on “This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever watched/listened to/read/consumed.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like “World Enough and Time” and “The Caves of Androzani” and all that, I can appreciate good writing, it’s just… It’s like the 12th Doctor book “Big Bang Generation”. I can accept that, objectively speaking, it’s not good, but it gives me a feeling that I can only describe as mixing all the flavors at a soda fountain. It’s an assault on the senses, and it gets points for that. I believe the word I’m looking for is “maximalist”.

Is “The Devil’s Chord” technically better written than any of the other stories I mentioned? No, of course not, it’s a collection of cool scenes that just kind of approximate a finished story. But for me, there’s just something special about a story whose synopsis is “Yes”.

Review created on 13-05-24