THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Tenth Planet
Big Finish Productions
Spare Parts

Written by Marc Platt Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2002
Continuity Between Time-Flight and
Arc of Infinity.

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring Sally Knyvette, Pamela Binns, Derren Nesbitt, Paul Copley, Kathryn Guck, Jim Hartley, Nicholas Briggs

Synopsis: On a dark frozen planet where no planet should be, in a rat-infested city with a sky of stone, the Doctor and Nyssa unearth a black market in second-hand body parts and run the gauntlet of augmented police and their augmented horses. And just between the tramstop and the picturehouse, the Doctor's worst suspicions are confirmed: the Cybermen have only just begun.


Reviews

Cyberman Leftovers by David Barnes 7/8/02

Well, Spare Parts was probably the most hyped audio of this year after Neverland. A Genesis of the Daleks for the Cybermen? Wow! And they're using the original Cybermen voices as well! Classy! The CD itself was also unavoidably delayed, so it is fair to say that Spare Parts was going to have higher expectations than your average Big Finish release.

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but the word that sums it up for me is disappointing, I'm afraid.

The central premise (a story that details the creation of the Cybermen) is an interesting one but it isn't very interestingly conveyed in the story itself. The entire story is about Cyberconversion, and that's it. It's just people turning into Cybermen over and over again.

The performances are varied. The 5th Doctor continues his evolution and is on top form (in fact it's the only time I can think of that he has conveyed extreme anger convincingly), and there is a funny scene involving a Cyberman and gold dust. Sarah Sutton as Nyssa on the other hand continues to be dull, with no real character. The guest cast are nothing to write home about. Yvonne and Frank are just annoying and Doctorman Allen just treats everything with a sense of boredom. Tom Dodd and the character credited as Dad for some reason are both very good and easily rise above the other members of the guest cast.

The Cybermen have been given their old Tenth Planet voices and sound great. Actually, this story shares a lot with The Mutant Phase for me in that the only real saving graces of both stories are its principle monsters. The Cybermen sound very creepy and there is an attempt to distinguish between the partially converted people and the fully converted (partially converted have a much more subdued speech pattern). Cyberleader Zheng sounds a little too human at times though and isn't particulary noteworthy.

One central fault is that the CyberPlanner/computer thing that speaks throughout the story is very hard to understand. Frequently, I had to pick out the main words I could hear and make up the sentence. For instance, the cliffhanger to part 1 was very garbled. I picked out the words "strangers" and "destroyed" (well, it wasn't actually destroyed, it was a word that means the same thing though; I can't actually remember what it was) and sort of figured it out from there. The Planners' garbled speech is even more annoying later on in the story when it is made to explain plans and parts of the plot and you can't understand what he's jabbering on about.

There is a big plot point that I won't give away, but I will say this: it isn't very interesting. A big revelation such as this can only be made big if the characters themselves treat it as such. But no-one really cares much, including the Doctor. The revelation itself seems rather implausible and isn't really worth worrying about.

There is a very good scene in which a family comes to terms with the cyberconversion of one of their relatives and shows the strengths of human compassion. Good scenes like this are very few and far between in this adventure.

The story is quite dull really. I don't really know what the big problem near the end was, nor how the Doctor solved it. Pointless references are made to Adric all the way through (it seems any story between Time Flight and Arc of Infinity must have a reference to Adric's death). The ending itself though is a cracker and was the best bit of the whole story.

Overall then, Spare Parts was very disappointing. The Cybermen themselves are excellant and there are numerous well-written parts throughout but the story itself was dull and the actors made it more so. Loups-Garoux was a very good story but Spare Parts does not live up to the success of Marc Platt's previous story. 6/10


Extraordinarily Powerful by Eric Obermeyer 28/8/02

Other than the television movie, I have had very little positive experience with post-Caves of Androzani Doctor Who. I never fully warmed to the manner in which the Sixth Doctor's character was portrayed, and I thought Remembrance of the Daleks (which is the only other adventure I have seen that is more recent than Revelation of the Daleks) was horrible. In particular, Remembrance of the Daleks featured awful "hip" theme music, an aggressively scheming Doctor, pathetically emasculated Daleks, the overused Davros as a jack-in-the-box, and the total disregard for the possibility of a continued Thal presence on Skaro, making it thoroughly alien (in an unpleasant way) from the adventures of the first five Doctors which I had enjoyed as a teenager.

Therefore, when I recently became aware of the existence of the Big Finish audios, I decided to avoid more recent versions of the Doctor's character and limit my initial purchases to adventures featuring the Fifth Doctor, whom I fondly remembered from my school days. After reading some reviews, I selected The Eye of the Scorpion and The Mutant Phase. As I was placing my order, I came across the existence of Spare Parts and decided to purchase it as well. In brief, The Eye of the Scorpion was disappointing, largely due to Peri's annoying modernist quips, which sounded scripted rather than spontaneous. (Furthermore, the liner notes make a big deal about there having been no previous televised appearances of the Doctor in ancient Egypt, completely ignoring episodes nine and ten of The Dalek's Master Plan.) The Mutant Phase was thoroughly enjoyable, but not necessarily noteworthy.

Spare Parts, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. An origins story that tries to maintain some minimal level of continuity must be hard enough to write as it is. When one considers the difficulties of encapsulating all of the changes (on either Skaro or Mondas) which have occurred over a significant period of time into one adventure of reasonable length that spans only a few hours of the most pivotal period, it is a wonder that anyone would be brave enough to attempt such a feat. ,a href=gene.htm>Genesis of the Daleks is, of course, brilliant in its own right. Nevertheless, Spare Parts is an even greater achievement in that it puts a human face behind something previously presented only as evil, and shows the development of the Cybermen as the outgrowth of a series of understandable choices, to which the alternative was extinction.

The first couple minutes of the story, building up to a "small step for man" of sorts, is stunningly executed and is alone worth the price of the CD. From that point, the listener can detect the influences of several of the great science fiction stories of the past, including Isaac Asimov's Nightfall, Larry Niven's The Jigsaw Man, and Fritz Lieber's A Pail of Air. In fact, Spare Parts might be considered a sequel of sorts to A Pail of Air, which -- as broadcast on the program X Minus One in 1956 -- was my previous favorite science fiction audio adventure.

The characters and their performances were certainly very good. I loved hearing the original Cybermen voice patterns from The Tenth Planet. When judging the human characters and their portrayals, the circumstances under which they are trying to live must be kept in mind. Forced into denial by the Hobson's choice awaiting them, each person deals with it in his own manner. Doctorman Allan falls into drinking and adopts a fatalistic and jaded demeanor. Sisterman Constant wraps herself up in what she believes to be the importance and indispensible nature of her duties. Frank Hartley latches fervently on to the heroic propaganda image of being called up to serve, while his father becomes withdrawn into his tea, nostalgia, and devotion to his daughter. Without spoiling the moment, I will say only that there is a scene with Yvonne and her father and brother which is easily the most powerful audio segment I have ever heard.

Peter Davison once again reminded me why he is my favorite Doctor, with a very good performance. There was a moment near the very end of the adventure, involving some valuable tea, in which (if I may read into her motives something beyond that which was explicitly stated) Nyssa may have been exhibiting a greater level of understanding of the future than the Doctor, who had himself lapsed into a mild form of denial. I thought it showed good handling of Nyssa's character, all the more because (again, assuming my interpretation of Nyssa's foresight is correct) it was done in a fairly subtle manner.

For those who care about such things, there are mentions of a church on Mondas, but they are handled in a respectful manner and do not come across as attacks on religion. I mention this because a well-written review of Bloodtide referred to that audio as "a dumb piece of anti-religious propaganda" and noted "the raw hostility that this audio exhibits toward religion would bother, I think, just about any sensitive person." Such details as I have been able to gather from various sources have made me less enthusiastic about getting a few of the other Big Finish adventures, as well, and the trailer at the end of Spare Parts for The Rapture did nothing to quell my uneasiness. I like to spend my hard-earned money being entertained, not listening to the faith being smugly denigrated by writers pretending that doing so is cutting edge, rather than hackneyed and obnoxious.

In any case, Spare Parts may have been saddled with a rather mundane title, but everything else about this adventure is extraordinarily powerful. 10/10


A Review by Rob Matthews 4/9/02

A Cybermen origin tale is the most obvious unmade Doctor Who story, sort of the classic that never was. It's so long overdue that this risked being a disappointment.

To get my own preconceptions out of the way first: I always expected the tale to be told in one of the BBC books, probably featuring the Second Doctor (because he faced the chrome-plated meanies the most on TV), and written by one of the big guns of the beeb's author ranks, possibly Kate Orman, or perhaps David Banks following up on his Cybermen book and the NA Iceberg.

My other hope for the story was that it would emphasise the essential tragedy of these once-human creatures; actually show us what these people were like in the days when they still enjoyed sunsets and well-prepared meals. That tragedy was always overlooked on screen - hinted at in the Doctor's angry speeches, but never addressed. It's always seemed to me that the most fascinating thing about them was routinely overlooked, in favour of (admittedly effective) pyrotechnics.

To have the story done as an audio adventure is an unexpected treat, because it involves an actual performed Doctor and because you could never replicate the visceral effect of those original cyber voices in a novel - you could describe it, but that's a very different thing. I must admit I used to find those Tenth Planet-style singsong cyber voices very silly (well, so did the makers of the show - that's why they were dropped in favour of grinding monotone), but it seems to me now that the fact they're so ridiculous actually makes them quite chilling. The Cybermen are beyond having a sense of humour, beyond realising they look sound or look ridiculous, and that's sort of scary.

Davison's Doctor probably wouldn't have been my own choice, but since he did star in by far the most effective eighties cyber story, he's actually the most appropriate of the Big Finish Doctors to use. Plus he and Nyssa have a specific grudge against the metal monsters, because of Adric.

And what's more, Marc Platt wrote it. Fantastic. I knew he'd do a good job, because of the great work he did with Gallifrey for the NAs; consistent with what little we saw on screen, but greatly expanded and quirkily imaginative with extra twists and random flourishes - the creation of the Pythia in particular making us look at the Time Lords in a whole new light. And he's just great on local colour, like Gallifrey's singing fish and so forth.

Here he runs with the Mondas-as-Earth's-twin idea, depicting the planet's society as very similar to ours. Not one of those futuristic, everybody-wears-silver-pyjamas worlds, it's instead closer to the kitchen-sink-drama milieu, coming across as a warped version of forties or fifties Britain - evoked by the references to rationing, and young lads waiting to be called up by the authorities. It centres around a likeable northern-sounding family still concerned with putting up holiday decorations, making references to football results, and sticking the kettle on even as the cyber race grinds to a beginning.

One rather clever way in which Platt fleshes out these worlds is by describing their public holidays. In Lungbarrow it was Otherstide, here it's a celebration that at first appears to be Christmas. That intrigued me because it implied identical religious beliefs on Mondas to those on the corresponding area of Earth, ie-Christian ones. But as an almost identical twin of our planet, I rationalised that Mondas would have gone through that competing-Messiah cults phase too, so that wasn't too far-fetched. Plus, since the Romans celebrated winter with a festival, and the pagans did likewise on December 25th (before Christianity appropriated the date), I'd assume there's some kind of need in the human psyche for these things, for given days of human togetherness. I'm no anthopologist, I don't know if this is true for every culture in our world, but certainly for a good handful of them. It's sharp of Platt to have thought of that, and an excellent way of making his fictional society convincing. It makes for the most tragically beautiful moment of the story when he allows a character to explain the reason for the tree and the decorations. They have baubles and tinsel and fairy lights, but they represent something different on Mondas from what they represent here.

(come to think of it, what do they represent here? Pagan hangovers again?)

Platt's ingenuity shows itself, too, in the titles given to Mondas' citizens - represented by 'Doctorman Allen' and 'Sisterman Constant'. It neatly slips the title 'Cyberman' into a whole new light and confirms that, yes, Mondas' women were cybernised too. As is disturbingly demonstrated in the course of the story.

And a successful story it is, both in plot and mood. I don't agonise over continuity niggles, I'm with Paul Cornell's axiom that 'the moment continuity gets in the way of a good story, you should rewrite without hesitation'. In this case Platt crafts the story out of the very few hints of Mondas' history we got on screen - Mondas 'drifting to the edge of space', and that comment from Attack of the Cybermen about the 'propulsion unit' -, but it doesn't come across like unnecessary fanwank. It was the vagueness of those references that made us want to know more so there's really nothing to contradict - that is, there's more to inspire Platt's imagination than restrain it.

It's mentioned on the sleeve notes that the makers wanted to avoid doing a 'Genesis of the Cybermen' - in particular, no Davros analogue. That's a wise decision, although 'the Committee' is partly that, as is Doctorman Allen (albeit only by default - she's more interested in drowning her sorrows and being sarcastic than taking over the universe). The Doctor's involvement in their plight - I can mention that, I suppose, since it's on the CD cover - is, well, a bit unnecessary. An interesting twist but one the story could do just as well without.

It's a well-paced story, though the finale is a bit rushed. Aware that anyone listening to this CD most likely already knows that the Doctor has landed on Mondas, Platt doesn't try for a shock revelation. The Doctor suspects it almost immediately and Nyssa works it out for herself pretty quickly. The Doctor recounts the story of Mondas leaving its orbit to Nyssa, but we learn about life on the planet itself through gradual, natural exposition rather than huge info dumps.

The acting's good all round. Davison invariably gives good performances, but rarely excellent ones, and he's on good lighthearted mode here. Like in the books, he's scripted and played the way we like to remember him rather than the way he actually was.

To explain that a bit - Goth Opera, considered to be the best Fifth Doctor novel thus far, in fact took all the best bits from his three-year stint in the role, most of which were from his last season, and amplified them into a more cohesive character than was seen on screen. So here, as in that novel, his jokes are better, his fecklessness is played up, he's more partial to a cup of tea, and he has more fun. The bit with the gold is brilliant.

I haven't heard Sarah Sutton on audio before, and though audibly older, she slips easily back into her role. Plus she gets to go through all that character development that they couldn't be arsed to write for her when she was in the series. Already she's willing to leave the TARDIS when she sees a situation where she thinks she can help - as she ultimately did in Terminal. Oh sorry, Terminus. What could I have been thinking. We get the obligatory Adric angst too, but this story takes place not that long after Earthshock, and it's also about the Cybermen so I'll allow it.

There are no dodgy performances here (ie - not like the DJ in The Fearmonger!), and everyone acquits themselves well, fulfilling perfectly the requirements of each role. The voice of the Committee is a bit annoying, thanks to the electronic distortion. There I was wondering what the hell it was saying, only to suddenly realise that it was actually supposed to be making gibberish noises while in discussion with itself, and hadn't started properly talking yet. But even when it was talking it wasn't always clear what it was saying. It explained in one bit that Mondas was dislodged from its orbit by (something) erupting from its twin, but I couldn't make out what that (something) was. And still can't. Which is quite irritating. Mind you, I seem to remember the cyber co-ordinator in Wheel in Space being inaudible some of the time too - perhaps those Big Finish chappies are taking authenticity a bit far...

Overall though, this is a triumph. Or rather it's the tragedy it should be. A million miles away from any of their adventures on screen, it's still the greatest Cybermen story Doctor Who is likely to give us. In any medium.

Just about makes up for Sword of Orion, then :-)


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/9/02

There have been a number of attempts from various sources to tell the story of the Genesis of the Cybermen. There's David Banks in depth, no stone left unturned study - appropriately called The Cybermen. There's also DWMs own mini Comic Strip - The Cybermen (bit of a lack of imagination with names here), written by the now higher profiled Alan Barnes. The TV stories gave us little bits of information through the course of its lengthy run. Humans gradually replacing Body Parts etc etc. The Cybermen themselves have evolved more than any other monster over the years, and it's about time someone has decided to trace that evolution back to their Genesis.

I was excited about this audio. Marc Platt is a great writer (apart from Time's Crucible), and the Cybermen have become one of my favourite enemies as I have watched all the TV show. I suffered a little by experiencing the inferior later TV models first, and then returning to the much better Troughton Cybermen after. The wrong order, but it made me appreciate just how great the Cybermen were in the 1960s. I believe I have documented before my wife's love of Cybermen too - she couldn't wait to get the CD out of its wrapping and into the CD machine.

There's no spoilers by telling you the 5th Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mondas. The Doctor knows pretty well straightaway, and we know because of the cover and previews. What I wasn't expecting was a planet so much like our own. I know Mondas was designed to be the twin of Earth, but the people that inhabit Mondas are just the same as Earth people. Maybe I was expecting some far distant in the future civilization (I've never been one to understand, or even care where DW Future History all fits together), but the sounds of the Hartley Dad, with his Yorkshire brogue, had me picturing All Creatures Great and Small, rather than DW.

The Hartley family are the main guest characters in this drama, and this strange yet familiar family dominate much of the early exchanges. I quite liked their characters at first, especially the Dad. The son Frank lets the side down though. I was wanting him to be converted to a Cyberman very early. Not quite up to the usual excellence of Big Finish characters. They're much too ordinary for that, but maybe that was the idea anyway. The people in power on Mondas are a peculiar breed too. Doctorman, played with not too many sparks by Jenna (Sally Knyvette) from Blake's Seven, is the special guest star - but she's not that special to be honest. The older nurse, Sisterman, seemed a touch out of place too. Wanderer Thomas Dodd is a pretty good character though. There's a stubbornness about him, refusal to succumb, that is noble - he provides a good companion for the Doctor whilst Nyssa is away with the Hartleys.

What did fit in were the Cybermen themselves. Nick Briggs provides the voice for the Tenth Planet style Cybermen voices, and they are totally in keeping with the story itself. Because you can't actually see those wide mouths gawping wide, the computer Speak and Spell type voices actually are quite brilliant. The lead Cyber-Committee/whatever is also memorable. Sounding like a Cylon from Gallactica, he issues orders, consulting his committee of mechanical/biological minds. You have to strain to pick out what its saying at times, but at least this brings extreme attentiveness on the part of the listener. You get used to the voice, and I could make out it all by Episode 3.

Peter Davison is a bolder Doctor than usual here. He gets angry with Nyssa, which was rare on TV. He also gets put through the mill, 8th BBC Book-like, and this allows Davison more range than usual. Nyssa is nicely played too by Sarah Sutton. Smart alec she may be, but her tender side has been played up nicely by Big Finish - she really has now become the 5th Doctor's ideal and best companion.

Spare Parts has much to like within its production. Cyber early days is a fascinating place on Mondas. The inevitable tragedy that is played out on these CDs is poignant. You can metaphorically see the pieces of the puzzle being put in to place, and as the Cybermen lurch from Infancy to Being, I was glad this story has been told. If Big Finish can plug the gaps of TV monsters so eloquently and well as this, then I applaud their backward glances to TV Doctor Who.

The story is indeed a tragedy, and there's some real heart-rending moments relating to Cyber Conversion that brought a little dampness to the corner of my eye. Mondas really feels like a real place, a civilization that is going down a very dark path. The tragedy is the inevitability, the execution of what we think we already know is surprising. There's some twists and turns that really keep the thing moving well.

The Cybermen are a fascinating and brilliant creation. Marc Platt enlarges this perception with this drama. Davison's Doctor has been consistently well served in the Dramas - but rarely as well as here. Great Doctor, great story, superbly produced. Excellent Drama. 9/10


The most emotional Cybermen story to date by Julian Shortman 2/10/02

The tension created when unfeeling Cybermen encounter emotionally driven human beings has often been utilised for Cybermen stories. I’d hazard a guess that Adric’s death was planned to occur in a Cyberman story for precisely that reason – after all, he could have reasonably snuffed it in any one of the stories in Season 19. Now there’s a thought….. crushed inside Castrovalva? Poisoned by a giant frog? Swallowed by a papier mache snake? Burnt to death in Pudding Lane? Or crippled through intestinal pains after eating too many sandwiches? Sorry, I digress….(hmmm.. it was fun though...). My point is that Adric’s death was well placed in Earthshock ‘cos the turmoil of emotions it stirred up (joy, elation etc.) contrasted well with the unemotional presence of the monsters who’d caused it.

Whilst many of the Cybermen stories in the past have tried to capitalise on this tension, none have done so quite as effectively as Mr.Platt in Spare Parts. In one respect, the context he was writing for was in his favour – the tension was going to be heightened when the humans featured were the very folks destined to become the first Cybermen. But that fact didn’t guarantee the production of a cracker of a story - and there was a lot of expectation hanging on this one. After all, there isn't really room for more than one fully-fledged "Genesis of the Cybermen" story in the world of DW.

Cybermen are easier to face when they’re portrayed as an alien metallic race invading your planet en masse (or a feeble, shiny robot posse with a penchant for wearing cricket gloves). Scary concepts become scarier if you can bring them closer to home, and Spare Parts brings them right into your living room. It’s no use hiding behind the sofa with your big sister when she’s already been half-converted into a Cybermen, smashed her way through the front door, and is sobbing on the carpet with disturbing metallic whines.

Never have I felt so genuinely unsettled by a Cyberman story. Cybermen stories can easily sicken – I recall the bloody wrists in Attack of the Cybermen doing that, and the recent Real Time had more than its fair share of (unnecessary) gruesome moments. But it takes skill to present the scary concepts of Cybermen in a genuinely unsettling way. I’m sure if I’d encountered Spare Parts as a child I’d have had nightmares for weeks!

Marc Platt plays on the ‘twin planet of Earth’ idea in bringing the birth of the Cyber-race closer to our own history and homes. The blend of familiar and alien in this story was just right (and reminded me of the parallel world I enjoyed so much in Philip Pulman’s ‘Northern Lights’). Aspects which at first seemed too close to be plausible (e.g. the 'Christmas' tree), were later so well weaved into the picture that I almost felt like apologising for doubting they’d fit in. The underground city was reminiscent of the ‘Brave New World’ from ‘War of the Worlds’ – although as we meet this world at the brink of its armegeddon, the harsh reality of generations of life under the surface are apparent and unpleasant.

Whoever decided to make this a Fifth Doctor story was onto a winner – this story was so well suited to Peter Davison’s Doctor, and I too, felt this was Davison at his best ever. Yep, even better than in Caves of Androzani (and I doubted that could ever happen). Often accused of being the ‘bland blonde’ or ‘wet vet’ on TV, I think this story proves beyond doubt that the Fifth Doctor can be a passionate, engaging and fascinating character. I was hanging on his every word in this story – credit to the writer & actor – and it shows the potential out there for fantastic Fifth Doctor stories (if the writers are up to it). To my amazement too, for the second time ever, I enjoyed Nyssa’s presence in a DW story. (Maybe it’s just me, but Nyssa usually reminds me too much of my Mum – you know – the over-anxious side (rather than the randomnly dropping skirts side…). You know, too much ‘we should stay here and wait, we might get hurt if we go outside’ etc.) Having Nyssa lash out harshly at the Doctor was well overdue and the tension between the two characters in the face of such horrifying circumstances worked extremely well.

So all in all, Spare Parts was a stormin’ success. Oh yes, and the redesigned BF packaging is a welcome move to – very nicely done, and no tears shed over the loss of the ‘lets pretend we’ve cut and pasted the Radio Times’ double-spread. If anything, it reflects the (justifiable) confidence of BF productions these days, in no longer feeling the need imitate what used to happen when 'real' DW was on the telly.


"We will survive..." by Joe Ford 5/10/02

I am so glad this audio was made. For one it allows Peter Davison to stretch his wings considerably and secondly it is the second in a row good fifth Doctor audio giving me hope for further endevours (after the dull Red Dawn, the ponderous Winter for the Adept and the yawn inducing Loups-Garoux). It's also a story that I'm surprised wasn't told many moons ago and that is about the birth of the Cybermen. Could this match Genesis of the Daleks for sheer effectiveness?

The answer is quite simply yes and a sure return to form for Marc Platt (Loups-Garoux is just one of those once in a while decent writer slip ups!). There is so much to enjoy in this adventure and I lapped it up, particualarly the chilling (no pun intended) final episode.

I didn't have any pre-conceptions about how the Cybermen came about to be honest with you so the backstory was just a gaping hole waiting to be filled as far as I was concerned. I thought maybe they would go for the monster movie angle (you know the Frankenstein Monster set up) but what we got was much better. It would ruin the story completly to be told but let's just say it is smypathetic turn on things and the conversion from men into Cybermen turns out to be a lot more understandable than it might at first. Accidents can happen (look at poor Davros getting exterminated by his own creations!) and the sudden need for Cybermen is certainly a thoughtful idea.

But enough of these opaque semi-spoilers... what about the characters/actors? Forget Androzani (if you can stop dribbling over it) this is Davison at the height of his powers, this is the Doctor would SHOULD have seen on screen (and would have too if Bidmead had stayed on... this Doctor is very similar to his scripted Frontios) desperate, nervous, edgy, snappy and very witty. Marc Platt gives the Doctor a vital role in the piece, one that should shock fanboys quite a bit (I almost spat out me coffee!) and his frustration and anger are not only fascinating but also long overdue. One excellent scene in part four shows him tortured but still indignant and verbose, throwing out more memorable lines than I could remember. Sarah Sutton's Nyssa continues to evolve away from Big Finish's earlier colder portrayl of her character and her intelligence and compassion shines through here. Her shocking comment about Adric's death throws the audience as well as the Doctor and she has several such scenes where she proves to the Doctor she is an induvidual and not just a cipher and she will get off her arse and do things that need to be done, despite his protests. They are shaping up to be a good team at last and its a fine thing too as Sutton is still one of my favourite actresses to appear in Doctor Who and it is good to see her getting material of this calibre.

The Hartley family provide the 'human' angle to this story and their earlier banter is quite good, families squabbling can often get tiring in such things but they manage to stay the right side of melodrama and realism. Yvonne's later developments are compelling and drive the story in vastly unpredictable ways. I loved the bit where she came home.

But what of our Davros character, Doctorman Allan? Just wow. She is fantastic (and played by that bird from Blake's Seven too!) and not the 'return appearance of Allan' super villain I was expecting at all. As shifty as they come but still recognisably human, her willingness to do whatever is nessecary to prevent a disaster is utterly chilling. Her descent into madness (or at least drunkeness!) is creepy in the extreme.

Production wise things are fine as usual. I have to disagree with the statement that the Cyber planner (or the Commitee!) has a hard to hear voice. I thought it was excellent, and could hear every word. If I had a complaint it would be the re-use of the old Cybermen voices which i know was needed to make this realistic continuity but they just sound so daft. Yes thay do come across as robotic and emotionless but by god they sound well camp! My Simon was catching bits of this during dinner and he laughed his head off every time they spoke! Mind you I shouldn't complain, the story and performances are great so a little fanboy embarassment is okay (gosh I thought I was above such things these days!).

Russell Stone wrote the music for this one but I could hardly tell, it was quite conspicuous by it's absence early on! However later, more dramtic scenes were certainly given some oomph with some well judged scores. I particularly liked the rising music as developments were underway, letting us know the terror of the Cybermen was just about to begin...

An overwhelming triumph for Big Finish, they really are doing some sterling work lately. And track 13 with 10 minutes worth of trailers was certainly enough to whet my appetite. Colin Baker's ...ish sounds really, really good judging by the trailer and I can't wait until the end of the month.


A Review by Mike Morris 15/1/04

There are a few funny things about writing a story about the origin of the Cybermen. Firstly, it's so long awaited that there'll always be a pressure on the author to get it right. It's a scenario that's been imagined and re-imagined... and, for me, already written. My history of the Cybermen is set in stone, and derived almost entirely from David Banks' brilliant Cybermen book (no, not Iceberg; the other one that's actually readable). CyberMondasians and CyberNomads and CyberTelosians, Mondas drifting away to the edge of space and all that. As far as I'm concerned, that's pretty much canon (except for the CyberNomads, who I reckon are a primitive CyberTelosian scout mission... oh, never mind).

Secondly, and relatedly; the Cybermen are, of course, Doctor Who's most frightening monsters but they were never used to their full potential. Of all the stories that feature them, Tomb probably uses them best, showing them in cold storage and being re-animated in a frighteningly inhuman way, and then intent on altering the humans present. After Tomb, Attack is probably their second most effective use, albeit rather spoiled by the incomprehensible storyline going on around them. Those two stories aside, they tend to be used as tin soldiers with some cool aesthetic touches.

All this may seem irrelevant, but there's a side effect that impacts on Spare Parts rather directly. While all fans know what's scary about the Cybermen, the knowledge is derived more from a few carefully-chosen sentences in televised stories, the aforementioned book by David Banks, and a general sort of consensus. We've constructed the Cybermen's history and nature for ourselves, so we're more united on what Cybermen should\ be like than, say, what Daleks should be like. A good example is the way that the Revenge clip in Earthshock has repeatedly been dismissed as a continuity error, rather than - as usually happens - rejigging the continuity to actually fit the stories around it.

All this both limits and places expectations on the author. To be fair, all that I've said above might be completely untrue for a whole plethora of fans that have never bothered thinking about the Cybermen's history. But it's true for me, and judging by various comments I've seen here and there, I think it's true for a few other people too. Certainly, it's far more difficult for Marc Platt than it was for Terry Nation when he sat down write Genesis of the Daleks - at a time when the concept of "continuity" really wasn't about (in a way, Genesis of the Daleks actually invented continuity - but that's another argument).

Anyway, the result is... mostly harmless. Spare Parts uses the Cybermen better than any televised story, although I don't think that's wildly difficult. By avoiding the "CyberDavros" scenario, it presents a portrayal of their inception that tallied with what I had always imagined. You know, the Mondasians were just like us once, and it's all very tragic, and all that. It fits perfectly with David Banks' history (which is a bit fanwanky maybe, but why not?). It touches all the bases - the cybernization process, the dying society.

Which is the problem. It's all expected, all a bit dull, and it's hard to see what separates this from a Gary Russell novel. Moreover, the story is a bit twiddly and padded and doesn't really go anywhere.

Part One, for example, is atmospheric enough, but in a hugely derivative way, and not much happens. The Doctor and Nyssa agree to split up (no, really. I mean, you'd think they'd have realised by now what a bad idea this usually is) and explore. The Doctor wanders off into a sub-Dickensian shop, and spends the next fifteen minutes finding out what the blurb on the back cover has already told us. Nyssa, meanwhile, hooks up with a good honest working Mondasian family, who like all good honest working folk come from Yorkshire. This might seem improbable, what with Yorkshire being on another planet, but it's a sort of agreed shorthand amongst British writers. Honest folk come from Yorkshire or Lancashire, criminals from Liverpool, loveable incompetent con-men from London, yokels from Norfolk, likeably thick promiscuous slobs from Newcastle, and thick boring people from Birmingham. Yorkshire does all right out of it on the whole; still, it's an annoyingly crass convention.

That's about it really, except that the Doctor meets a Cyberman who sounds rather cool, and Nyssa is sadistically force-fed tea by the working-class family who seem psychotically intent on her staying the night. They've got a tree for the holiday, which is Christmas, but nobody says so. That's right folks; not only are we in a world of stereotypes, it's a world that doesn't make sense. If the Mondasians are advanced enough to create bionic implants, why the hell are they travelling around in trams in a society that seems stuck around 1930? What are they digging to the surface for? Given that robotic Cybermen are already wandering around the city being generally unpleasant and inhuman and robotic, how could anyone believe that it's a "suit"? Where are the drunks, the thieves, the scallys, the looters, the people who might break curfew to go on the piss and notice Cybermen digging up the graveyard? The people, that is, who are actually real rather than stereotypes? And why is it that, in what's supposed to be a city with a presumably quite large population, the same six characters keep bumping into each other every five minutes?

It's all very well to have the Cybermen coming from a society just like ours, but this one isn't... it's not like any society at all. It's a hodge-podge of caricatures from the first half of the twentieth century that crumbles under any scrutiny, and comes across as shallow and not a little patronising. The story seems to think that normality = folk who have a cup of tea, and say "sit th'self down lass", but no-one in it acts like anyone I've ever met. Besides, for the Mondas story to make any sense, it presumes that the society would be a damn sight more advanced than ours is today. This one is actually less advanced, with the oddity of cybernetic units everywhere (I suppose this could be a question of my own expectations prejudicing me, to be fair; but I just didn't think Mondas as shown here made any sense). And why, in a society still so human, has everyone agreed to place their fate in the hands of computers? Why don't they worry about never having seen one of their leaders? Answer; they're too bloody busy putting the kettle on. They're just ordinary decent folk, who work with their hands and all that after a hard day's graft down t'pit.

The idea, of Cybermen being created in a banal little world, is a very powerful one. The inclusion of ordinary folk is the obvious thing given that background. But it's done so badly here that it's patronising and hugely irritating. Spare Parts seems to think it's being all social-realist on us (I actually thought early on that we were in for some sort of Body-Snatchers style allegory about Communism), but all the story says about your average working man is that he's all heart and as thick as pigshit. This came close to angering me, but so little happened that it just bored me instead.

That's a fairly substantial gripe. Another is the Doctor's role, which is so uncertain that it deprives the story of energy (although Peter Davison plays the comedy scenes with his usual skill, and actually has a lot of oomph in his more angry scenes). For most of the first episode he keeps saying he can't do anything, then he does a little bit, then he wants to leave and gets stuck, then he decides to help a bit more, and then decides he can't, and then decides he can. Basically he comes across as the bleating ineffectual hypocrite the Fifth Doctor's detractors always accuse him of being. Unlike Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor is given a strong purpose - even if we know, really, that he won't succeed - Davison's Doctor is utterly redundant for the first couple of episodes, and then when he gets involved his reasoning is a bit pat and convenient (I never thought I'd say these words, but I wish Colin Baker had been in this story! He would have just rolled up his sleeves and got on with it). And there are so many little coincidences keeping the Doctor there, such as the incapacitation of the TARDIS, which requires Nyssa to do something uncharacteristically stupid (that aside, Nyssa is very well written).

Sally Knyvette is great in her role as Drunken Cynic, who is just about the most interesting of the one-note characters on display - the rest being Seedy Bloke, Conservative Nurse, Nice Old Bloke, Moany Young Lad, and Nice Young Girl. She's very funny, actually, sympathetic without being trustworthy, and has a lot of fun in the part. Everyone else is fine, but no-one elevates their character to any sort of level of believability - which meant that the later scenes, which should have been tragic and moving, I found to be rather dull. All the plot twists are detectable a mile off, and the ending is so naff it's not true.

What else is there to say? The scenes of Cybermen being created are good. The Cyber-voices sound brilliant. There are some cool ideas that unfortunately don't really work without visuals (Cyber-horses, for example). The incidental touches, such as titles like "Doctorman", are satisfying. Every episode is at least five minutes too long. The sound effects are great, but with such a small cast the city is never really convincing.

If all this sounds terribly negative, I should say that I thought Spare Parts was all right. It includes all the scenes that should have been in Cybermen stories before, but never were - such as when a converted character tries to remember their past - although, because I've imagined those scenes so often, they didn't touch me as I thought they would. It passed the time well enough, but it'll be some time before I listen to it again. Spare Parts may think it's terribly realistic, but it's no more realistic than State of Decay. Which is fine, in a way, because State of Decay is a fun story. However, Spare Parts is a good deal less imaginative, more portentous and less enjoyable.

It must end with a comparison with Genesis of the Daleks. What Genesis did was revise Dalek history into something new and surprising, boiling most of the affairs down into a tiny bunker and claustrophobically giving us a new vision of how Daleks were born - as well as an eventful, gripping story in a triumph of illusionism. Spare Parts is exactly the opposite; meandering over a vast setting it doesn't have the resources to establish successfully, not bothering with any real plot as such, and presenting a genesis of the Cybermen which was pretty much what was expected. Moreover, it's full of appallingly - and offensively - stereotyped characters.

This story's been positively received, so perhaps I'm missing something. I really should admit that audio drama generally doesn't really satisfy me, which is a not insubstantial personal bias and may be a large factor in my negativity. Still, Doctor Who stories have to be new and they have to be surprising, and while Genesis re-invented the established mythology, Spare Parts just confirmed it. I'm afraid I found inoffensive but very disappointing, and ultimately a rather punchless and pointless exercise in join-the-dots continuity.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 26/4/04

Spare Parts is a rare example of Doctor Who actually making good use of the Cybermen. The story had the potential to be a mess being essentially a Genesis of the Cybermen tale, but thanks to strong writing, characterisation and acting, we are left with the best Davison audio thus far.

For starters the Cybermen are treated as robots,and we get the horror that goes with them in abundance; which is all the more effective for being on audio. Spare Parts also works effectively as a human drama, the trials of the Hartley family being particularly enjoyable. Castwise Sarah Sutton is possibly at her most adult as Nyssa (as she was similarly in Terminus) and Peter Davison recreates the sense of urgency often associated with his portrayal; pespecially concering his involvement with the Cybermen`s creation. Similairly Sally Knyvette`s Doctorman Allan is suitably effective as the scientist trying to do the best for her people, but with no knowledge of theie eventual fate.

In short Spare Parts is moving and involving and one of the most enjoyable Big Finish audios thus far.


Mondas Redux by Phil Fenerty 28/5/04

In the 35 years between The Tenth Planet and Spare Parts, a lot has happened to the Cybermen. They are, arguably, the second most popular of the Doctor's adversaries; they have fought every incarnation bar the third (excepting their appearance with Pertwee in The Five Doctors); been through almost as many changes of appearance as the Doctor himself; and have changed from a powerful galactic force to a "pathetic bunch of tin soldiers" in isolated craft dotted about the Galaxy.

The essential drive of the Cybermen in their debut was survival. Mondas was "running out of energy" and returned home to take it from Earth. This suggests that Mondas could be piloted by this stage (something the Daleks were unable to achieve with Earth over 100 years later, suggesting a degree of technical sophistication rivalling the Kaled mutants) and that it needed to be close to its twin world for its continued existence. Interestingly, in the years since Mondas departed, Earth flourished, with humanity evolving into an intelligent, space-faring race. Perhaps the existence of Mondas was somehow inhibiting the evolution of the human race.

The survival motif was re-emphasised in Tomb of the Cybermen and, later, in Revenge of the Cybermen. The appearances in the JNT years saw them employed in "monster of the week" roles, used as a nostalgia trip or a shock factor in stories where their Cyber-ness was a background element rather than an essential part of the story. Earthshock would work with Sontarans, Ice Warriors, Daleks or Zygons as the chief protagonists: Tomb of the Cybermen wouldn't. In an effort to invoke nostalgia and create fan interest, JNT forgot the essential tragedy lying at the core of the Cybermen.

It can be easy to forget (especially in Earthshock and Silver Nemesis) that inside those silver suits lies an organic being. What was once a humanoid, with emotions and frailties, has been turned into a tin man with a chrome-plated heart. In a drive to continue to exist, they have extinguished their other desires. Even the personality is subsumed into a meaningless set of equations and programmed responses.

In the course of the Doctor's adventures, the Cybermen are easily the most tragic villains. Treated correctly, they can elicit sympathy for their plight. Whilst they could be considered vampiric in their nature, always looking for new races to convert to their strange notion of immortality, they have in their essence a crumb of humanity.

Which brings us neatly to Spare Parts, a touchingly human tale about the creation of the Cybermen. Set under the surface of Mondas, at a time when it has ventured out to "the edge of space" it sees the Doctor (Peter Davison) desperately trying not to get involved and change the course of history. It would be all too easy for him to intervene and change the course of the Cybermen's development (which, in the end, he does - but not in the way one might expect!), preventing Adric from dying and saving the galaxy from the Cyberwars. In essence, Spare Parts is an historical story (albeit not an Earth-historical) masquerading as a science fiction tale, rather than the other way round.

The story centres round very human and identifiable characters: the Hartley family, clinging to existence with few rations and little hope; Thomas Dodd (a fully-fledged Robert Holmes wide-boy), trading in misery and spare organs; Sisterman Constant, who "recruits" those ready for conversion, believing she is doing good; and Doctorman Allen, a brilliant surgeon, driven to drink and despair by the work she does and the need for more recruits.

The star of the show is the family Father, brilliantly played by Paul Copley. He is a stalwart of the BBC Radio drama King Street Junior (which once starred Peter Davison as a fellow teacher!), and experience gained in the audio medium shows here. The desperate plight of his family is evident in his voice, but throughout is a spark of optimism. Reaction to the fate of his daughter, and the obvious love for his children, is a touching counterpoint to the emotionless nature of the Cybermen encountered during the play. Marc Platt noted that the part was written with Mr Copley in mind, I for one am glad that he was available for the role.

Sally Knyvette portrays the hopeless, world-weary figure of Doctorman Allen. Despondent at the high rejection rate of the new technology in her recruits (destroying the lives she intends to save) has meant that she sinks deeper into a pit of despair and alcohol. Her enthusiasm is re-invigorated by the Doctor (and what he can offer), by the end of the play she can see a solution to her problems.

If Spare Parts has a weakness, it is the lack of focus to the story. There is not, at its core, an obvious central enemy against which the Doctor is fighting. Throughout the narrative, the Doctor is reacting against events which threaten the existence and viability of Mondas or the Cybermen, going so far as to save the Central Committee (a collection of brains fused into a Cyber-gestalt) because it is the only way to ensure the continuity of history. Even the appearance of Cyberleader Zheng towards the end of the proceedings doesn't give an obvious enemy to be fought, merely an additional obstacle in the fight for survival. The whole can be viewed as pretty bleak: we know what will happen to the planet and its inhabitants, we know what their legacy will be. At the end, even the optimism of individuals is tempered with the knowledge of their fate and that of the planet. Unlike Genesis of the Daleks, this is no revisionist text or attempt to change history: it is a bleak and tragic personal tale, well performed and utterly moving.

Overall: a glittering star on the tree.


"Doctorman Allan, we begin again!" by Charles Tuck 7/6/05

Another deciding that I was going to buy a Big Finish story, I looked around the Big Finish website, the Outpost Gallifrey reviews and the pagefillers reviews. I came down to either a Dalek story or Spare Parts. I decided on Spare Parts.

I am definitely buying more audio Doctor Who.

The Cybermen are how they should be in this story, cold and emotionless.

The story is genius, Marc Platt’s main objective was to make this different from Genesis of the Daleks, and he does it perfectly, using no cyber-Davros and no wartimes either.

This is perfect as a 5th Doctor story, there are references to Adric all the way through and Nyssa is the perfect companion for this story. Nyssa is a better companion when it is just her and the Doctor; I really hated the stories with three companions.

The setting of Mondas ‘still stuck in the 1950s’ is brilliant and has the perfect feel to it.

Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton both pull off amazing performances. The supporting cast are all superb except possibly Jim Hartley as Frank.

There are some fantastic quotes in this story:

‘You're not an escaped cryo-experiment are you, cause you can’t refreeze, once you’re thawed out.’

‘It all started with breast implants and false hips. Vanity’s a killer, isn’t it?’

‘Some have so much; it drives ‘em crazy, so they have their emotions taken away as well.’

‘The Committee is agreed, insurgences must be crushed. Find the intruders and eliminate them immediately.’

However, there are two negative statements. The first is that there is too much running around and escaping from patrols for my liking and the end is definitely rushed.

These two minor errors don’t stop this from being one of the best 5th Doctor stories ever. This is in my top five 5th Doctor stories, along with Caves of Androzani.


One of the best Doctor Who stories ever... and certainly the most disturbing by Matthew Kresal 7/7/09

In the annals of Doctor Who, there are few things fans like more than debating the origins of the Cybermen, the half-human/half-machine race from Earth's long lost twin planet, Mondas. So it seems natural that Big Finish would eventually take a Doctor and companion to Mondas at the point of the Cybermen's birth. What doesn't seem natural is what writer Marc Platt did with the story. Spare Parts isn't just another Doctor Who adventure by any means. It's a compelling blend of science fiction and drama in a story that asks one of the most basic questions of human nature: how far would we go to survive?

The performances are nothing short of astonishing. Peter Davison gives his single best performance as the fifth Doctor, going from reluctant innocent abroad to the man trying to change history for the better. Late in the story, there's a plot twist that shocks the Doctor and Cybermen battle to its core, and Davison plays it incredibly well. Spurring him on is companion Nyssa, played to perfection by Sarah Sutton who also gives her single best performance in the role. It's her friendship with the Hartley family that makes her force the Doctor to make that change. The performances of these two give the story much of its emotional depth and make it even more compelling.

The supporting cast is just as phenomenal. The Hartley family as played by Paul Copley (as the Dad), Kathryn Guck (as the optimistic and sickly Yvonne), and Jim Hartley (as the impatient Frank) serve as a microcosm of the people of Mondas, trying to remain hopeful in a world fast running out of hope. On the other side of the spectrum is Darren Nesbit as the spare (body) parts dealer Thomas Dodd, the shady businessman thriving on the pain and suffering. Yet he's the sane one when compared to Doctorman Allan (Sally Knyvette) and Sisterman Constance (Pamela Binns), just two of many scientists and doctors slowly converting the population into Cybermen for work on the surface... or so it starts out. Then there's the voice of the Cybermen, Nicholas Briggs. Briggs provides the voice not just for the various Cybermen but for the Central Committee who runs the city and there's something about the voices (based on the voices from the Cybermen's debut in The Tenth Planet way back in 1966) that sends chills down the spine and makes one listen.

If the performances weren't enough, Marc Platt's script is enough reason to consider this story a classic. Platt made the smart choice not to do a Cybermen version of the classic TV story Genesis Of The Daleks (not that's a bad idea: see the new series two parter Rise Of The Cybermen/Age Of Steel) but to do a story entirely different. At its heart, Spare Parts is the story as old as history: a civilization on the verge of collapse desperate to survive by any means possible. The means in this case is the use of saws and laser scalpels to remove emotions and insert cold logic; in essence, the death of humanity and the birth of machine with human bodies.

In fact, the most chilling sequence of the story comes when a member of the Hartley family finds themselves in the assembly line for that process. To hear those saws and lasers coupled with screams, tears and cries for help makes for a moment where even the most hardened listener should stop to feel the shiver going up their spine. Platt plays the horror of that and when coupled with how closely Mondas is like our own world in the 1950's (with a fascination with television and even a form of Christmas), there's only one description for it: chilling. The dilemma faced by the people of Mondas is only slightly different from the questions we face regarding genetics and other scientific advances that (should) give us reason for pause.

The fundamental question of Spare Parts is: how far must we go to survive and what must we sacrifice to do so? Marc Platt's script asks that question and gives us a horrifying answer. That script, when coupled with the excellent performances, makes for one of the best Doctor Who stories, ever. Science Fiction works best when it's not just adventure but a question of moral importance. There are few examples as great as Spare Parts. Perfect for old fans and those new to Doctor Who (I once had two friends sitting around a CD player listening to it who stayed for the full length), Spare Parts may well be Big Finish's best Doctor Who story. If not, it's definitely the most disturbing.


You Can Spare Time for It by Charles Berman 25/6/10

Spare Parts has always had a very strong reputation among fans - perhaps bolstered by an endorsement from the 2005 production team - and I was not disappointed after finally taking the opportunity to hear it. Marc Platt has taken the slivers of information we had about the origins of the Cybermen and expanded them into a story of detailed imagination that is in many ways profoundly disturbing.

We knew from The Tenth Planet that the people of Mondas had voluntarily chosen to replenish themselves over time with cybernetic parts until they lost all humanity. This basic fact is extended into the creation of a very rich and credible society of people on Mondas who slowly bring about their own doom in ways that look harmless. It's easy to see ourselves accepting artificial hearts to extend our lives, cybernetic pets if they look cute enough (the Cybermats), and the notion that people must be augmented before going on a military-style expedition to ensure the people's survival if it plays upon human senses of group loyalty and duty. The creation of an unseen "Central Committee" is something we have seen human societies do and therefore well know we are capable of. The Doctor rightfully compares it to such current commonplaces as plastic surgery in certain ways.

Mondas here in many ways resembles the society of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, placidly allowing in the bioengineering and utter political control that ultimately rob them of their humanity. But the message is extra powerful since the people of Mondas also have little choice. There are few of them left and the world is becoming unsustainable even for them. There are few who wouldn't accept the steps leading to being Cybermen in a situation like that, and this comes across with great effectiveness in Spare Parts. The desperation of the characters here is palpable.

In that sense, Platt has a triumph not just of world-building but of structure and pacing. We find out more and more of what is going on at a rate just fast enough to keep us steadily being unnerved and shocked. Unlike in Ghost Light - a stunning piece which many find confusing because of its compressed nature - Platt has just the right amount of space to tell his story.

Peter Davison gives one of his best performances as the Doctor here. We know there must be a reason why the Fifth Doctor's famous recklessness has been replaced by foreboding and caution, and Davison makes that change very credible indeed. The Doctor's path through Spare Parts, from wanting to get away and stay uninvolved to determination to change history to pure outrage to hope for some constructive outcome is written so solidly it feels simple enough, but is really admirably done.

Of course, there is a reason why it is more appropriate that this story should feature the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa than any other Doctor and companion pairing: the scenes in which they discuss the death of Adric at the hands of the Cybermen they are seeing be created are touching, powerful, tasteful and perfectly in character. They also lend extra power to the scene in which the Doctor has apparently been turned into a Cyberman himself. These and the scenes inside the family's house in which Yvonne returns home a virtual child after a botched cyberconversion are heartwrenching and the emotional centre of the piece.

The audio production on this story is good and the Cyberman voices from The Tenth Planet are very effectively recreated, but the voice of the Committee is so processed that it is sometimes difficult to understand.

In all, an excellent, unsettling piece of writing well played, and in the upper tier of Big Finish stories.


A Review by Brian May 3/4/12

The idea of exploring the Cybermen's origins is an alluring but risky one for Doctor Who writers. It could have been an embarrassing, fanwank-fuelled disaster in some hands, but thankfully Marc Platt avoids this. Spare Parts certainly has its nods to continuity (the Cyber voices, the Cybermats), but they're appropriate to the story at hand - a story that overall is very good.

Platt has stated he wanted to avoid any comparisons with the Daleks' beginnings. For the most part, he pulls it off, but there is one, and quite a justifiable one at that: both came about as a means of perpetuating a people. However, other factors prevailed (the Kaled-Thal war; Davros's obsessions with racial purity) and the situation on Mondas is different; it's a struggle for survival, nothing more or less. There's no war, just a freak and unfortunate celestial phenomenon that spells death for its inhabitants if something isn't done about it. For the creator of the Cybermen, we have Doctorman Allan; no mad scientist, just someone determined to save her planet and its people (all of them; not just some, as Davros wanted). She has some great interactions with the Doctor, especially the biting "No Cybermen, no life! Unless you have a better solution?" To which the Doctor doesn't, really. His is the big picture approach, the benefit of being a traveller in time, a privilege Allan and her people are not able to share, stuck in their own here and now.

The realisation of Mondas as a society is very good, its relation to Earth allowing for many parallels (but there are some lovely distinguishing details too, such as their alternate interpretation of the Christmas tree). The most direct one is the rationing Britain underwent in the late 1940s and early 50s, but there's also a strong feel of World War II, with the call-up for work crews akin to a war effort. It's also tempting to associate the term Central Committee with a communist regime. Indeed, the Cybermen have been described as such, in contrast to the fascist Daleks, so this makes the name all the more apt given what is to come. What also enhances the story's realism is how we see the events unfold from the points of view of both the authorities and the everyday people. Representing the latter is the Hartley family, a well drawn trio: Yvonne and Frank are idealistic in their different ways, while Dad is jaded and world-weary; the moment when he turns up the TV to avoid hearing his neighbour being taken away is at first shocking, but it's immediately followed by a real sense of pity for the man. The moments between him and Yvonne in part three, as the young girl's individuality struggles to break free from her processing, are both tense and tear-jerking. The fact that it succeeds and its subsequent effect are equally distressing. This reinforces that Spare Parts is a tragedy, especially so as we know exactly what will happen; it's an inexorable build-up to a conclusion that is established Doctor Who history. There's an admirable attempt to misdirect the audience, suggesting an alternative: perhaps the Doctor's reluctant interference will make things different? But this is all quashed in the very last moment, a cracker of an ending, garnished with a killer line from Zheng.

The acting is first rate, especially Sally Knyvette as Allan and Derren Nesbitt as Dodd. Peter Davison is his usual excellent self (his anger at the Cybermat in the TARDIS verges on the frightening) but the Doctor's role in the story's climax is problematic.

Here's why:

A: He tells Nyssa he wants to stay on the sidelines. He causes a few minor disruptions in the first two episodes, but these are negligible in the long run.

B: He only becomes truly proactive when Allan uses his DNA to augment the Cybermen.

It's getting from A to B that's the issue. In part two, the Doctor visits Dodd, seeking a way into the Palace, saying he wants to see how far the Cybermen are progressing. This blatantly contradicts his desire to sit this out. I understand Nyssa declares she is staying to help the Hartleys, but I can't be convinced even the fifth Doctor would go this far, even for his companion. If she'd been captured or dying, then definitely he would (a la The Caves of Androzani), but not when she's willingly decided to remain. I might be nit-picking, but the means of inserting him into the second half is a contrivance I find very grating and can't simply gloss over. Perhaps he could have been captured and taken to the Palace, or maybe the TARDIS stolen and taken there? Something along those lines, to force him into the proceedings (a la Frontios). It's a major plot fault and thus I feel compelled to award the story a final mark lower than I'd like to. Otherwise, Spare Parts would have made a comfortable nine out of ten, for it's a believable, well-acted and emotionally compelling account of the genesis of the Cybermen. 8/10