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Trapped in the Divergent Universe with the Eighth Doctor and Charley
‘The Divergent Universe’ season of ‘Doctor Who’ audios begins!
It’s time to take a look at what is arguably the third season of Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley Pollard. I listened to the first and last adventure of this third season beforehand, but this is my chance to check out all the stories.
This season of ‘Doctor Who’ audios takes place in the pocket universe called the Divergent Universe. It’s an expansion of the concept introduced in ‘The E-Space Trilogy’ on TV, except it’s now eight stories as opposed to three. Also the Divergent Universe is more dangerous compared to our own. 😐
As I’ve gathered, there were changes in how ‘The Divergent Universe’ story arc was handled and things got rushed towards its conclusion. We’ll come to that eventually, but for now, let’s talk about how ‘The Divergent Universe’ season began with our TARDIS travellers – the Eighth Doctor and Charley. 🙂
This follows on from the events of ‘Neverland’ and ‘Zagreus’ in the Eighth Doctor audio adventures of ‘Doctor Who’. At the end of ‘Zagreus’, the Doctor exiled himself into the Divergent Universe, hoping to be rid of the Zagreus energy left in him, unaware that Charley has stowed aboard the TARDIS.
Unless you listened to all the previous Eighth Doctor audios by Big Finish, you’re bound to be puzzled by what’s going on in ‘The Divergent Universe’ season of stories. As I’m fairly aware of what happened in ‘Neverland’ and ‘Zagreus’, I was able to get into the beginning of this season smoothly.
So, how do we begin ‘The Divergent Universe’ season of stories with the Eighth Doctor and Charley? We start off with a four-part story by Robert Shearman called ‘Scherzo’. Rob Shearman has written for the Eighth Doctor and Charley before since he penned the classic audio ‘The Chimes of Midnight’.
Apparently, ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ is a favourite of Paul McGann and India Fisher’s as well as of the fans of ‘Doctor Who’. So, Big Finish decided to have Rob Shearman write the opening story to ‘The Divergent Universe’ season, knowing he would do the Eighth Doctor and Charley’s characters justice.
I like Rob Shearman’s writing in ‘Doctor Who’. As well as ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ and ‘Scherzo’, he’s also well-known for writing the new series TV episode called ‘Dalek’ with Christopher Eccleston. He’s also written the audio tales ‘The Holy Terror’, ‘Jubilee’ and ‘My Own Private Wolfgang’ in ‘100’.
‘Scherzo’ is a pretty surreal audio adventure to listen to. As well as being the opening story to ‘The Divergent Universe’ season of ‘Doctor Who’ audios, it’s very unique in featuring only Paul McGann’s Doctor and India Fisher’s Charley. This story happens to be a two-hander between Paul and India. 😐
You can tell by the CD cover of ‘Scherzo’ that it’s a two-hander with the visual pun of two hands holding each other. I imagine ‘Scherzo’ would be a challenging ‘Doctor Who’ story to make for TV if it was just Paul and India together as their characters. It’d also be challenging as a theatre production.
Rob Shearman’s writing is mostly based on theatre as he was a playwright before he became a writer for ‘Doctor Who’ both on audio and TV. It’s intriguing how Rob Shearman puts his theatre talents to use in creating this two-hander between Paul McGann’s Doctor and India Fisher’s Charley.
This story goes beyond what the first episode of ‘The Mind Robber’ did where it was just the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe together. ‘Scherzo’ can’t even compare to what ‘Heaven Sent’ did by having Peter Capaldi’s Doctor be on his own and talking to himself a lot. It’s a pretty unusual season opener.
In the story, Charley finds the Doctor in the TARDIS being afraid of something. Eventually, Charley and the Doctor exit the TARDIS to find themselves in a bright white place much like an endless void. The TARDIS is soon gone since it has no place in the Divergent Universe where time is non-existent.
Very often, the Doctor and Charley are walking together in this void-like place, trying to figure out where they are and often arguing with each other. The two soon realise that they’re in a circular-glass tube and in the company of this peculiar sound creature, which wants to latch onto their very being.
According to Rob Shearman, the inspiration for ‘Scherzo’ is the theme of love. Apparently, he wrote this story on his honeymoon after marrying actress Jane Goddard. Rob wanted to explore the theme of love and how it affects us positively and negatively as it’s in the Doctor and Charley’s relationship.
In the two previous stories before this (‘Neverland’ and ‘Zagreus’), Charley and the Doctor expressed how much they loved each other. Charley is sincere in her love for the Doctor, but the Doctor’s love for Charley can often be erratic. This is especially in how he treats Charley in this audio adventure. 😐
Sometimes, the Doctor can be quite angry with Charley and quite rude to her. The Doctor tells Charley that she betrayed him when she stowed away aboard his TARDIS when he wanted to be alone in the Divergent Universe. Charley gets upset when the Doctor seems pretty cold towards her.
The performances of Paul McGann and India Fisher are amazing in this audio adventure. Very often, you think how amazing it is that the two can carry the bulk of the story and this must have been recorded in a day. The chemistry is pretty evident between them when they perform their characters.
It can be a challenge to keep up the pace of what’s happening in the tale, especially when the Doctor and Charley seem to be getting nowhere when walking into the void-like place that turns out to be a circular-glass tube. The laws of physics in the Divergent Universe don’t seem to match to our own so far.
It was also quite eerie to hear the Doctor and Charley connecting with each other by holding their hands and sometimes fusing with each other when they push into each other. Sometimes they become one being like one flesh. This is when the Doctor and Charley tackle the odd sound creature.
There are scenes in ‘Part Four’ of the story where Charley meets the Doctor as her would-be daughter in her Edwardian house; and where the Doctor meets Charley in his TARDIS. This is the sound creature playing tricks with them in trying to gain their will and let it come into being, I think.
I like how Charley’s past life is reflected upon since it seems she won’t have any children now that she’s trapped in the Divergent Universe and was meant to die aboard the airship R101. The Doctor also reflects on how he’s lost his ability to time-travel as the TARDIS is now gone in this odd universe.
At the beginning of each of the four episodes of this story, Paul McGann as the Doctor, I believe, does monologues, telling a story about a king’s son. This echoes Paul McGann’s narration as the Doctor in the early parts of ‘The TV Movie’, which I think is a nice echo in the ‘Scherzo’ audio story. 🙂
I’m not sure if the tale of the king’s son is of any significance with regard to how the Divergent Universe was created. I think the Eighth Doctor is telling the story once he’s got his TARDIS back since I can hear faint echoes of the TARDIS console room in the background. It isn’t that very clear. 😐
The story concludes with the Doctor and Charley managing to outwit the sound creature and managing to smash a hole out of the glass tube. The Doctor and Charley step out of the circular-glass tube to explore more of the Divergent Universe. And the Doctor still hasn’t got his TARDIS back yet.
I hope the Doctor will get his TARDIS back soon as we progress further into ‘The Divergent Universe’ season of ‘Doctor Who’ stories. Incidentally, ‘Scherzo’ is an Italian word for a music composition. I like how Rob Shearman provides deep connotations behind the ‘Doctor Who’ stories that he writes. 🙂
‘Scherzo’ is a fascinating ‘Doctor Who’ audio adventure to listen to as the opener of ‘The Divergent Universe’ season of stories with the Eighth Doctor and Charley. It’s pretty unique with it being a two-hander between Paul McGann and India Fisher together, but I found this really enjoyable to listen to.
I wouldn’t say ‘Scherzo’ is better than ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ and I wouldn’t claim it as one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories, but I like the creative inventiveness by Rob Shearman in writing the story and how he makes it a two-hander between the Doctor and Charley. I look forward to more. 🙂
What will the Doctor and Charley encounter next as they journey forward into the Divergent Universe?
‘Scherzo’ rating – 7/10
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