A review of the Big Finish production “Doctor Who: Spare Parts”

This is a four part audio drama with Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton reprising her role as Nyssa from that era of tv Who.

It’s a complex, surprising production that keeps you guessing as to which way it’s going to jump in terms of its direction.  The 50’s setting alien world of Mondas makes you think initially that it is going to overdose on quirkiness.  But then it plays out as a classic, chilling Cyberman adventure that does not downplay the horror of the conversion process or the loss of humanity and identity it involves for the poor souls involved.  The Cybermen here are modelled on those of the Troughton era, with their never bettered drawn out synth voiced monotones.  “Youuuuuu willll beee like usss….”  Gary Russell does a fantastic job of world building on his Mondas.  It’s a world stuck in the 50’s due to the squalor and retrogression caused by living underground on a dying world, whose path is wandering into that of a nebula.  The underground survivors send selected enlisted parties to the surface to try and start the giant propulsion engines that may move their planet to safety.  It’s a world of curfews, power-cuts, dimly lit streets, boarded up shops and homes, tram-stops, and a town-square with a huge “Committee Palace” with iron gates where the mysterious committee rule.  Meanwhile cyber augmentation runs through this society like veins of silver through rock.  The classic cyber-mat creatures scuttle through the streets like vermin.  People have augmented budgies for pets, and cyber chest units and artificial limbs to help with medical difficulties.  It’s a technology in its infancy.  Meanwhile cyber augmented police on cyber augmented horses keep order.  And this all heading in a direction that the Doctor, and us if we know our Who history, know only too well.

The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mondas, with the Doctor clearly knowing where he is and immediately filled with foreboding.  They find a struggling family, the Hartleys, Yvonne (Kathryn Gluck), Dad (Paul Copley), and Frank (Jim Hartley).  Dad has a chest unit and Frank dreams of being enlisted to the surface which fills Dad with horror.  Dad loves his tea and Yvonne is consumptive but popular in the community and pretty much the glue in the family.  The actors bring all these characters to believable life and make the distinctly odd setting believable.  And when horrible cyber things do happen to certain family members, you really feel it and are appalled by it.

The Hartley’s, the Doctor and Nyssa become tied up with the comically horrible body-snatcher Thomas Dodd (Derren Nesbitt) whilst being watched by the snooping official Sisterman Constant (Pamela Binns) in discovering the terrible truth about the hidden Committee and its plans.  On the way they meet a Doctor involved in leading the cyber augmentation, the conflicted Doctorman Allan, and come face to face with a Cyber nemesis Zheng (played by Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs).  The Doctor finds he must do what he can to bring a kind of redemption to Mondas without breaking the strictures of history, his own prime directive.

The story surprises, scares and entertains and has some truly memorable ideas, scenes and set pieces, and I won’t spoil them for you, but the revelation of the true nature of the Committee is a treat.  The production scores on every level.  The 50’s level is a rich and resonates with themes from that era, such as the Stalinist Committee and it’s Palace to the domestic scenes of the Hartley family.  The Cybermen are a nasty and dehumanising evil here, and a fitting monster for our current age of upgrades and increasing reliance on technology and apps.

Get a copy if you can.  I was staggered to see it selling on Amazon for £90, but I grabbed a copy for a tenner from a high street genre comic/book store.  And you can download it for £2.99 on the Big Finish Web site.

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