In my infinite wisdom – or the dead-end street of geekery, perhaps – I have decided to listen to, and review, all of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays. In chronological order. From the earliest Peter Davison/Nyssa tales, right through the Colin Baker & Sly McCoy years, to the Paul McGann yarns. This will be a long trip. And, as you may have noticed, this is only the third installment. Folks, we ain’t even left the runway yet.
At this stage, I’m also going to point out that I like the idea of story seasons. As indeed do Big Finish themselves, who handily call their rotation of tales “mini-seasons”. I have therefore grouped the older stories together into seasons of their own. The “first” season of 5th Doctor plays comprises Land of the Dead, Winter for the Adept, The Mutant Phase, Primeval, and Spare Parts. Since Spare Parts becomes a “season finale” of sorts, it had better be a damned good one…
Spare Parts, by Marc Platt
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on a near-deserted 1950s-analogue street, complete with a boarded-up picture house. But this city is underground, and the planet is not Earth. And the Central Committee of Mondas is about to reach a critical decision…
Whoah. If the first four stories had been pussyfooting around at all, then this one takes the gloves off. It’s no spoiler to say that this is a Cyberman story – and the cover makes it clear that we’re playing with the original, Kit Pedler-stylee Cybermen here. Beady-eyed, scary, sing-song voiced… and they don’t disappoint.
Marc Platt gives us a real origin story to be proud of, squeezing Mondas into that fine space between desperation and extinction. And along the way, he plays merry hell with the Doctor’s principles: Peter Davison is perfectly pitched in his own struggle to save Mondas without altering history, haunted by Adric’s ghost. The story’s incidental characters, crushed and doomed (Yvonne), cynical and uncaring (Dr Allen, played by Blakes 7 veteran Sally Knyvette), show just how close Mondas is to losing its humanity. The twist of what actually ties the Cyber thought processes together is startling, effective, and – for the Doctor, at least – repulsively horrific. And the (slightly over-processed…again) Central Committee’s debate and firm decision to press forward is as gripping and dramatic as anything the BBC ever put onto screen.
Spare Parts is the first really top-end 5th doctor story I’ve heard; I’ve since read that many fans see this as the definitive Cybermen creation story. I’m not surprised. This is one play I’ll happily return to.