What’s it about: 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.
Breathless Romantic: Big Finish has been responsible for some of the best character innovations Doctor Who has seen, giving the fifth Doctor a pair of daughters (Peri and Erimem), the sixth Doctor an older best friend (Evelyn) and the 7th Doctor a family (Ace and Hex) but who on Earth thought it was a good idea to take the eighth Doctor down this route? Zagreus jettisoned his adventurous spirit, his ties with the universe, his enthusiasm and joi de vivre and rather than rectifying the damage Scherzo accelerates this spiky, spineless, spiteful Doctor. He walked out of the our universe with a black cloud over his head, cursing and spitting the Time Lords and the decisions that he has had to make and we open this story with him cowering under the console hiding away pain, fear and death. In a way you have to admire the creators for sticking to their guns and pursuing this funereal suicidal angle to the character but when it makes him this unlikable you have to wonder about the wisdom of doing so. They tried something similar with the eighth Doctor in the novels when they snipped away his memory and trapped him on Earth for a century from the life he knew. The difference was that whilst that version of the Doctor could be bitter, angry and violent it was tempered with a burning intelligence, a craving for the supernatural and a genuine sense of wonder at the planet evolving around him. This Doctor is hurtful, self pitying and miserable and I can’t imagine anybody wanting to spend time with him, least of all Charley.
He doesn’t believe that Charley is Charley because she wouldn’t betray him by stepping into the Divergent Universe. His senses are being burnt, he is blinded by the lack of Time because he can’t taste or feel it. He is living his life as a human now with memories fading and with no connection to Time. Whose to say they wont have a better life in this universe? He willingly frightens Charley by suggesting that what she is breathing in is not oxygen but something poisonous. He tells her they are going to die in the universe and if that’s true he wants to do it alone because that’s the last decision he is going to make. I’d tell him to fuck off then. He’s frightened, more so than he has ever been in all of his lives. He doesn’t have anything to say to her. He is embarrassed by Charley’s admission of love for him and wants to get the conversation about their feelings over with as soon as possible. He doesn’t love her any more because he doesn’t have anything he can do with those feelings. Whatever urged him to say it in Neverland is dead. He needs a mission, an enemy to fight. He thought his only options in life were to be able to explore the universe or be dead and this divergent option appals him. He blames Charley for their predicament. The Time Lords had a theory for why he always had travelling companions; Memento Mori, a reminder of death. He sacrificed his life to save hers but if she has followed him into this land of death then what was that sacrifice for? He cannot forgive her for coming with him; she has made the choice redundant. Seeing her again means he has failed. He’s not sure if he wishes that he had never met her at all. See what I mean, what a barrel of laughs he is to be around. I’d turn back and live my life in the corridor of eternity rather than follow him into the universe of the Divergents.
Edwardian Adventurer: Comparing ranges can be great fun, especially if you are a nerd like me. And comparing Charley Pollard and Evelyn Smythe is quite rewarding as they have enjoyed similar development and one has shown how to handle this development well and the other has fudged it completely. Can you guess which is which? Both Charley and Evelyn have been offered second chance at life, both have admitted that they love the Doctor, both have given meaning to his life and both have reflected on the perils of travelling with him. Evelyn’s storyline is heartbreaking, her slow realisation that the universe is an ugly place and that the Doctor can’t always save everyone. Charley’s story was heartbreaking; the spoilt little girl who’s spared life pursued her until she could run no further. And whereas Evelyn’s feelings were explored delicately and given some closure in Arrangements of War poor Charley is trapped in the moment where she told the Doctor that she loved him as though she should be punished for it. I’m sick of hearing her tell him that she loves him, they’ve focussed on her death and her love until I have loved it to death but now I am exhausted by all the selfish discussion of her feelings and just want her to start having adventures again. Neverland, Zagreus and Scherzo take Charley down a route of unsympathetic self-examination and she bores me with her bitching and whining that he doesn’t feel the same way. It’s dull.
Charley and the Doctor give each other meaning. She doesn’t feel tired, hungry or thirsty, her senses are assaulted and blinded. She feels she owes him everything. It’s hard for her to say I love you (you wouldn’t think so the amount she lets it trip of her tongue). The Doctor makes her realise that she has lost her family and friends and she will never see any of them again. She will never fall in love, get married or have children. She asks why he saved her if she has made things so very bad for him. The Doctor describes her as the companion that was already dead, the ultimate Time Lord accessory. Charley admits she never would have gone on without him. Their love has killed each other. She has to give up who she is for the Doctor and become him. They are again willing to sacrifice themselves for each other – the true expression of love? Charley accepts that her old life is over and steps out onto an alien planet, lost in a new universe.
Great Ideas: Nothing exists outside the TARDIS door. There is no Time to be Lord of in the Divergent Universe and the TARDIS is redundant here. Blackness breaks through (this is reminiscent of the Doctor’s terrifying dreams in City of the Dead). The console room is all that is left of the TARDIS and even that is being eaten away. They step outside and are assaulted by a sudden brightness that leaves them blind, their eyes not equipped to see this universe. Charley swears she can smell pudding but there are no smells, their senses are filling in the gaps where there is nothing. Time has no meaning, they haven’t spoken in 32 hours and Charley perceives it as half an hour! Something is keeping them alive. The sound creature doesn’t respond to words but the meaning behind them. The only thing they have left is sound and it is being used against them. As the Doctor and Charley keep discovering the corpse it keeps evolving and hunger taking over they begin feeding on its flesh. Each time it evolves it becomes it becomes a little more palatable until they realise it is evolving into a copy of Charley. She’s been eating herself. They created the sound creature and they, and it, are evolving together. When the Doctor and Charley start melting until each other, sharing their senses, they can see properly. They have been slowly breast feeding the creature sound and the Doctor wants to glut it so he has Charley slash his throat and expose his vocal chords. The deeply surreal dreamscapes at least make sense this time – Charley as a mother and the Doctor as a father and their child, the sound creature, attempting to kill them. Evolution or extinction.
Audio Landscape: Very impressive. The sound effects in this story are deeply disturbing; the engineers succeed in creating a genuinely frightening alien environment. The sizzling blackness consumes the TARDIS. There is a whirring hum as they step out into a new universe. The TARDIS fades away. The Doctor and Charley’s dialogue is distorted and echoed back at them, subtly. There is an assault on the aural senses when the creature screams helphelphelphelp pleeeeeaaasssssseeee. The creatures their own words against them in a surreal attack, constructing a sentence out of their inflections rather than their dialogue. The TARDIS engines singing Friar O Jacques is delightfully barmy. Breathing and heartbeats, the Doctor and Charley make noises even when they try not to. The assault of music at the end of episode three is shocking because of the absence of music throughout. Experience the most disgusting kiss sound effect ever. Charley screams into the darkness. Birdsong greets Charley in her dreamscape and it is jarring to hear such a normal sound. The dying screams of the sound creature and its pleading for its life. Together the Doctor and Charley step into the windswept surface of a new planet.
Musical Cues: The lack of music in the main story is compensated by a great storytelling score during the Musical King segments. I especially liked the music during the scene where the music tore through the kingdom and killed everybody once released. If there is anything that the story teaches it is that there is music in all sounds and the sounds of Scherzo create an innovative, discordant score.
Isn’t it Odd: That both the Doctor and Charley are so irritating these days. I want the cute do gooders from Storm Warning back, not this pair of impostors.
Result: How can you sum up Scherzo with any degree of eloquence? It defies all the standard rules of examination. A two hander between the Doctor and Charley set entirely in a corridor at the edge of a new universe. Even as I write that sentence I wonder how the creators thought even Rob Shearman could make something of that pitch. That the story of Scherzo is so fascinating and unsettling rockets the talents Shearman and the guys at ERS who assembled this piece. The sound creature is a thrilling new life form and its slow evolution and dependence on inflection and meaning provides some wonderful moments. As an audio experience this as experimental and art house as they come, defying all the rules of storytelling and atmospherics. What a shame then that our only two visitors to this strange and disquieting universe are the eighth Doctor and Charley, decadently self-piteous and unsympathetic. Adding C’rizz to this mix chills me to the bone. This story deserves more points for its willingness to take astonishing risks and win but the range is being poisoned by its regulars. I would very much like to have experienced the story of the King who banishe dmusic as well, its really rather good: 7/10
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/