I shall continue the Big Finish theme from my last article and discuss one of their releases which is considered by most Doctor Who fans to be one of their undisputed masterpieces. Spare Parts is one of these audio releases I have wanted to review since I started this column. In Doctor Who be it of the TV variety or audio every Doctor has their fan favourite stories. John Pertwee’s Third Doctor has The Daemons and Inferno, Tom Baker’s Fourth has The Brain Of Morbius or City of Death as examples. But perhaps the most famous Doctor Who story of all time – It was at one time voted the most popular story of all time by the official Doctor Who Magazine – is 1974’s Genesis Of The Daleks.
Genesis is an interesting beast. In it The Doctor attempts to prevent the creation of The Daleks and you get a good view of the society in which they were born.
Spare Parts does something similar for a human antagonist…almost.
The story in simple terms is as follows: The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa as voiced by Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton find themselves on a frozen planet in a ruined city with a sky made of stone. Curfew is enforced by a police force that’s almost human but not quite and their partially mechanical steeds. The people of Mondas are slowly dying. The only hope is conversion. Giving away what humanity they have left. Can The Doctor and Nyssa save the Mondasians from their monstrous future as the Cyber Race?
This story is dark and gripping. You find yourself chilled to the bone as you hear the justifications. The project that begins with so much hope and promise stripping everything away from the everyday people. The very sight of the wide open sky driving them mad. And just what happens to the Hartley family twisting the knife in all the harder.
The performances are all perfect for the parts.The Doctor’s slowly creeping dread as it slowly dawns just where they are. His desperation to do SOMETHING to help them no matter how little it may be, Nyssa’s desire to prevent the creation of the silver giants while Doctorman Allen – portrayed by Sally Knyvette – slowly drinks herself into a stupor, watching her dream to save the people be corrupted by the Committee and Frank Hartley – played courtesy of a Jim Hartley – watches his sister get the call up papers for the surface missions, not knowing what that will mean. My favourite portrayal however is Paul Copley as Mr Hartley. His performance in one of the more…gut wrenching…scenes was genuinely heartbreaking on first listen. The entire cast clearly throws themselves into it and the slow inevitable decline is utterly gripping.
The Cybermen voices from Nicholas Briggs match that disturbing inhuman sing-song quality of the original Cyber voices from The Tenth Planet – reviewed by Sgathaich – making it all the easier to imagine these as precursors to the Cybermen seen there. To this day I think I personally find these the creepiest of all the Cybermen voices. One criticism I will make however is that the heavy distortion or computerisation in the effects of the voices used for The Committee can make it hard to figure out exactly what is being said at points. Especially on those occurrences where multiple elements within the Committee speak at once.
Spare Parts truly earns its moniker as a ‘Genesis Of The Cybermen’. Even those individuals who discount the audio medium for Doctor Who often make an exception for Spare Parts and a few other stories. Marc Platt knew exactly what he wanted to do here and it shows. He knows how to play your emotions like a violin and his pedigree with both Big Finish and TV Doctor Who (He wrote the famously…difficult…Ghost Light) shows that he knows how to make you either think or feel. As dark and grim as Spare Parts gets it is also truly beautiful at points. It is also somewhat famous as being one of at least two Big Finish stories to act as the inspiration for an episode of televised Doctor Who. When the Cybermen first returned in 2006, Marc Platt received a special thanks credit in their initial two parter. The actual storyline was very different but their attitudes to cyber conversion and just WHAT that means and does to the person inside are very similar.
In conclusion I couldn’t recommend Spare Parts higher than I do. In my opinion it is the audio equivalent of pure gold. It might be too dark for some and I understand that. But at only £2.99 in download form from the Big Finish website it is worth a try. There is a trailer on the Big Finish website alongside several previous releases as mentioned in my previous article and I truly hope some of my readers will listen.
I was going to end my Big Finish discussion there with an interesting duology of releases but I have decided to continue the theme and turn it into a trilogy. As for what the final part will be? That’s a surprise!