Big Finish Productions have produced literally hundreds of Doctor Who-based audios since 1999, featuring every one of the eight classic Doctors, multiple spin-offs and even some ‘alternative universe’ tales. More than one of these tales has influenced a story in the modern show, most notably this one.
In 2006, Tom MacRae used this Marc Platt story as a strong influence for his two-parter “The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” (set in a parallel universe), giving Platt a credit for it. Listening to this four-part audio drama, you can see why he did so – “Spare Parts” is considered one of the classics of Big Finish.
The Doctor and Nyssa (this story falls in the gap between Season’s 19 and 20 when Tegan is on Earth) arrive on Mondas, Earth’s twin planet that has drifted out of its orbit into the coldness of interstellar space. To survive, its people now live underground. The planet is heading towards a nebula and to stop this, Mondasians are being ‘converted’ – being given new mechanical bodies to survive on the surface where the propulsion system is located. The Central Committee then logically reason that everyone needs to be converted…
The Cybermen are being created.
A Cyberman origin story had been proposed for TV during the Fifth Doctor’s era, but was ultimately not taken forward. The idea eventually made its way to Big Finish, who have done a great job with it.
Mondas is a dying world and “Spare Parts” provides an eerie, horrific portrayal of what people will do when faced with their own likely destruction, with a strong sense of inevitability knowing what happens in the rest of the show re the Cybermen. It starts off with a good deal of questions and nearly all of them get answered. There are some interesting communism references and a great use of Cybermats, plus a great parallel take on the Christmas tree.
This as mentioned is a deeply disturbing work, especially when it comes to the actual conversion of people into Cybermen – one scene with a character’s daughter chills in particular and was given a more-or-less straight lift into the TV story. The final climax is a bit rushed, although clever and at times it’s a bit hard to follow – also, this is close to two hours long (with half-hour episodes, not 25-minuters) and could have used mild trims in places.
There is a final twist – and it’s very good.
The sound is brilliant throughout, with a great atmosphere of this underground city created as a result. In particular, Nick Briggs (the go-to-guy for monster voices in the 2005 run) does a great Cyberman voice, going for the sing-song version as heard in “The Tenth Planet” – although his voice for the Cyber Planner is a tad hard to follow at times.
One other minor gripe – the Derbyshire theme arrangement is used here when the Howell version would be the more ‘proper’ one.
Only two regulars here – Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton.
· The Fifth Doctor: Davison turns in a strong performance with a clear dread of what is going on – the Doctor is scared and reluctant to intervene at all to begin with. He is guilty of the occasional bit of over-acting, but not too much so.
· Nyssa: Been a while since I watched a Nyssa episode, but Sutton delivers a strong, firm performance as the Trakenite scientist, demonstrating a caring side that is sometimes absent from the Doctor. Her horror when the Doctor is apparently [spoiler] is well done.
The guest cast
Not a massive guest cast here, but they’re generally very good. Sally Knyvette (best known for her role as Jenna in Blake’s 7, covered in our last newsletter) does a superb job as Doctorman Allen, especially when it becomes clear to her that things are going to hell in a handcart and she might as well resign herself to it. One character gets Cyber-converted and you really feel sorry for her, particularly when her dad finds her.
A very good audio, but there are enough small flaws to take it out of the “excellent” category. I can see why this is a classic BF tale and I look forward to covering two more of these in the series.