Exiled in the Divergent Universe, the Doctor discovers to his horror that he is in a realm without time as he knows it. This is interesting as it makes the limitations of the Time Lords more implicit. As the Doctor writhes in agony, the TARDIS is reduced to ash before his eyes. Ironically, it is Charey who helps him through the experience, her reluctance to back down before a challenge and her undying love for her friend assists her in being strong enough to survive.
Part of the appeal for me of the Eighth Doctor audio adventures has been their innovation. Of all the audios, they have had the unique opportunity to chart new realms, unrestricted by continuity and mythology as seen on TV. His first era of stories was a mixture of traditional and bizarre, granting listeners a kind of nostalgic hint of the Graham Williams era along with some new ideas. The step into another universe where reality is entirely different adds a new spin… one that gets explored in great detail in Robert Shearman’s Scherzo.
To this point, the Doctor had been portrayed as an adventurous romantic with a touch of mania. In Scherzo, new facets are added and we see that he is a very very strange man. In the white void outside of the TARDIS, the Doctor cannot sense anything. The world around him is a blank slate. For Charley, however, her senses are filling in the gaps, supplying sounds, tastes, smells and even textures where there are none. Charley is overcome, but the Doctor is detached and alien, a distant stranger compared to the man that she had grown to love.
This is part of the genius of Big Finish, the transition from romance to alienation is of course the path that a relationship with the Doctor would take. It’s absolutely stunning to hear Charley realize that she has sacrificed everything that she knows for someone who ultimately rejects her, not out of callousness but out of his nature. The Doctor simply cannot love in the same way that a human being can. And like his being a Time Lord, a lack of compassion and intimacy is also a handicap for the Doctor.
Realizing that without the TARDIS, the Doctor and Charley are both going to die in a universe they should not even exist in. His act of bravery now a hollow gesture, the Doctor is furious and hurt, but also feeling new emotions that confuse him and make him more lost than his blindness caused by their surroundings.
Scherzo is a character piece, a wonderful and brilliant examination of the Doctor and what he relies on to exist. Shearman’s script consists mainly of Charley and the Doctor walking about in a circle, awkwardly trying to reach closure on their relationship, unable to make any real connection. Their only company is a half-mocking echo of their words played back at them. A disembodied entity has been attempting to communicate with them through sound, relying on the intonations in their words. It’s an interesting correlation to the Doctor and Charley’s lack of empathy.
For anyone thinking that this must be the most boring story ever, four episodes of two characters flapping gums in a void, I can sympathize. However, Scherzo is absolutely amazing. Their senses dwindling one by one, the travelers walk in a circle endlessly encountering a cadaver to give them sustenance, each time evolving more until they find that they are feeding off of a corpse in Charley’s image.
The pinnacle of the adventure is likely the moment when the Doctor and Charley find that they have been holding hands for so long that their flesh has become fused. At the Doctor’s suggestion, they push further and merge fully, becoming one being.
The start of what should have been one of the most amazing string of stories ever, Scherzo needs to be heard to be believed.