Doctor Who’s Beatles Episode Sprang From An Age-Old Problem With Trying To Do A Beatles Episode

Doctor Who

by Ben Travis |
Published on

Over the years, the Doctor has met all kinds of legendary cultural and societal figureheads across his TARDIS travels: Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Rosa Parks, William Shakespeare, and Agatha Christie, to name but a few. But he’s never met the Fab Four – until now. The new series of Doctor Who – the first full series to feature Ncuti Gatwa’s take on the iconic Time Lord, with showrunner Russell T Davies returning to the (galli)fray – will feature an episode titled 'The Devil's Chord', in which the Doctor (and Millie Gibson’s companion, Ruby Sunday) rock out with The Beatles in Abbey Road. And it’s an idea that’s been a long time coming.

As Davies tells Empire – in a major new joint interview with Gatwa to celebrate the show’s latest regeneration – the notion of doing a Beatles episode has always hit a certain stumbling block. But, that in itself became a source of inspiration. “I knew instantly you can never play Beatles songs on screen because the copyright is too expensive. So I’m thinking, ‘How would you do a Beatles episode without Beatles music?’ And that becomes the entire plot,” Davies explains. “That’s where the idea came from – copyright law!” It also came from a conversation that proved to Davies that the legacy of The Beatles still has meaning for younger generations. “There’s a young director called Sam Arbor who I’ve kind of been mentoring for a while, and when I told him I was going back to Doctor Who, he was just 21 and said, ‘Oh my God, if I had a TARDIS, I’d go back and watch the Beatles recording their first album’,” says Davies. “And I thought for a 21-year-old to say that must mean there’s something to that idea.”

While some of Doctor Who’s greatest episodes involve the Doctor heading back into the past, Gatwa’s favourite part of Davies’ writing is how firmly based the showrunner is in the here and now. “I would say Russell’s very good at humanity and the duality of it,” Gatwa says. “He captures the complexity and simplicity of the human condition and the light and the dark of it. He puts the normal on the page and shows how it’s really special. He’s rooted in the present. He’s like, ‘Don’t be busy looking up there to the clouds. You’re gonna miss all this special beauty in the flowers that are there in front of you.’” Still… you would go and see The Beatles recording in Abbey Road, wouldn’t you?

Empire – The Acolyte – June 2024 issue newsstand cover

Read Empire’s full interview with Russell T Davies and Ncuti Gatwa on the return of Doctor Who in The Acolyte issue – on sale Thursday 11 April. Order a copy online here. Doctor Who comes to BBC One and Disney+ from 11 May.

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