Audio After I'd listened to Scherzo, the first story in a new season of Eighth Doctor audio adventures, I reached for Google and found that in Italian it literally translates as 'joke' and that it's the third part of various musical forms such as symphonies, string quartets and sonatas. So the joke is that it's named after music but it doesn't feature any at all. So it's a very clever title - but then it's a very clever work.

If you really want to demonstrate to someone how far Doctor Who has traveled since the TV Movie get them to sit down and listen to this. Imagine a story in which everything is stripped to the bare minimum. There is The Doctor (Paul McGann), a companion, in this case Charlie Pollard (India Fisher), a mystery to investigate in a bare landscape and that's it. Without giving away too many secrets (and half the fun is discovering those secrets) there are no other real characters. This isn't a monster adventure, or a 'historical'. The only arch enemy is perception itself and the inherent tension is in whether the travelers decide between themselves if they should live or die.

This is a Who adventure set in The Theatre of the Absurd, as difficult to pin down as Samuel Beckett, the characters as adrift as Vladimir and Estragon standing under that tree in Waiting for Godot. Nowhere to go, no end in sight. If this had been made for television (which is impossible since it wouldn't work on television, or in a book for that matter) it would have to be on late night BBC Four not teatime BBC One. The concepts and ideas on display are utterly terrifying, magnifying how hopeless our short lives are really is when faced with the passage of time, or what can pass for time -- sometimes.

The writer of the piece, Robert Shearman is an award winning playwright turning his keyboard to his love affair with a timelord (not counting his wife, who according to the inlay notes let him work on the play while they were on their honeymoon). None of his previous works have been what you would call traditional. In Chimes at Midnight (voted best audio drama of all time in a recent anniversary poll) The Doctor had to investigate why the same figures in a murder mystery kept dying over and over again. Another work Deadline featured Derek Jacobi as a ex-writer for Juliet Bravo with delusions of traveling the universe in a police box with his granddaughter and her school teachers based on a treatment for a tv show he never managed to get off the ground. Scherzo fits perfectly into this ouvre as Shearman again reduces the concept of the show to it's bare bones, stretches and manipulates them but still produces something which is both recognizable and alien at the same time.

The direction falls to the multi-talented Gary Russell, the overall series producer. It's his bravery which led to this, the most evocative adventure of them all. He asked the writer to create a two hander which would tie up some of the loose ends from premise the shattering doublebill Neverland and Zagreus. I can only imagine how he felt when Scherzo landed on his desk. My first thought would have been 'How the hell do I direct this? but direct he does, realizing that the only way the listener is going to understand the void which the characters have been dropped into is to have the experience replicated for them too as much as possible.

Without the usual props of supporting characters to bounce off McGann and Fisher again demonstrate the heartbreaking chemistry we've seen between them time and again. Recent events have made The Doctor a much darker character - if this had pictures you could imagine the light in his eyes once so bright, dimmed slightly. The characters are coming to terms with words spoken, and we are right on Fisher's shoulder pleading with our friend to be just as he was, the man so willing to pretend to be a private eye and talk Orson Wells into stopping an alien invasion or take Romana on one final trip to Oxford to find out what really happened in 1979. It's her performance which helps us adjust to this new version of the character, as McGann's interpretation gains layers of hurt and pain which may take years to sort out. It's a tragedy that their work here is only going to be heard by a relatively small audience.

When Doctor Who returns (and how odd to be able to say that) it won't look or sound anything like this. Which isn't to say it won't be challenging and with Russell T Davies at the controls it won't be boring either. But to garner an audience it will have to be fairly traditional, mostly offering the frights that people remember from all those years ago, hiding behind a collective sofa of nostalgia. Scherzo is for a different audience, the kind who'll go and see the Japanimation import Spirited Away and talk about it for hours afterwards. It's about ideas, expectations and the fragility of who we are and next to a Cyberman I'll take those kinds of scares every time.

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