Marc Platt’s ‘Spare Parts’ continues to top lists of Big Finish’s best work since its release in 2002. Russell T Davies cited it as inspiration when bringing the Cybermen back for New Who. Many fans have come to consider ‘Spare Parts’ as the definitive origin story of the Cybermen. Now this month, this lauded adventure will get a limited-edition vinyl release.
The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves on Mondas – planet of the Cybermen – in the early days of cybernetics. With the population becoming increasingly desperate to survive the collapse of their planet’s environment. Can the Doctor stop the rise of the Cybermen or has he just made things a whole lot worse?
Though Marc Platt only wrote one televised story, he’s been a major influence on Doctor Who via the spin-off media. As well as writing ‘Lungbarrow’, the novel which concluded the Cartmel Masterplan, he remains a prolific Big Finish contributor.
Immortality with a chrome finish
Placing this story between ‘Time-Flight’ and ‘Arc of Infinity’, during Tegan’s short break from the TARDIS, was a great move. The reduced cast of the Doctor and Nyssa gives a more even footing to their debates, keeping the plot tight. It also uses Adric’s recent demise at the hands of the Cybermen to give the story added emotional heft.
Platt has crafted a superb group of guest characters to show multiple facets of how people respond to the threat of destruction. On one hand, we meet the Hartley family: ordinary people trying to get by with kindness and generosity. On the other, Sisterman Constant and Doctorman Allan: cogs in the machine, trying to ensure Mondas survives whatever the cost. The cast turn in good performances, but Nicholas Briggs’ chilling recreation of the early Cyberman cadence is definitely a highlight.
Vanity’s a killer
The idea for Cybermen sprang from fears around the fairly recent science of organ transplants and plastic surgery. While ‘Spart Parts’ includes a nod to this, it subverts what was widely assumed to be why the Mondasians upgraded. Their appearance in ‘The Tenth Planet’ implied that Cybermen had come about gradually as a result of the increasingly-radical augmentation.
Here, however, the guest characters live under the authoritarian rule of the Committee – a cyborg hive mind built to govern. Ultimately, it’s the Committee that forces cyber-conversion on an unwitting or unwilling population. Though this removes the cautionary tale aspect of the Cybermen, it serves the story by creating a central villain joined by morally grey human henchmen. It also allows the plot some sense of resolution, even if the conclusion is ultimately bound by continuity.
We begin again
With the Cybermen due to don their original guise in the upcoming tenth series, this release is great timing. Not only is it a superb primer for the original Cybermen, it sets a high bar for the TV series. Platt has established a rich world, themes and motivations for the fledgling Cybermen that the BBC can build on.
‘Spare Parts’ has earnt its reputation. While the first part is slow, it sets the scene and allows the rest of the story to move at a breakneck speed. The Doctor is challenged by conflicting motivations, giving his sense of duty a thorough shakedown. This is emphasised by a revelation later on that will forever change the way you see the Cybermen. ‘Spare Parts’ is the perfect synthesis of sci-fi, action and horror all bundled up in a character-driven drama and an essential part of any Whovian’s collection.
Blogtor Rating – 10/10
‘Spare Parts’ is available as a limited-edition vinyl release from the Big Finish website, where it’s also available to download. This story can also be streamed on Big Finish’s official Spotify playlist.
This vinyl release is STRICTLY LIMITED TO 500 COPIES.
The story of the genesis of the Cybermen. One of our listeners’ favourite releases. Dark, moving and terrifying…
On a dark frozen planet where no planet should be, in a doomed city with a sky of stone, the last denizens of Earth’s long-lost twin will pay any price to survive, even if the laser scalpels cost them their love and hate and humanity.
And in the mat-infested streets, around tea-time, 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, their worst suspicions are confirmed: the Cybermen have only just begun, and the Doctor will be, just as he always has been, their saviour…
Written By: Marc Platt
Directed By: Gary Russell