July 2002 saw the release of the Fifth Doctor story Spare Parts written by Marc Platt and charting the origin of the Cybermen. This intense, dark story is widely given as a fan favourite in polls and is clearly a contender for the label of classic. I came to this fairly early in my listening but when I was still focussing on the Eighth Doctor and was not a huge fan of the Fifth (and this is the character, not Peter Davison’s work).
So, public opinion is in favour, but I have my own opinion. Is it the same? To find out, read on…
The Big Finish Product Page synopsis gives us:
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…
We are on ice-bound Monday which is firmly and squarely a twisted parallel to Earth and is set in a recognisably version of London. The Doctor and Nyssa are drawn into the grubby world of body-part trading and get to experience this world through the lens of a small-family.
Meanwhile the world as a whole is designed to elicit sympathy; the population are trapped in a bleak cycle of despair and volunteers step out onto the surface to help ease the world’s problems. Being fitted with the latest silver survival suit is an honour – no-one realises that they are being converted for better survival.
The scientist in charge of human conversions is Doctorman Allan and is also modifying humanity for good reasons they have no choice. Her conversion programme slowly goes out of control and the Doctor inadvertently aids the evolution of the Cybermen. This with several scenes that paint the grim horror of the whole world make this an adult fairy tale of the first rank (whatever that means).
The tale ends with the Doctor having not changed history.
This is dark and powerful. The simple scene of almost-London makes the horror more palpable (as often happens) and the cast are great (Doctorman Allan is played by Sally Knyvette, others in the cast are equally compelling).
The story refuses to compromise and provides many opportunities to see different sides of the Doctor’s relationship with Nyssa.
Is it a Classic?
It is very well done and stays in the memory. Taking as it does the genesis of the Cybermen raises the stakes and the story does a job well. My problem with it stems from the whole Mondas concept of the twin Earth which this story takes to a next level. Why would a parallel planet develop a version of London? There is no good answer to this.
When I first listened to this a couple of years ago I thought good but not classic. Now I consider it in the round I realise that it deserves a re-listen and is one of the more powerful stories so I have joined the masses. Yes, it’s a good story and should be in every collection.
What’s your view? Is it one of the best? Let me know!
Tony, March 2013
5 Comments Add yours
I thought that the whole alternate London thing was simply the idea that the society, until it went out of orbit, took a parallel path as that of earth. It’s a bit of a stretch, but given how effective it is, and and how it shows that we too, if we took the wrong course could be like the cybermen, I was gladly willing to suspend my disbelief.
I agree it’s a really effective idea I just have never liked the whole ‘sister earth’ idea as a substitute for parallel worlds. At least RTD’s cybermen were clearly from another dimension or a naturally (and regularly) occurring phenomenon
Still Spare Parts is a really good story!