THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Scherzo

Written by Rob Shearman Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2003
Continuity After The Telemovie

Starring Paul McGann and India Fisher.

Synopsis: 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...


Reviews

Spellbinding... by Joe Ford 19/1/04

Love. It hurts, it makes you smile, it brings tears to your eyes, it gives you moments of intense, intoxicating pleasure. Love is all around us, inside us, enslaving us. You cannot predict when love will strike or when it will lose its grip. But love, above all things, is why we exist.

Scherzo contains scenes of a Doctor and a companion confessing their love for each other. It should be maudlin and dreadfully embarrassing, out of character and touching on issues the show was never meant to explore. The Doctor and Charley have been through hell and back in the past two stories and here, finally, they are alone and forced to talk through their relationship.

It is shockingly experimental, a two handed story with only Paul McGann and India Fisher at play but therein lays the story's strength. Scherzo proves that you don't need to go to Zagreus style lengths to tell a story with far reaching consequences, there isn't a gargantuan cast or a thousand locations, all you need is two very good actors and a fantastic script and you can create a story with such power, such emotion to it that its after effects will be felt for a long time.

It was about halfway through Scherzo that I started to think about to moments in the series when the Doctor could have claimed to be in 'love' with his companions. There's Susan and Romana II of course, and little Jo and perhaps even Ace in some twisted way. It shocked me to realise that I had never considered that the Doctor could actually be in love, being so detached from what I recognise as a loving relationship (he can't have sex or cuddle or kiss or show any kind of physical attraction to his friends). But when I thought about what Scherzo (and Neverland) were trying to say, that you don't have to engage in physical love to be completely obsessed with somebody, to care about their wellbeing more than your own and to give up your life so that they can live. In this respect I realised the Doctor was the most loving man in the entire universe as in each of his incarnations he selflessly risked his own neck to help others, many of whom were not as worthy of life as himself (although that is entirely subjective).

Scherzo reminds me of the Peter Davison era in all the wrong ways. Much like the fifth Doctor's reign, the opening and closing story were both superb bookends and entirely suggestive that the storytelling within was just as audacious. Gary chose to bookend 2003 with two Rob Shearman stories, by far the most popular of the writers on his staff and in both cases Rob produced something astonishingly good. It could almost convince you that 2003 was Big Finish's best ever year. It was not. Squeezing the continuity-obsessed year between two Shearman masterpieces was a grave error; I will now almost entirely skip over the twenty odd CDs in between to reach the next powerhouse. There were the odd classics scattered about (...the Pirates and The Wormery) but on the whole the weight of the introduction and climax of the year buries the rest.

It is just as well that Paul McGann and India Fisher give their best performances in a story that offers them some incredible material. We get to see both of them experience the entire range of emotions from fear to excitement, from love to hate, crushing disappointment and endless hope. Both actors excel themselves and I was very pleasantly surprised that together they not only managed to hold up 100 minutes of drama but in doing so managed to help create one of the most disturbing and emotional stories in the shows long history.

The story exists to tell the story of these two people who, in all honesty, probably should only have been passing acquaintances. Had the Doctor obeyed the laws of time that would have been it, one rip roaring adventure on the R101 in time for Charley's death. But because the Doctor is such an arrogant, emotional man, he refused to let her go to her fate and almost wound up destroying the universe as a result. Instead of that possibility he gave up his own life for her and fully expected to never see her again.

But here they are, in a new universe together, wandering a corridor for an eternity and being deprived of all of their senses. Charley has spent the past year of her life regretting that she ever lived, seeing how her continued existence has threatened the lives of every living being. Forced to watch as her bestest, closest most wonderful friend sacrifices himself to further her life even more. What has she done to deserve such sacrifices?

She can't see, she can't feel, she can't taste... she is stuck in a universe that refuses to play by the rules with a man who appears to hate her.

It is minimalist storytelling at its all time best and manages to connect to you through the sheer energy of the writing and performances. As the Doctor and Charley begin to make sense of this fucked up universe you are with them every step of the way, first disturbed as they are deprived even sight of each other but then relief as they are offered food, start to see where they are going and finally excitement as they manage to communicate with the creature that is all around them. McGann and Fisher manage to take you to highs and lows, you punch the air with delight when you realise they are in a genuine corridor but your heart sinks when it is revealed it is not heading anywhere, that they have been re-tracing their steps over and over again.

It is a very disorienting experience but then Shearman has never been one to play by the rules. He gets the chance to take you to a truly alien universe, to play around with your perceptions of reality and physics, to toy with your emotions and make you like and hate the two characters throughout the course of the story. Despite all the sensitive questioning of the Doctor and Charley's relationship I was unnerved by this story for every single second. And it was that sort of joyous disconcertion when you know that somebody is playing about with you and you don't know where he is going to take you next.

But what of the central issue, is this a love relationship or just an explosion of horrid events forcing two people together? There are many tear jerking moments throughout Scherzo where Rob plays about with the answer to that question. One brilliantly angry scene shows Charley finally squaring up to this aggressive, defeated Doctor who tells her "Whatever part of me thought I loved you, that urge, is as dead to me now as my sight and my taste" and she viscously tells him "Never do that again! Never say those words again! Not if you don't mean them. They're too precious to be squandered..." It is wonderful to see them acknowledging how they feel but heart-breaking to see they still cannot break all the barriers between them and accept the inevitable truth. The story takes you on a roller coaster ride of denials before they finally, physically and mentally, become one another and realise they are meant to be together. That of course he loves her to the very core of his being but her betrayal of his love, of his sacrifice for their love cuts even deeper.

People have been expressing their dislike of Charley of late, that she is too sickly sweet and undeserving of such attention as the stories place on her (huh, isn't that Ace?). But I have to disagree as strongly as I can, Charley is one of Big Finish's best gifts to the Doctor Who universe, a companions that manages to challenge her role and become vital, essential to the storytelling of the series without ever being intrusive or moulded out of the regular 'companion' function. And India Fisher is just incredible, I never thought in her first season she could give a performance as intense and mesmerising as she does here. I think they could give her any material now and she would be astonishing.

Paul McGann is great, we all know that but he is only as good as the script he is given and his opening story of his third season saw him shunted to the sidelines and barking to himself for three hours. How dull, almost enough to think he had lost the ability to play the Doctor effectively (damn you Russell!). But with Rob Shearman's best script to hand he produces dazzling results, making the Doctor passionate, livid, disturbing and hysterical. He truly is a farce to be reckoned with and the best friend Charley could ever have.

And when the two best friends stand on the verge of exploring a brand new universe together I was genuinely gripped to know what happened to them next, a far cry from my schizophrenic irritation with Zagreus. Whatever happens next this universe is in good hands.

This is bold new territory for Doctor Who and especially for Doctor Who in the audio medium. That it manages to be the most interesting, scary and exciting story of the year is no mean feat. It may lack incidentals but it has two qualities in great abundance, imagination and love.

And these two it has now been proven make wonderful Doctor Who.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe <>I>5/2/04

This audio seemed to have "different" written all over it. Rob Shearman asked to write an 8th Doctor and Charley story, with just the 2 of them in it. There would be no incidental music in the story either. To be honest it all sounded rather dull - an unnecessary restriction on the expansive format of Doctor Who. But then Shearman is undoubtedly the best author used by Big Finish, and different in his writing can be glorious.

The play starts with a story, from the Doctor. Read like a fairy tale about kings and kingdoms and music, you wonder why it's there. When the rest of the episodes have a similar prologue before the opening credits, that questioning increases. Slowly but surely though it all becomes apparent, and the contrast between the prologue (with its emphasis on music) and the rest (no music at all) is all too clear.

Paul McGann and India Fisher have formed possibly the closest companionship ever seen between Doctor and companion. The last 11 plays have seen a gradual building of this friendship. What results is a relationship that Doctor Who has never ever seen in its intensity. It's interesting to speculate whether this is the result of a master plan by Big Finish, or more likely, a result of the chemistry that the 2 actors have together. Fact - Paul McGann and India Fisher work brilliantly together, and their one to ones are wonderful.

That's the main reason why I found Scherzo fascinating. I went beyond my original notion that the restriction was unnecessary, and just enjoyed the way these 2 great actors reacted to one another. I'm not convinced this is Rob Shearman's best work, but we have undoubtedly been spoilt by this fantastic writer.

At first I pictured a white void, akin to Mind Robber for this adventure. The truth, with its glass casing was more corridor like - an apt subject for Who. With each episode jumping forward in time, I wondered where the whole thing was going. I began to get claustrophobic, and thankfully a break out occurs in the final episode - thus the story breaks out from the confines of the glass tube, and enters a surreal world. I like surreal most of the time, but a few listens are needed to get my head around what exactly happened here.

Scherzo comes in a shorter length than virtually all Big Finish plays. I believe this to be appropriate, due to the nature of the subject matter. Long episodes would not have worked. I was initially surprised at how fast the episodes went past, they couldn't have been longer than 20-25 minutes.

Small scale Scherzo may be, but the Doctor and Charley's relationship is far from this. It is intriguing to explore, and the vast spectrum of the emotion of love is given full attention here. The sheer diversity of the emotion between the Doctor and Charley is fascinating - as is the fact that I can recall nothing remotely like it in any Doctor Who.

Does it work? Is it a bold experiment that really came off? I'm not quite sure I can endorse the thing whole-heartedly, there was too much head scratching going on whilst I was listening to it for that. But looking back now, I have to commend Big Finish for trying something different. We have 12 plus Doctor Who plays every year, and that amount does lend itself to the odd experiment.

I tend to think of myself as a traditionalist. By that I mean that I enjoy the likes of Spectre of Lanyon Moor better than anything else. That doesn't mean though that I can't appreciate the side steps that DW takes. My reviews cover all the types of Doctor Who stories, I just love Doctor Who! So I can enjoy the likes of Adventuress of Henrietta Street (it's actually one of my favourite books).

Likewise I can enjoy Scherzo for its "different" approach. I wouldn't like them all to be like this, but again the diversity of Doctor Who is such that we can have a Scherzo, and accept it as it is. I liked it very nicely thank you, it's just not brilliant DW. 7/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 20/10/04

After the overlong and companion overloaded Zagreus, Scherzo is an excercise in back to basics Doctor Who. With just two characters, barely any incidental music and short episodes, the result is quite a strange experience.The script is Rob Shearman`s weakest, mainly because he only has two established characters to work with and also because the thrust of the story deals with the overdone concept of love.

What it doesn`t do is address the issues at the end of Zagreus: the Doctor having now entered a divergent universe to prevent his Zagreus energies disrupting our own universe; oh and we`re minus the TARDIS now too. This also means that Scherzo is a pretty serious play; there are no light moments, the sound creature is disturbing, the Doctor`s behaviour is colder, recalling An Unearthly Child although the setting is more reminiscent of the opening episode of The Mind Robber.

In short, despite strong performances from Paul McGann and India Fisher, a stronger story is required should Big Finish try anything similar in the future.


If I Close My Eyes You Can't See Me by Kathryn Young 17/11/04

I have great fun imagining the pitch for this story...

Rob: So what happens is this - they wander around a big glass ring, eat raw alternate universe evolving monsters, chat a bit and then they sort of chat a bit more... and that is about it.

Gary: Get the butterfly net.

However Rob and the Greeks had the right idea: catharsis. Sometimes you just have to let it all out.

Have you ever had one of those nights? You know the one. It starts off as a party, perhaps with a few friends and it ends up as a sort of drunken psychoanalysis session. You find yourself at three in the morning getting someone's life history, far too much information about their sex life and all the fears, hopes and dreams that they are too afraid to even admit to themselves. During that time (and under the influence of lots and lots of alcohol) you reach out to people in a way that you can never normally do. And, ironically, then when you see them next morning at the photocopier you smile at each other and never speak of that night again.

To me Scherzo is the Doctor Who equivalent of Charley and the Doc staying up far too late with a bottle of tequila. What ever happens during that drunken night won't change anything, it probably won't be remembered or ever spoken of again, but these nights occur because just every so often we have to let go and actually say how we feel about... well... everything.

Everyone (and I am going to use the word "complains" here) complains about this story because it is yet another "companion falls for the Doctor" story.

And yes I agree... dear god - this poor man/Time Lord. He is a total shag magnet. At this point in the EDAs I have even begun to wonder if Fitz has started to fall in love with the Doc. It makes me really glad that I am not Paul McGann. I get the feeling that Paul cannot go to the supermarket without being leapt upon by the checkout chicks.

But is this story really just about Charley going all gooey for our byronesque Eighth Doc (come on - didn't we cover this ground in the books so do we really need to rehash it here?) or is it really an excuse for us to see how our two protagonists tick and perhaps examine a side of the Doctor we very rarely get to see - how he feels about life, the universe and this whole being a universe saving hero thing?

If this was a Kate Orman story the Doctor and Charley would probably be beaten with sticks. Rob Shearman's approach is more subtle. He just hands them the Tequila bottle, sits back and waits. Because he knows that with enough tequila (or in this case enough walking endlessly around a big glass ring with half your senses cut off) that after a while the truth will come out.

And personally I think the Doctor had already been hitting the booze before the party started. Well, not so much hitting the booze, but that he dropped some acid just before lunch and is currently having a very bad trip. When we first meet the new post-Zagreus Doctor he is hiding behind the console and freaking out "cos like the future's going to come and get him and gobble him up". It is then that we realize the Doc doesn't really have all his dimensions stabilized.

Or, to put it another way, he is as mad as a teapot.

Which in itself is not surprising after Zagreus. I would assume that the poor bloke is suffering from some post "being stabbed to death with a large sword and then turned into an anti-time fictional monster and exiled to some weird universe" traumatic type stress and that it might take a little while to get over this sort of thing happening to you. So I don't really blame him if, in this story he just isn't his usual "these shoes - they fit perfectly" Doctor. He is totally out of his element and probably scared to death.

And that is what I really like about this story; it is an exploration of the Doctor's character. Yes there I go again...

"It is all about characterization with you girls isn't it? Personally I don't give a stuff. As long as he is wearing a frock coat he can run down my corridor any day." "But why does he run down corridors?" "Well, he is the Doctor." "And who is the Doctor?" "Well, he's a bloke... who wears a frock coat... and who runs down corridors."

As Patrick McGoohan once said on The Prisoner: "Haven't you ever wondered? Haven't you ever tried to find out?"

And Scherzo is exactly that. It is an exploration of why the Doctor does what he does, why he keeps hanging around with underage girls who then invariably fall in love with him and want to jump his bones (and yes I thought of the obvious reason too - I think that is the reason I have so much of a problem with the first Doctor. I am just so glad that William Hartnell's costume never included a raincoat... now that would just be too disturbing), and this whole being a universe-saving hero thing.

All you need is love:

Go on - have a big think about it... Harry, Sarah, Peri, Sam... can you honestly say the Doctor has loved, knows love, understands love? But what would happen if the Doctor broke with the tradition of a lifetime and really did fall in love? Not the Bridget Jones type lovie love, but that, for the first time ever, he allowed himself to love - to care for someone so much that he would sacrifice a universe for them?

And what if he fell in love with Charley (I know I know... but love is strange and unpredictable isn't it - but just think: IT COULD HAVE BEEN SAM! That scared you didn't it?) I have to speculate that - hero he may be, genius, he may be, a thousand years old he may be... able to cope with falling in love - absolutely no way. It is pretty scary concept for us humans, and we are used to the idea. Imagine what it was like for the Doctor.

Did you ever know that you're my hero:

In Neverland and Zagreus the Doctor made the ultimate hero's sacrifice and died 1. For the universe and 2. For Charlie (or the other way around if you prefer). But there is a problem. He isn't dead. So now the Doctor is right pissed. All he wanted was all the wonderfulness of life or the certainty of a hero's death.

What was the point of all this love thing?

He tried the whole love thing - he fell in love, did the whole hero bit and died for love, but his sacrifice was in vain because he is now stuck in some half life poncing around a big glass ring in a weirdo universe and Charley, the silly cow, is still hanging around - and what is worse the doozy bitch won't just let him off himself, she keeps making him fight to stay alive, telling him how she values him and that he should "never, ever give up".

And he just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why Charley won't leave him. The idea of being loved has never even crossed his radar. Loving is scary, but allowing yourself to be loved is even scarier.

So what does he do? He does what everyone does when they are scared and in denial. He gets very angry and starts lashing out at (dare I say it) the one he loves - Charley. But Charley isn't having a bar of it. I don't know if Charley's love is the same as Sam's "shag him till bits fall off", or something different. However while she may be a mere human she is much more au fait with this whole love concept that the Doctor. And, angry, hurt and rejected she gives him what for... but she doesn't stop loving him because that is what love is: never having to say you're sorry.

Charley: Take my hand.

Doctor: But we can see now?

Charley: I know "you doozy git" (my unspoken subtext) - take my hand anyway.

Dear little sound creature: The music

Tidelie bom, tidelie bom... Whooooo arrrrrr wooooooo!

This story reminded me of how much I love that stupid song. How sometimes I turn it down because I am embarrassed and sometimes I say "sod you lot - I'm a daggy Doctor Who fan and proud of it" and drive the neighbours crazy. So I suppose that a story concerning a sound creature is the perfect place to discuss the grooviness of the Eighth Doctor's Big Finish theme song.

It sounds rather like they took the old tune, stuck the tape recorder under water and then repeatedly punched Paul McGann in the stomach half way through (oof oof oof oof). The darker, grittier style of this tune admirably suits the Eighth Doctor's BF adventures and I am sad to note that they have taken out the "oof oof oof oof" bit in later stories.

The Spooky Universe:

I adore Shearman's view of the spooky alternate universe. It is like that bit in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy where Arthur and Ford find themselves in a mathematical representation of South End - where the sea stays steady as a rock and the buildings keep washing up and down. Now that's the sort of interesting concept-type-thing I thought we would get with these new universe stories - total weirdness modified any which way to make a good story. Sadly Douglas Adams is very very dead and has not written any of the alternate universes so apart from Shearman's exploration of the new universe's weirdness in Scherzo, the entire idea has gone to waste and I bet the bloke who thought it up is really narked.


A Review by John Seavey 13/1/06

I'm so very, very ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, I think this is the one where Rob Shearman officially raises the white flag reading, "I Have Nothing New To Say." I've heard him claim that in the "legitimate theatre", this is considered "thematic development" and is very mature and adult, but I think that even in the legitimate theatre, they have terms like "self-plagarism", and reprising the denouement from Chimes of Midnight practically word for word is the point where they start bandying them around. The self-contained little worlds he's created for each of his plays have gotten less elaborate with each story, from the vast castle of The Holy Terror to the claustrophobic house of The Chimes of Midnight to Scherzo, where we spend two hours tramping around in circles while the Doctor and Charley bicker. I don't think he can reduce his message any further without having to ditch the actors.

Further, the surreal nature of the play effectively cuts all future Eighth Doctor audios off at the knees. It's a story that starts with the Doctor pointing out that they're in an entirely new universe and the odds of there being oxygen, digestible food, and even physical laws that allow them to exist are vanishingly small, and ends with them smushing together like two blobs of jello and then just as easily shmucking apart again. After that, how do you go to any kind of rational adventure in the "new universe"? How can you establish any set of rules at all? It's as though Shearman is fully aware of how impossible to write the Divergent Universe is, and is subtly mocking Russell for coming up with it.

Still, while I dislike the basic concept of the play, and while I think that Shearman might have played out his string with it, I have to admire his simple nuts-and-bolts ability to write a compelling piece of dialogue. I listened to it, and for the most part, even while I was irritated at a few of the Shearmanisms ("I've never been more frightened in all my lives," the Doctor said, and I mentally added "more than any of the other times I've said I was frightened in a Shearman audio to make the situation seem more dramatic"), I was genuinely interested in listening to the story to see what would happen next, and I do have to credit the story for succeeding on that level, because it's harder to do than it looks.


Minuet in Heaven? by Charles Berman 3/8/10

In Big Finish's series of adventures starring the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, after the mammoth and resolutely odd and experimental Zagreus comes Scherzo, a piece which is no less odd and experimental but in wildly different ways. I'd been looking forward to making my way far enough into the Eighth Doctor series to listen to Scherzo since Rob Shearman's previous stories for Big Finish are among my favourite Doctor Who stories in any medium. Hell, some are among my favourite stories in any medium (though don't ask me to narrow that list down too much).

While stories like The Holy Terror and The Chimes of Midnight take an ostensibly comfortable fictional world for the Doctor Who format and slowly reveal it to be something much much larger, stranger, and more affecting and insightful, Scherzo is unabashedly experimental from the start. The premise holds up and the piece is beautiful. I don't know if it's necessarily as good as Shearman's previous stories. It's probably not even fair to compare them as their particulars and purpose are so different, but it certainly is worthy of them.

Scherzo is creepy and scary in its development of the sound creature that has the Doctor and Charley in its grip and has totally unknown powers and properties, it is gripping in its development, unforgettable in its concept, and insightful and touching in the Doctor and Charley's revelations to each other and the development of their relationship. The fact that is has little to no traditional incidental music is not a limitation but an integral part of the story, and the fact that India Fisher and Paul McGann are the only actors is in this case a strength. It's extreme good fortune that they are strong enough actors to carry the entire play on their backs, and it is perfect way to focus the play on the Doctor and Charley themselves, in the manner of some great, character-centric stage plays. In some ways, the Doctor and Charley remind me here of Didi and Gogo: they have only themselves, helpless in a void where what they are waiting for may never come. Except that the Doctor and Charley realize that they have only themselves, and that is why their story, unlike Waiting for Godot, can come to an end.

After Zagreus, hours long and seeming to span the universe with a cast of dozens, Scherzo takes the more direct route to an exploration of similar themes about its two main characters. The mysterious world where they find themselves, empty but with a creature that feeds on strong emotion, has the effect of putting Charley and the Doctor in a box and making them affect each other and talk to each other about what they have been feeling. And there is enough there that this is explosive. They realize - and prove - that they love each other. As it should, it takes a lot to get there. Scherzo is a journey to that. It's also a meditation on the meaning of it, which ends, it seems, with the thought that we can know love is there and can know what we will do because of it, but perhaps can never exactly know what it is.

Shearman's ear for character and dialogue is rarely matched and, as far as I know, never surpassed in Doctor Who. It's phenomenal even outside Doctor Who. Not only is Charley as good a character as she's ever been here, but Shearman has accomplished the rare task of getting inside the Doctor's head and not being silly or laughable. Most authors who try stumble when trying to write a character who is a super-powerful, hundreds-of-years old Time Lord, but here his pain at losing his senses of time in this new universe is palpable and his motives and emotions - sacrificing himself so that Charley could live and furious because by following him she wasted that and endangered herself - are perfectly capable of being empathized with, making the Doctor's pain that believable. Likewise, the revelations - to the Doctor and us - about the truth in the speculation that he keeps companions in part as mementi mori. McGann and Fisher rise to this great writing with invested performances that make the most of the opportunity.

The Doctor and Charley not only realize they love each other, but they also symbolically have sex, get married and have a child. Because these things happen symbolically, they can be explored without the consequences that come with making them occur literally and the results are fascinating.

As much as this story is about love, though, it is also a love letter to music; most obviously in the brief, myth-like prologues McGann reads to each episode. The creature here lives on sound and music - a beautifully realized idea that could not work nearly so well outside the audio medium; Scherzo is in some ways like a dramatization of the Cagean concept that all sound is music. In that regard, it makes a better argument for that concept than most straightforward explanations of it. A scherzo is the lively dance movement of a symphony. It's the second movement in the Beethoven's Ninth. It's the part that, while it sounds lively and blithe and frenetic and urgent, still develops the emotional themes of the larger work. That's what Scherzo and Doctor Who can do, and it what music as a whole can do - and what makes it something we need.

Happily, Scherzo also delivers on the promise of the Divergent Universe into which the Doctor and Charley are plunged at the end of Zagreus. Just how divergent it would be was left up to the writers, and a lazier one might have disappointed.

This story is a unique little gem. It's unforgettable and its ambition with small resources is rewarded all the way. Once again, a Shearman contribution is not just excellent Doctor Who, it's excellent drama within Doctor Who.