Once upon a time…
There were two friends, and together they travelled the cosmos. They thwarted tyrants and defeated monsters, they righted wrongs wherever they went. They explored the distant future and the distant past, new worlds and galaxies, places beyond imagining.
But every good story has to come to an end.
With no times or places left to explore, all the two friends have now are each other. But maybe that’s one voyage too many. Maybe they’ll discover things they’d rather have left undisturbed…hidden away in the suffocating, unfeeling, deafening brightness.
Once upon a time. Far, far away.
Scherzo kicks off a run of stories set in the Divergent Universe, even though the story itself is set in a confined area and they don’t enter it properly until the end of the story. After the scale and number of actors involved in Zagreus, there’s something nice about the smaller scale here. Of course, not all of the issues left over from that story have disappeared entirely but Rob Shearman’s script by and large made me forget some of worst excesses of the last story.
This story is weird, occasionally creepy and inventive, which is certainly a testament to some great writing on the part of Rob Shearman. There are some lovely moments, like having nothing outside the TARDIS door or the Doctor losing his additional senses of time in this new universe. The story ultimately revolves around ideas about evolution and the potential Doctor and Charley being out-evolved by the other lifeforms to the point of extinction which are quite high concept and hard to follow at times. I certainly felt discombobulated at times trying to follow the story, especially when it got the dreamscapes with the Doctor and Charley. There are some dark ideas, like the dead creatures our protagonists have to eat eventually evolving to the point of having Charley’s face, which works just as well as a visceral jolt on audio as it would do on television – this is coming from the person who struggled to recognise Luke’s face under the Darth Vader mask in the cave in The Empire Strikes Back the first time I saw it as a child.
The sound creature is helped by some fantastic audio work, creating some fantastically creepy moments. Echoing voices are never not sinister, but the distortion here allows the creature to really make an impact on this story, added to the distortion on McGann and Fisher’s voices. The lack of music other than than the main theme and at the end of Part 3 makes it all the more impactful.
One of the big problems that Scherzo has to tackle is the romantic nature of the relationship between the Doctor and Charley. As anybody who has read any of my Tenth Doctor reviews will know, I am not a fan of romantic relationships between the Doctor and companions, so the declaration of love between Charley and the Doctor set alarm bells ringing. For all the flaws in Series Two of the revived series, one of Russell T Davies’ masterstrokes is not having the Doctor explicitly reciprocate Rose’s feelings for him. Here, it paints the narrative into a corner – the Doctor has to backtrack, and that subsequently makes him quite unlikeable for parts of this story. Equally, Charley’s insistence on repeating those three words make her seem quite pathetic – in fact this is one of the weakest stories for her so far. At least this story does seem to close that door by the end, with both the Doctor and Charley seemingly on the same page. There is only one real standout moment for Charley here – where she tells the sound creature, manifesting itself as her 16 year old daughter, voiced by McGann, that she is the one and only Charlotte Pollard and that the demonic creature should go to her room. It’s no fault of Paul McGann and India Fisher’s that the characters’ trajectories are so off course, and they bring their best efforts to this story, as they did with Zagreus.
Verdict: Scherzo comes as a welcome relief after Zagreus but still has to deal with some the issues it is presented with. Shearman presents a weird and unsettling script, but it is a good one. 7/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor) & India Fisher (Charley Pollard).
Writer: Robert Shearman
Director: Gary Russell
Behind the Scenes
- This story was the first Big Finish audio drama to feature two cast members and the first story since The Edge of Destruction to feature only the regular cast.
- The first story of eight set in the Divergent Universe.
We’re not dead.
Or at least not yet. We should keep our options open.The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard
Previous Eighth Doctor story: Zagreus