An Audio Drama by Big Finish (#34 in the main range)
Just in time for Christmas, A Mondasian horror story for The Holidays!
I recall that when I got “back into” Doctor Who in 2004 via a popular message board that is no longer there (I think it’s successor is, but it was too toxic a long time ago), Spare Parts was easily the most talked about Big Finish audio drama on the entire forum. It was referenced with such high praise that I absolutely knew that I HAD to listen to it. In season two of the current series, we saw the re-appearance of a version of the Cyberman, and fans were whipped into a fervor. Once again calls to listen to Spare Parts went out, along with pleas of “why didn’t BBC adapt Spare Parts?” and “these aren’t the real cybermen!”. I finally buckled and got ahold of a bunch of these classic dramas, and when I finally got to this story I was relieved that it actually lived up to the hype for once. I’m not even the biggest Fifth Doctor fan, to be quite honest, and I loved it. Here it is, some NINETEEN (gasp!) years later, and I am doing a re-listen – does it STILL hold up as one of my favorite stories? Yes, very much so.
“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…
The story of the genesis of the Cybermen. One of our listeners’ favourite releases. Dark, moving and terrifying…”
This is without a doubt, one of the best Cybermen stories ever made. I’m not sure if it could be pulled off, but an adaptation of this as a TV episode would be pretty amazing. I guess they borrowed a bit for an episode in the Capaldi era featuring The Cybermen (World Enough and Time) , but seeing the outright origin of the proper ones would be awesome (unless that was an alternate origin?). I think one of the reasons this episode is so well regarded is the atmosphere, which is both heavy and terrifying at almost every turn. It’s a dystopian tale that focuses on everyday people trying to live in an increasingly harsh world until everything goes wrong. I honestly feel that The Cybermen are far more successful as examples of extreme body horror and sadness with creepy sing-song robotic voices than the kind that stomps around and says “DELETED” constantly.
An example: There’s a part when a young girl named Yvonne, to which Nyssa has become fairly close, has been selected to be “fully-converted”. Something happens during her conversion, and she escapes trying to head home. As she crashes into her own house, terrifying her family, everyone eventually realizes it is Yvonne with her last shreds of humanity reminding her that she wanted her father to see her in her ‘uniform’ before she joined the work crews. Showing the battle between humanity and cold logical ruthlessness is where The Cybermen are at their best, otherwise they might as well just be any other race of robots.
Had I gone into this without the foreknowledge of the plot and the blatant Cyberman on the cover, the reveal that they were on The Planet Mondas along with the Proto-Cybermen police force would have been an incredible reveal. The moment he starts talking I got chills up my spine the first time I listened to this, not an easy task with an audio drama to be honest.
I will say, the episode is not prefect, as there are a few silly things – like why would Mondas have a holiday exactly like Christmas if the planets diverged a long time ago? How do they have horses? How would they have things like earth-identical churches and movie theaters? I’ve seen some postulate that Mondas drifted away about 10,000 BC or so, which would work, but other episodes state otherwise. I’m not a huge continuity nit-picker, so it didn’t hurt the story in any way for me – it’s just fun to think about. I always live by the idea that you should never let the “canon” get in the way of telling a good story, unless it breaks the entire premise of the show apart or something. So if the Cybermen have holiday trees and ride horses, awesome!
My recommendation for you is to stop what you are doing and listen to this play this week since I will argue it’s a Christmas story (I use Spotify on PC, they have all of them on there). I mean if Die Hard is a Christmas Movie, this can be as well! So far, it is easily the best Big Finish audio drama I’ve listened to, and as always, it gives me an appreciation for actors and companions I may not have been the biggest fan of when the show itself was on. My impression of The Fifth Doctor was always him bickering with Adric about who was smarter, or Tegan about not being home, and as a result I am rarely a big fan of too many stories from that era. However, I do like Nyssa (as played by Sarah Sutton), and she is always great in these dramas, as is Peter Davison as The Doctor. So anyway, celebrate the holidays by pondering the horrors of trans-humanism and question what we would do when faced with horrible climate change that will soon make body augmentation necessary. Happy Holidays!