Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spare Parts

Back in the days before Doctor Who's return to TV in 2005, figuring out how to introduce someone to the show was an interesting challenge. You generally, would try to think of one of the all time great stories, that wasn't too long, and didn't require a lot of previous knowledge of the show. I would guess most of us didn't put "An Unearthly Child" high in the list of candidates, given its age and well... it isn't that great. Generally we picked a Tom Baker story like "Pyramids of Mars", "City of Death", or "The Deadly Assassin". Or maybe we went for the action packed "Caves of Androzani". Either way, showing some new initiate often involved putting in a DVD, and expecting them to sit through 4 (or more) episodes of Doctor Who. Often the poor victim of our enthusiasm had mentally checked out by the mid-point of the first episode. Now, with the new show mostly contained in faster paced 45 minute stories, there is one fairly obvious episode to pick to try to hook a new viewer into becoming a fan. (Hint: it rhymes with "sink".)

So, how do you introduce someone to the Big Finish range of Doctor Who? Well, for starters, I don't recommend introducing someone who isn't already a fan of Doctor Who. Seriously, as much as I adore Big Finish and consider it to generally represent the pinnacle of Doctor Who storytelling, I can't imagine selling Doctor Who in audio format first. (I am sure it's worked for some people, but I would guess they are a small exception.) This requires someone who is already a fan of the classic show, which generally is almost a requirement for Big Finish given the number of story lines, villains, and references littered throughout the range to the original series. (After all it is by fans, for fans.) So, you pick some of the iconic and best stories. So, in our reviews so far my list would look something like "The Marian Conspiracy", "The Holy Terror", "The Chimes of Midnight", and most definitely "Spare Parts".

This story is to Cybermen what "Genesis of the Daleks" was to Daleks - essentially, an origin story for people already familiar with the "monster". This is a masterpiece by Marc Platt who prior to Big Finish was pretty much only known by me for writing the entertaining mess that was "Ghost Light" in the final McCoy TV season. To say that I like this more would be a great understatement. This is a dark, depressing story (as you might expect) and remains one of my all time favorite Doctor Who adventures.

As you might guess, this takes place on Mondas, the original home planet for the Cybermen. When the 5th Doctor and Nyssa arrives, the Doctor figures out pretty quickly where (and when) they are. Realizing that he can't really risk trying to change what happens here in this pivotal time in the planet's history he attempts to persuade Nyssa that they should leave right away. Somehow, Nyssa, convinces him to hang around a bit, which may be the biggest flaw in the story. Quickly they get separated, and they get caught up in the catastrophic events.

As any devoted Doctor Who fan might expect the voices of these "not quite Cybermen" are done in the style of their debut story "The Tenth Planet". When I finally first saw the story for myself I found the voices both ridiculous and disturbing all at once. My opinion hasn't altered much from this audio, although the disturbing factor is higher here. Of course Nick Briggs does a sensational job doing the voice work.

The best decision Platt made in this story was NOT to try to create another Davros for the Cybermen. Doctorman Allan, the ostensible "creator" of the Cybermen is not some deranged lunatic. She's a desperate, flawed woman. She's brilliant but also drinks too much. She's full of despair at where they are in their dire situation and has serious doubts about their solution, but knows the alternative is extinction.

Probably the best moment in the story comes from Nyssa meeting the downtrodden Hartley family. After befriending Yvonne and her dad, and meeting the less pleasant brother Frank, she quickly realizes the dire straits the family (and the planet) lives in. When Yvonne is selected for the "work crews" and then ultimately returns, it's one of the most gut wrenching scenes in the history of Doctor Who. The performance for Yvonne and the Hartley family is just tremendous and it is simply heart breaking.

The other terrifying aspect of the story is the dreaded Committee that is truly running the show on Mondas. Their internal dialogs are quite creepy (and hard to understand at times as well). One particularly long internal dialog that results in them uttering the dreaded "We must survive" line over and over again fills the listener with dread.

Quite simply, this is a tremendous story, which I don't really want to get into much more for fear of giving too much away. If you haven't heard "Spare Parts" yet, you simply must buy it now. If you have heard it, it's probably long since time you listened to it again. The Doctor and Nyssa are put through the emotional (and physical) ringer. The Doctor ends up playing a pivotal role in the story (both in ways you would expect and not expect) and when he and Nyssa leave thinking they may actually have made a difference, you'll hang around for the last couple of minutes and find out just how wrong they were.


1 comment:

  1. Agreed -- a terrific BF story. I am probably biased because the actor playing Dad Harvey grew up 15 miles from where I live, but this is rightly viewed as a Classic