Released July 2002
‘Spare Parts’ may just be the best Cyberman story released in any medium. Too often the Cybermen are merely portrayed as emotionless robots, largely ignoring the humanity and emotion underlying their very existence and, as such, lessening their potential impact. By setting this story on Mondas at the very creation of the Cyberman race, the scope of these issues is unabashedly at the forefront of proceedings, and the overall tale is all the stronger for it.
Mondas, of course, had been alluded to back as early as ‘The Tenth Planet,’ its extreme orbit into the depths of space forcing its inhabitants to live underground to stand any chance of surviving the hostile conditions. While there are still peddlers of human organs for those needing transplants, mechanized replacements are much more common and effective, though the conversion process means the loss of everything humanity entails. Doctorman Allan states bluntly that she is helping to turn the population into a mindless group of automatons.
Big Finish is free of any constraints that television and timeslots place on Doctor Who, and so the true horror of the conversion process can be fleshed out more thoroughly. Here the mechanical and monotonous intonations so familiar to Cybermen stories are accompanied by bloodcurdling screams as people are put on an assembly line with the saws and drills getting nearer. Compared to the relative quietness and typically English demeanour of the residents, encapsulated perfectly by the core empathetic family of Kathryn Guck’s Yvonne, her brother Frank played by Jim Hartley, and her father played by Paul Copley. It’s a power failure that provides the impetus for the most disturbing scene of the story as Yvonne- the subject of her brother’s jealousy as she is ‘called up’- is incompletely converted; the eventual encounter with her family as they realize just what she has become is truly heartbreaking and underscores just how ghastly the conversions and results are.
Writer Marc Platt also does a superb job in immersing listeners in the overall atmosphere and environment of the decrepit Mondas civilization. As an alternative 1950s London, in effect, it provides a logical air of familiarity to the story, making the differences and changes in the city and the population all the more shocking and effective. The city is crumbling and falling apart, its back alleys populated by illegal organ traders and its graves robbed body parts. Even the police force is semi-converted, and its this constant bombardment of grimness that almost makes Sally Knyvette’s Doctorman Allan’s decision to use Cyber conversion as a means to save people understandable. In the time that passes leading up to ‘Spare Parts,’ Allan has become quite embittered and morose, struggling endlessly to perfect the flawed process. Ultimately, it’s only Cybermen who will be able to use the propulsion unit on the surface to save the planet, and so the necessity of conversion becomes more apparent alongside the dangers and risks.
The most fascinating introduction and revelation, though, comes in the form of the Committee, a group so set on logic and survival that it has been secretly overriding Allan’s authority regarding the conversion process for quite some time. As the Committee places Cyberleader Zheng in charge and he gradually accumulates power to fill his logical imperatives, it becomes all too apparent that the the Mondasian events described in ‘The Tenth Planet’ are an inevitability. The newly-titled Cyberplanner’s decision to convert the entire population is the tipping point at which Mondas is truly doomed, and the Committee’s continued chanting about survival only further strengthen the Cyber claim. Even with the glimmer of hope offered near the end as Allan pledges to look at alternatives to the conversion process and to try to restore emotions, the relentlessness of Zheng vowing to continue the work demolishes any chance of redemption.
For all of the very strong performances here, it’s truly Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor that steals the spotlight. The true hatred he holds for the Cybermen comes across perfectly, Davison’s vocie seething with an unbridled anger and repulsion never before heard. Whether discovering the cybernetic nature of the Committee, practically yelling at Nyssa for bringing a Cybermat into the TARDIS and straining their friendship immensely, or realizing that his brain provides the key to stabilizing the conversion process and that and that any Cybermen in the future would be based off of him, Davison portrays the fury of a Time Lord perfectly. He even breaks the rule of not interefering with history by attempting to stop the entire process, lending credence to just how repulsed he is by proceedings, and likely bringing his mindset back to when he had a similar option in ‘Genesis of the Daleks.’
However, Sarah Sutton puts in an admirable performance as Nyssa as well, aptly bringing the innate cordial nature to this story as she befriends Yvonne truly gets to know her family. She proves very resourceful and brave here as well, more than she was allowed to be on screen, devising a means of stopping the Cyberplanner and carrying on even when she thinks the Doctor has been converted. This is script shows Nyssa at her strongest and, supported by such strong acting, as a companion that can stand up among the best the Doctor has had.
‘Spare Parts’ is an instant classic, finally giving the Cybermen the origin story they deserve and bringing out raw, powerful performances from the two leads. There is no doubt that this is Big Finish at its best, continuing with an overall impressive year for the main range and proving there is still plenty to do with the classic Doctors and classic foes.