Saturday, 7 February 2015

Doctor Who: Other Dimensions - Spare Parts

Fairly uniquely amongst television shows, Doctor Who has an incredibly diverse range spin-off media, in literally any medium you can think of. Other franchises might have the odd tie-in novel or comic book series but none of these stand on their own two feet as much as those in the Whoniverse. For instance, in this post, I take a look at one of the most significant of all Doctor Who stories - and it was never even on the telly...

I have a confession to make that may seriously damage my credentials as a Doctor Who fan - I don't often listen to the Big Finish audios. Don't get me wrong, I love hearing the Doctors and companions returning to their roles as much as the next person (or more, actually, as this metaphorical 'next person' is statistically unlikely to be a Who fan) but I don't purchase them regularly so I've missed out on some great adventures. Recently, I set out to rectify this by catching up with this story from 2002 which later influenced the revived series by filling in a previously-unseen part of the Whoniverse. The Genesis of the Cybermen.

Much like 'The Fires of Pompeii' and 'The Waters of Mars', the (Fifth) Doctor arrives in a place he never wanted to visit - Mondas, Earth's twin planet that he knows will become the homeworld of the Cybermen. He can't interfere this time, lest mess with established history, yet like always he really rather does.
Mondas is a planet on the edge of destruction. What's left of the populace is fooled with propaganda into offering themselves to the workforce - the heroes of Mondas who brave the planet's frozen surface. Really, the unfortunate souls are converted into... Cybermen.

Before we get to those silver giants, it needs to be said that the story makes great use of its TARDIS team. The Doctor and Nyssa as a pair works much better than the TARDIS-cramming gang that accompanied the Fifth Doctor on television. Their dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor and Romana as it's a relationship of equals more than hero-sidekick like most Doctor and companions. And, unlike the TV stories, the heartache Nyssa has been through since meeting the Doctor - the death of her father and Adric, not to mention the destruction of her homeworld - are addressed here, helping to make Nyssa feel like a real person.

All right, let's talk about 'em. First and foremost, Spare Parts reminds you of how good the Cybermen can be when used correctly. In the modern series, the Cybermen's primary goal has been to upgrade and convert humanity. When they were first introduced, however, their aim was the survival of their species - converting others into Cybermen was just a by-product. Spare Parts rectifies this change and spins a scarily believable tale about the Cybermen being born from a species on the brink of extinction, desperate to survive - at whatever the cost.

This is the thinking of the scientist behind the Cybermen. Though this story goes against the expected idea of creating a Cyber-Davros - just as the TV series did in 'Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel' in John Lumic - it retains their creator as an important character, as well as giving the Cybermen a greater autonomy. She's certainly a more layered individual than Lumic's selfish Bond villain and suits the more tragic backstory of the Cybermen. These are not genetically-engineered monsters like the Daleks. The Cybermen are us.

For all its plusses, though, the audio has its flaws. While the world-building is well done, the smaller character moments which are meant to really ram home the horror of the Cybermen are not handled with as much emotion as they were in, say, The Age of Steel. That said, Spare Parts gets the most important thing right - the Cybermen. Returning to those strange squawking voices from 'The Tenth Planet', they are an impressive piece of characterisation through sound. For any Doctor Who fan wanting to upgrade to Big Finish, this is the story that will convert you.

Fun fact: the Cybermen's ear handles conceal headphones which constantly play Big Finish audios to keep them motivated. 

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