‘Scherzo’ picks off where ‘Zagreus’ left us: the Doctor and Charley (uninvited) are alone in the TARDIS having decided to leave the Universe, never to return, and instead dwell in an unknown, divergent Universe for the rest of their lives. Or at least this is what the Doctor did. Charley just didn’t want to live without the Doctor because she loves him.
Love plays an important role in this play; the Doctor seems embarrassed and annoyed by it, Charley is mortified by the Doctor’s dismissal of it, but together they will remain, loving one another. Whether the love the Doctor declares is the passionate type he is meant to have felt for Doctor Grace Holloway or the type which binds friends together is uncertain (for what it’s worth I guess it’s the former though it may well be the latter), but either way the play ends with two different characters, alone together in an unknown Universe.
Coming straight after ‘Zagreus’ was never going to be an easy task; although it divided people right down the line, none could deny its epic qualities and as such any play directly following it was going to have difficulties matching the sheer scope of ‘Zagreus’.
Robert Shearman has solved this problem in a novel way, by creating a play with just two people and little music. Such a contrast from the grand to the small is immediately noticeable and is most welcome too. Beginning in the TARDIS, the Doctor is confused that Charley is with him and it is only when they leave the TARDIS that things begin to fall into place: the Doctor is furious. He feels that Charley has betrayed him by entering this world with him, a world where he reminds her they will both die. He killed himself so that she would live, and so that she would be safe, but she squandered his sacrifice by stowing away and ignoring his final request; when asked why she did it, she says it is because she loves him. He loves her too, which is why he sacrificed himself, but does not know if he can ever forgive her for her betrayal. The theme of love is one that gives ‘Scherzo’ some of its most heartfelt moments, such as in this exchange:
The Doctor: "So you love me."
Charley: "Yes. Yes I do."
The Doctor: "And is that it?"
Charley: "Isn't that enough? If you knew how hard it was for me to say that..."
The Doctor: "Not half as hard as it was to listen to.”
The Doctor denies his love, angering her, though it is never one hundred percent clear whether or not he means what he is saying at the time or if he is just uncertain. Certainly early on when he says that his declaration of love in ‘Neverland’ was done simply because she was about to die, it is almost to horrible to truly believe, though this is at least partly to do with Charley’s reaction to it. The theme of love and emotional disarray is present throughout, and by the end it is clear that they are friends, no more no less. Not even Charley’s offer to hold his hand suggests anything else.
The Doctor in general is a far more dark and sinister character here than he has been in any of the other Paul McGann plays, except when infected with Zagreus. Whether or not this darker side comes from his genuine anger at Charley’s actions or if it is the remnants of Zagreus itself that are making him act as he does here is, again, difficult to decide. In some ways, the Doctor here is almost too nasty if he is being himself, speaking in such a frank way to Charley that it is as if she were one of his enemies rather than a companion. However, this is contrasted by moments such as the beginning, in the TARDIS, when he is frightened and bewildered, trying to work out what is going on and unable to believe Charley is there with him, as by being so she will have betrayed him completely. In some ways, it is sweet of the Doctor to feel this way; in other ways, it is a foreshadowing of what is about to come. I’d say that the anger is his personally; by speaking frankly, he is able to dispel any notions of love in a boyfriend/girlfriend sense from Charley’s mind- he may go about doing so in a cruel manner, but at least it gets the job done. It is when the issue is still unresolved that the play is at its most sinister.
The idea of the Sound Creature is an imaginative one, and it certainly means that ‘Scherzo’ could only ever work in an Audio medium, which is great as it gives the idea of it being a Big Finish play something unique to it. The slow reveal of what the creature is and why it is acting in the way it does is well paced and interesting; also nice are the segments telling of a King who banished music from his realm that precede each Part of ‘Scherzo’; as well as echoing the silence and sinister nature of the play, they also provide a neat short story too with music abundant that contrasts the main bulk of the play nicely.
The use of silence throughout ‘Scherzo’ is well used and rather haunting. In fact, the play’s overall ambience is decidedly chilling and, as well as the acting, this is down to the Sound Design and the Directing by Gary Russell.
Paul McGann and India Fisher are what keep the play alive; they give some of the most emotional performances to ever grace ‘Doctor Who’, and from start to end give us a journey through their characters. ‘Scherzo’ is reliant upon developing characters, and it is a relief that McGann and Fisher are as great at the job as they are, since lesser performers would never have been able to pull this play off. More than ever they prove how superb they are together, and more than ever the listener is really pleased that they are.
The Soundscape created over just four Parts is ambitious, memorable, stirring and scary. The harsh quite nature of the new Universe is contrasted nicely with the Sound Creature’s incoherent babbles. The small trips into lands full of noise are few in number but great in impact as a consequence.
Gary Russell’s Directing is brilliant, making the whole play hang together. Anything reliant on just two principal performers is going to be difficult to pull off, but Russell has taken the bull by the horns and made something quite stunning.
‘Scherzo’ is reliant upon some great acting from the two actors, and some imaginative sound design, and some great Directing, which is fortunately receives.
Paul McGann and India Fisher each turn in one of their greatest performances yet; wrought with emotion, powerfully angry, disturbingly afraid, everything here points to ‘chilling’ and ‘emotional’, and as a launch to the third Season of Paul McGann Bug Finish plays, this really works well. Robert Shearman has turned in yet another great script; McGann and Fisher have once again turned in brilliant performances; Russell has done yet another great job as a Director. If only all things were as sublime as this.
Perhaps expectedly, this story is very alien. True, the Doctor and Charley find themselves in a completely alien universe, but that’s not all that’s alien about it. This is a story about love, a story about sacrifice. It’s new ground for Doctor Who. It’s a story that, if it were written by any other man, wouldn’t have been half as good.
After “Neverland” and “Zagreus”, which I must say I did enjoy, I had become used to each episode being the length of a TV movie. In a merciful break from that, “Scherzo” is presented as a more traditional four-part adventure, each episode length more in line with the classic TV series. That’s where the adherence to tradition ends – this play has little incidental music, no guest stars whatsoever, no cliff-hangers, and it sets the scene for forthcoming adventures by having the TARDIS disappear in the first scene. Each episode also has a pre-credit sequence with Paul McGann narrating a parable about a King who outlawed music. I’m always a fan of McGann narrating, especially on audio, but it seems to work particularly well in this story.
Shearman’s script succeeds on all fronts. He masterfully brings a sense of closure to this whole Charley / Doctor love angle which has divided fandom where both have to talk about and explore their feelings, but without crossing the line. I’m sure some people would consider their bodies merging into one ‘crossing the line’, but I thought their ‘evolution’ was a clever little bit of irony.
“I don’t want your love Charley, I have no use for it.”
From the start, the Doctor is cold to Charley, angry that in stowing away on board the TARDIS she has undermined his sacrifice for her. He makes excuses about his companions all being ‘memento mori’ but in the end he admittedly loves her as she does him (as he points out – he ‘killed himself’ to save her) but I don’t see what all the fuss is about because he’s clearly ‘loved’ many of his companions and would have done the same for them – Romana, Jo, Sarah-Jane, the only difference is that it’s never been alluded to directly on screen. Moreover, just because the Doctor loves Charley doesn’t mean it’s in any way a sexual love, even if it is romantic in nature. She may love the Doctor in that way, but that’s another matter entirely. She’s not the first; Doctor Grace Holloway certainly had a thing for him in his present incarnation, and the Aztec lady Cameca fancied a piece of the first Doctor if I recall correctly; it is hardly his fault!
I was particularly impressed with Shearman’s characterisation of the Doctor in this story, especially in the first couple of episodes. In essence, cut off from time (don’t ask me how… events seem strangely linear for a universe without time!) he has lost all of his temporal senses that humans do not have. This leaves him feeling vulnerable and frightened – more frightened then he’s ever been – and watching the TARDIS disintegrate around him leaves him in despair. He would have “…gone down with the ship…” where it not for Charley’s unexpected presence. In effect, as the Doctor sacrificed himself to save Charley (and the rest of the universe, by the way) and she has now returned the favour, he has to stay alive for her. I like how the Doctor has become very pragmatic; very cynical, bitter even. He’s obviously had little or no experience of human relationships or love, and it clearly shows. The Doctor views love as futile – as far as he’s concerned his love for Charley killed him, and her love for him killed her.
Shearman portrays the alien-ness of this new universe incredibly well, for example by having the Doctor remark how astronomical the odds are that they are on a planet where there is oxygen and by having them essentially blind throughout the story, the rest of their senses gradually falling away as the story progresses. Whilst the character story is excellent, the science-fiction plot isn’t very compelling. The ‘sound monster’ that the Doctor and Charley inadvertently create is interesting enough as long as there is mystery surrounding it, but when it eventually learns to speak and act I felt much of the menace was removed. One thing it did well, though, was to play on Charley’s desire to be a mother – something, as the play highlights on numerous occasions, she can never be.
The despair and isolation is what makes the play; both characters are cut off from everything they’ve ever known forever, and it makes their plight and their feelings all the more poignant. However awkward or ‘embarrassing’ the situation all the Doctor and Charley have is each other. They are alone in a new universe, trapped on one planet, locked in time. The premise is excellent, the actors are brilliant, I only hope they can maintain this interesting new direction and keep it fresh without pissing too many purists off.
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 Masterplan 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 Shearmans 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 Doctors and Charleys 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 (its actually one of my favourite books).
Likewise I can enjoy Scherzo for it's "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
'Scherzo' could have been a disaster; a two-hander with no incidental music has so much potential to go horribly wrong in the hands of numerous writers, especially when one of the two characters is India Fisher's by now fundamentally irritating Charley, and given the need to deal with the tedious emotional baggage left by 'Neverland' and 'Zagreus' as well as establish the new status quo for the Eight Doctor audios. The fact that 'Scherzo' works at all is therefore something of a minor miracle; the fact that is actually genuinely good is almost inconceivable, but Big Finish wisely chose Robert Shearman to write it and the result is superb. It starts with a well-crafted pre-credits sequence, which continues before each subsequent episode, with Paul McGann reading a parable that has parallels with the Doctor's new situation. With Episode Two, the concept of music is introduced into this parable, making sense of the title, and increasing the feeling that something is starting to happen, and by Episode Three we learn that "anything could be borne with music", reinforcing the importance of the concept that underlies the main plot. Finally, by the start of Episode Four, the tale tells us, "The music swallowed him up whole and became the new and dreadful lord of the entire world", which leads nicely into the main body of the episode, as the Sound Creature gains full power. The use of this metaphorical story reflects the care and thoughtfulness with which Shearman approaches his script, which is ultimately allows it to work so well.
'Scherzo' opens more or less where 'Zagreus' left off, with the Doctor thrust into the Divergent universe, although his discovery of the stowed away Charley happens between stories. Episode One is largely occupied with establishing the nature of the new universe, and this immediately poses a problem. It is literally impossible to imagine a universe without time, which is why the decision to set two seasons of stories within such an environment is profoundly unwise. Nevertheless, Shearman bravely has a good crack at it and actually does rather well. During the opening scenes on board the TARDIS, the Doctor tells Charley "You can't open the door because there's nothing behind it anymore… Nothing. At all." The TARDIS is slowly eaten away by oblivion, until it eventually vanishes and to reinforce the seriousness of the situation, the despondent Doctor is resigned to his fate, describing himself as "A captain going down with his ship." McGann is superb here, conveying the Doctor's utter despair at losing those senses that a Time Lord possesses that relate to time, confining him to the relative claustrophobia of the five senses available to mere humans. He sounds as though he's on the verge of madness as he mutters, "Time works differently here. The can be no Lords of Time here, there is no time to be Lords of" and he exhibits a whole wealth of emotion as he asks Charley, "How can you live like this? How can it not drive you mad?"
This idea is further extrapolated, as the Doctor and Charley find themselves wandering through what seems initially to be a featureless void; rather than resorting to witless technobabble to explain the physical rules governing their new universe, Shearman explores its effects on the Doctor and Charley, and the result is nightmarish. Shearman's approach to writing about a universe so utterly different from our own is summed up by the moment in which the Doctor warns Charley that she might never see anything ever again, because their eyes might not work in the new universe. He tells her, "Since our bodies weren't designed to live in this environment, I think we can hardly be surprised that they aren't operating at peak condition." The concept that this universe has no time is deeply flawed from the moment the story begins, since events proceed in sequential order, which is obviously a narrative necessity and the reason why the idea was bollocks in the first place. Sensibly ignoring this, Shearman instead considers how else the Divergent universe might be different, asking what the chances are that there would be oxygen in this universe, with the Doctor raising the possibility that they are slowly dying. He later glibly remarks, "We got lucky. What are the odds?" but whilst the Doctor and Charley stubbornly remain alive, they start to suffer in their new world. The Doctor brutally tells Charley that her body is filling in the gaps as sensory deprivation kicks in, Shearman continues to explore the unreality in which they find themselves; they've been walking for days, but aren't hungry, tired or thirsty, and Charley can barely feel the Doctor's hand squeezing hers. "You have to admit its fascinating, the means by which we judge… all fading away… I daresay even our capacity for fear will fade eventually." Ironically, they lose all concept of, erm, time, with the Doctor asking how long it is since he told Charley to stop talking; she, like the listener, believes that it happened minutes ago, but the Doctor reveals that has in fact been "Thirty-two hours, fourteen minutes". Later, all their senses return, and Charley becomes instantly exhausted, although as critics have not unreasonably pointed out, she doesn't instantly collapse from dehydration.
Whilst all of this is interesting and absorbing, it inevitably doesn't make for much of a story, so just as things are getting ominously overwhelming for the Doctor and Charley, Shearman introduces the alien body. In keeping with the nightmarish predicament that they are in, they are to dissect and then eat the corpse to survive, but then the rest of the plot starts to gather momentum as the corpse seemingly cries, "Help" before an unseen something starts to devour it. Events take on a further nightmarish edge as the corpse evolves into Charley and they realize what they have been eating. It is the introduction of the Sound Creature however that really allows the story to gather pace; with no other cast members to play with, Shearman ingeniously creates an antagonist that can be realised purely by replaying words and sentences uttered by the Doctor and Charley since they entered the void, but rather than simply creating a being that creates new sentences from these words, it literally plays back their words to them, especially particularly embarrassing ones; as the Doctor deduces, "It doesn't respond to meaning, it responds to the emotion behind them." By Episode Four, we start to understand exactly what is going on; with the Doctor and Charley realizing that they have spent weeks literally wandering in circles, we discover that it is all a vast experiment, designed to see what the creature purposely introduced into the tube would evolve into. With the Doctor and Charley having contaminated the experiment, they find themselves in an evolutionary arms race against the Sound Creature that they inadvertently gave birth too. Episode Four thus turns into a finale of sorts, as the Doctor and Charley merge into a gestalt entity and the Sound Creature tries to the convince them that need to die in order to allow it to live, since only one creature can become top of the evolutionary tree. It appeals to Charley's desire to be a mother, currently on her mind following her realization that trapped in the Divergent universe for the rest of life she will probably never have children, and it uses the Doctor's willingness to risk his life for others to get at him by pointing out, "You'd die for everyone." This almost works, except that Charley intercedes and chooses the Doctor's life over the Sound Creature's.
With the relative sparseness of this nonetheless effective plot, Shearman finds plenty of time for characterisation of the regulars, and is thus charged with the unenviable task of tidying up the emotional baggage of the previous two stories. Still presumably affected by Zagreus, the Doctor is much darker and more sinister here than he has been in a long time, and his relationship with Charely is decided strained. When he is confused at the start of Episode One, he can't understand how Charley can be talking to him when he asked her to stay behind when he entered this universe. When she reminds him that she stowed away on board the TARDIS, he replies, "No, Charley wouldn't betray me. She wouldn't betray me like that." He is deeply resentful that she has come along for the ride. India Fisher is also extremely good here; I've been deeply critical of her acting in the past and will be again in future reviews, but here she makes Charley sound like she is suffering from barely controlled hysteria as she desperately tries to cope with what is happening. The Doctor brutally explains to her that they are both going to die in an utterly alien universe, in response to which she quietly tells him, at least they will be together. To her obvious dismay, this prompts the rather harsh response, "You silly little girl. Do you think I want you here?" He callously asks her why she didn't respect what he wanted to be his last choice in life and she tearfully tells him, "But I love you". Rather than evading this contentious issue, Shearman faces it head on, with the Doctor snapping, "Of course I loved you, I killed myself for you!" he's more angry here than we've seen him during McGann's tenure in the role, and it works superbly well, especially when the Doctor cruelly tells Charley that she might be momento mori that is already dead, the "ultimate Time Lord fashion accessory." When she tearfully asks him why he is being so callous, he coldly replies, "You betrayed me… I'm not sure I can forgive you, not yet" and adds "Your love for me has killed you, just as mine for you has killed me. What was the point of all that love?" So furious is he that she ruined his sacrifice that he confesses, "I'm not sure that I don't wish I'd never met you at all."
So unusually powerful are these scenes between Doctor and companion that it is startling, but powerful though they are, it is a relief that Charley's feelings for the Doctor are laid to rest here. The subject lingers on slightly into Episode Four, but the most part it is laid to rest much earlier on, as the Doctor asks, "What good do you think your love will do me?" and then states, "I don't want your love Charley, I have no use for it." In a moment of convincing pain and anger, Charley tells him, "Never say those words again. Not if you don't mean it." This mercifully puts an end to it, leaving them as just friends. Shearman gives the subject an ironic twist towards the end however, as they start to fuse together into a single entity; the merging of their hands also adds to the nightmarish nature of their predicament, with Charley's fear affecting the Doctor and vice versa (although as noted in the DiscContinuity Guide however, they clap just before this when the Sound Creature performs!).
Having praised the plotting and characterisation of 'Scherzo', it would be remiss of me to ignore the production. Having once been my favourite Big Finish director, Gary Russell seemed to have lost his edge with the last two stories, but he does an extremely good job with 'Scherzo', wringing magnificent performances out of the regulars. He's greatly aided by Gareth Jenkins' sound design, which is superb, especially at the end of Episode Three, as the Sound Creature finds what it wants in the Doctor's throat. The sudden explosions of sound in Episode Four as the Sound Creature tries to persuade the Doctor/Charley to die are rather chilling and frequently make the listener (or at least, this listener) jump.
Overall, 'Scherzo' is a triumph, and a highly promising start to the Doctor's adventures in the Divergent universe. Mentions of the Kromon and Koth provide a hint of things to come, and as the Doctor and Charley breaking the wall of tube in which they have been trapped, they emerge onto the new, single planet without the TARDIS, and a whole new world of adventures ahead. What they unfortunately get is…
What Zagreus had in grandiosity, Scherzo makes up for in economy. The two could not be more different, but have one thing in common: they’re both rather disappointing. It looks like Scherzo has no interest in answering Zagreus’ questions. In fact, I fear that we are seasons away from discovering the nature of the Divergents and Rassilon’s part in the proceedings. Although the McGann Doctor is now a little more unpredictable, the power that is Zagreus simply hasn’t done anything yet, aside from shout its own name continually! The ideas do not seem to be progressing anywhere.
A shame, as Neverland’s cliffhanger promised so much. The question “Just what is going on?” simply isn’t strong enough to maintain a season of adventures without offering any clues.
Of course, it is unfair to review Scherzo against its peers. It should be looked at as a play in its own right. But what is there to say? Rob Shearman’s fourth Doctor Who script is very much a let-down, given his staggering works of the past few years. Yet, again though, I am comparing the story to its contemporaries. However, Shearman’s admitted “make-it-up-as-you-go-along” style of writing is more evident here than anywhere else in his works. The final episode bares little resemblance to the first and the story meanders aimlessly and seems very undisciplined. The dialogue too feels stagy and very much like a first draft. The sound creature, at first a frightening unknown menace, becomes less and less of a threat as its nature is deduced.
Scherzo was billed as a play about the relationship between the Doctor and Charley. However, the subject is handled with a lesser degree of maturity than Shearman has demonstrated he clearly possesses. The more Charley says, “I love you,” the less meaningful it becomes and the more pretentious the relationship seems. The latest authors seem to be playing on Neverland’s successes without realising the strong dramatic basis on which the character interplay was built in that story. In Neverland the Doctor told Charley that he loved her because he couldn’t kill her but were she to die he would want her to know how he felt about her. In Neverland, this romance was not forced. It was entirely necessary, given the dramatic circumstances.
However, the phrase “I love you” seems to be bandied about at the drop of a hat now. The more the couple are straying, the more I wish Charley had bitten the dust in Neverland, as most of us suspected she would.
The play does have redeeming features though. The first few sounds made by Scherzo’s creature are very unnerving and the lack of answers could work in the story’s favour. We experience the new universe with the Doctor and Charley and we relate to the couple because we are in equally baffled states of mind. How long can this go on for, though? There are limits to a listener’s patience. I’m sure Big Finish will claim that we are not giving them a chance, but they’ve had the longest period ever to plan this season since Trial of a Time Lord. Surely a few more clues would be nice.
It is the sheer aimlessness of the play that ultimately causes its downfall.
Perhaps Shearman has been curtailed by the restrictions that have been imposed upon him. Gary Russell has expressed that he wanted to do a two-hander and that Shearman was the only author he considered to write it.
That’s all very well, but why? Why lay down such restrictions when the drama suffers this badly, for the sake of novelty?
The new McGann’s have run into a dead-end and show no promise of escaping from it. If answers are not forthcoming in the next few stories, I fear that Big Finish will end up a long way up their own backside.
Scherzo, featuring 8th Doctor Paul McGann, is one of the weirdest Doctor Who stories, let alone Big Finish audio stories in a long time. At the end of the last story, Zagreus, The Doctor has entered another universe, and cannot return without infecting his own with destructive anti-time. He has told Charley goodbye but Charley has stowed away with him in the TARDIS. They have exclaimed love for each other, seemingly an attempt by Big Finish for a new development between a Doctor and his companion (don't worry, there's no kissing like in the TV movie). Upon entering this universe the TARDIS goes missing as the Doctor and Charley are trapped alone together in a strange landscape of rounded glass walls and bright light, with sound as a menace, making good use of the medium.
There is a dangerous entity in the story, and its relation to sound is well done, serving as a disorientating background for our two main characters.
The odd quality of the atmosphere is made even more alienating by the Doctor, the strangest thing of all in this story in his behavior. This new universe becomes truly different than the one we know, as the Doctor makes clear to the point of almost abuse.
The Doctor is colder than usual here, in fact he seems unnecessarily cruel. There is a long road to travel before we can even begin to discover what's up with him. It could be down to the his anti-time infection, but it has more to do with the sacrifice Charley has made for the Doctor out of love. The Doctor has made an even bigger sacrifice for Charley out of his love for her, and feels bitterly betrayed by her now. He shows little skill or experience in dealing with it.
He and Charley get to have conversations that follow on from Zagreus, as they relate to the events of that story, but they're good ones.
The Doctor's coldness in this story recalls his attitudes in the first story (An Unearthly Child/100,000 B.C.), where his fear has made him over-defensive and unpleasant. Charley, fortunately doesn't take his punishment for long and gets him to open up about his feelings for her. The setting recalls the first episode of The Mind Robber, where no rules seem to be in evidence. Maybe it's just the white background. The sounds, which besides Charley are all that's left to hang on to, are jarring and bizarre. These elements make for a frightening but original tale. Paul McGann and India Fisher do very well in developing their characters.
There's not a lot of humor in this story, it's definitely serious business this time. It does keep you interested throughout the four short episodes. The play is barely ninety minutes, a relief after the "overlong" (their word!) Zagreus. If it's going to be an unpleasant set of circumstances in Doctor Who, at least Rob Shearman's writing it in a brief, suspenseful audio story rather than other authors of some past Doctor Who books which pointlessly shock for 200+ interminable pages. Scherzo is not the most comfortable of stories, but this one does have purpose and should be remembered for its ability to shake things up in the inevitable continuing storyline with Charley. It's another 8th Doctor audio story that brings anticipation for future ones.