Robert Shearman’s Scherzo is, at least technically, the first story in the Divergent Universe arc. Even so I have decided to review it separately from the post on the whole arc for a number of reasons.
First it marks the divide from Zagreus (which some would also count as being in the Divergent Universe arc) and although the Eighth Doctor and Charley have now left their own reality they haven’t really explored
Second they haven’t met C’rizz yet so my series review is pegged onto their adventures with him.
Third it is one hell of a story and deserves review on its own merits. The story is over ten years old and there will be spoilers.
The Big Finish synopsis is thus:
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.
Every disc starts with a few minutes narration of a fantasy tale that weaves across the theme of the main story (music) but never lines up with it. It is part of what makes this story unique.
Have the events of Zagreus forever damaged him?
Leaving the dying TARDIS the Doctor and Charley find themselves in an alien world in which they are blind. They travel without hunger and are visited by a creature derived from sound who has been created by their arrival. This creature evolves and competes with the natives whose dead bodies (or body?) the Doctor and Charley encounter every now and then when they regain their sight.
Wandering around they travel hand in hand and the analogy of lovers is intentional. They have a lot of time to talk and discuss the fact that Charley is in love with the Doctor. This love is rejected and the Doctor has rejected much of who he once was. Have the events of Zagreus forever damaged him?
As the story moves on the mood darkens and crosses over from familiar fantasy to horror. The Doctor and Charley start feasting on the dead natives that slowly evolve from amoeba to reptile to mammal. The musical creature develops more nuanced communication skills and also feast on the two companions by trying to eat into their necks.
The horrific imagery increases as the dead natives are revealed to become something close to human and with Charley’s face. The Doctor and Charley get fused at the hands then eventually merge into one form in a sequence that starts with the kiss that Charley had once dreamed of. All very grim.
Of course all ends with the foe defeated, senses regained and bodies separated. For Charley and the Doctor things will never be the same again.
This is a superbly acted piece performed entirely by Paul McGann and India Fisher. The mood is eerie and the imagery stark and unsettling. I found it compelling to listen to even though I didn’t like where the story was going. The prose is as good as you might expect from Robert Shearman and this is one of the best realised stories.
The realisation of the Doctor is very different from normal – he appears broken and remote and largely unsatisfactory from a listener’s perspective. This is all very convincing in some ways but is a leap from where his character seemed to be going in Neverland and Zagreus.
This is a strong story that I wished I hadn’t heard. I find myself conflicted and recognising the power and skill but wishing I hadn’t experienced some of the images in this dark piece.
It’s probably a classic and one not to overlook amongst the back catalogue.
What do you think? Oh – and if anyone gets the whole music / scherzo thing could they explain? My musical knowledge isn’t up to making sense of the reference!