Doctor Who

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 84435 035 5
Available now

Entering a completely alien universe with different natural laws to our own, the Doctor and Charley find themselves blinded by brightness. Without the refuge of the TARDIS, the pair have only each other for company. Will their relationship be able to stand the strain after all that has been said between them lately...?

Writer Robert Shearman has provided some of the strangest, but also most entertaining, stories in the entire Big Finish Doctor Who range. The Holy Terror gave us Frobisher and a deadly child (we sort of get another of those here), The Chimes of Midnight offered a creepy Christmas with sinister servants, and in Jubilee we had a sympathetic Dalek. But Scherzo is the writer's most curious tale yet, a character-led piece featuring only the regular cast of Paul McGann and India Fisher.

The effect is somewhat like listening to a minimalist stage play, which is hardly surprising given Shearman's playwright background. There are only two "sets" as such: the TARDIS interior in the early part of the opening episode and a disconcerting white expanse during the remainder of the story. The whiteness described by the characters brings to mind the similarly minimalist first episode of the Patrick Troughton story The Mind Robber.

During its entire run, the television series produced just one story starring only the regular TARDIS crew: the bizarre two-part William Hartnell tale Inside the Spaceship (better known as The Edge of Destruction). But that was two episodes long and boasted four cast members. Scherzo employs just two actors and lasts twice as long, and the story does drag on a bit as a result. However, both McGann and Fisher are excellent performers and shoulder the burden well, conveying a quite surprising range of emotions as the characters' tensions escalate, from fear and pain to anger and even mutual hostility.

The tale also features a sound creature, which mimics the voices of the Doctor and Charley, but we've heard from plenty of audio foes in this series already.

...And I'm struggling to think of anything else to say about Scherzo, apart from the fact that it's a good job the performers never actually use the word. Pronounced "shirt so", it might have come across sounding like some kind of product for washing or repairing shirts!

This is certainly a, um, memorable way to kick off McGann's new season of adventures, but it's not really my cup of tea.

Richard McGinlay

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