Released December 2003
‘Scherzo’ picks up where ‘Zagreus’ left off, seeing the Eighth Doctor and Charley enter the Divergent universe. To set the tone for how different this universe can potentially be during the upcoming releases, ‘Scherzo’ takes a big risk and presents a two-hander with only Paul McGann and India Fisher as the characters in a devoid world with no accompanying incidental music. There’s immense potential for this setup to go horribly wrong, but Big Finish tasked one of its mot prolific writers in Robert Shearman with this concept and the result is surprisingly strong. Before each episode there is a pre-credits sequence where the Doctor continues to tell a story paralleling his own events and experiences here, slowly introducing the concept of music and its growing effects and coming full circle as the sound creature in the story proper gains power.
Having two series of stories set in a universe without time is another risky move, but the TARDIS being eaten away by nothingness and leaving the Doctor and Charley utterly stranded is a profoundly powerful scene, and McGann plays the necessary despondency and near-insanity perfectly here as his intricate relation to time is torn away from him. This leaves the duo to wander aimlessly through a void with no sense of familiarity at all to relate to, and the scene in which the Doctor tells Charley she may never see again if her eyes do not adjust to the rules of this new universe sums up the potential danger aptly. Time is obviously flowing due to narrative necessity, but the fact that the two can walk for so long without needing food or water, all the while losing sensory input and sense of self, is fascinating to behold.
These events cannot sustain an entire story, though, and so Shearman introduces a corpse along the way that seems as though it will be their sustenance for survival before it apparently cries for help and is eaten by something else. The revelation that the corpse is actually evolving into Charley- and the consequences of that- is brutally nightmarish in concept and works exceedingly well. However, the sound creature itself is the most ingenious idea here since, even in the void, simply replaying words the Doctor and Charley have spoken proves to be eerily effective. As it turns out, they accidentally gave birth to the sound creature as they contaminated a contained experiment designed to see what the corpse would evolve into otherwise. A race for survival of sorts follows, and though Charley realizes that her life may be meaningless in this new universe and the Doctor seems willing to sacrifice himself for the creature to survive, Charley chooses the Doctor’s survival instead.
Shearman is afforded an opportunity to explore the characters in great detail here given the lack of any other true characters. The Doctor- presumably still feeling the affects of Zagreus- takes on a darker and more melancholy tone than usual, upset that Charley betrayed his trust by stowing away aboard the TARDIS and entering this universe with him. Fisher herself excellently portrays the madness that this new universe’s lack of sensory input creates, and she is understandably dejected that the Doctor is so upset by her presence. There has been a slight undercurrent of love between these two characters, and Shearman does not shy away from addressing it, love being the reason that Charley did stow away and love also being the reason that the Doctor sacrificed himself in the first place. There are some truly powerful scenes that deal with and seem to resolve the issue once and for all, leaving them with a strained friendship right now, but it would be surprising if there were no emotional ramifications later in the run that stem from these events.
Despite an incredibly risky setup and setting, ‘Scherzo’ is most certainly a strong beginning to the Doctor’s adventures in the Divergent universe. Breaking the experiment’s confining tube allows the two to enter a new planet, and mentions of the Kromon and Koth keep anticipation high for the upcoming releases.