“Spare Parts” makes excellent use of Doctor Who lore to detail the end of a long road in which the last desperate inhabitants of the planet Mondas survive by losing their humanity and becoming the Cybermen. It’s one of my favorite Big Finish stories, and it features the type of performance by Peter Davison that I wish we’d seen more of when he was playing the Doctor on television. And it’s far better than the bland and derivative “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel” that the revived television series gave us, which was partially inspired by elements of this story.
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Mondas of the distant past, a fact which the Doctor knows but Nyssa does not. Long-time Doctor Who fans will know that Mondas is the home planet of the Cybermen, some of the Doctor’s most enduring enemies. The city is the last inhabited settlement on Mondas, and the population of this last city is down to a few thousand. There’s a nighttime curfew, and the rudimentary Cybermen as seen in “The Tenth Planet” are the policemen that patrol the streets. Even the unconverted human inhabitants have replacement parts, such as Mr. Hartley’s mechanical heart. And it’s not just the humans. Animals are also partially cybernetic, including the horses of the police and the songbird owned by the Yvonne Hartley. An underground black market for organic rather than mechanical replacements exists. Many of the population are sickly, and no one eats well.
Extinction is right around the corner. The Doctor knows it, and the ruling Committee knows it as well. The Doctor dithers back and forth on whether or not he should just leave, but in the end he has to have a look around first, and he can’t resist taking some small steps to stir up the locals even while insisting to Nyssa that they cannot change the future of Mondas. She too has worked out the situation and where they are, and is determined to help the family who sheltered her at no small personal cost. Both the Doctor and Nyssa are kind and compassionate and can’t resist the urge to do something, however futile it may ultimately be. Nyssa’s future decision to remain on Terminus is foreshadowed as she threatens to remain to help the population of Mondas, though the Doctor quickly relents and the two resolve the argument that led to the threat. Adric’s death also plays a part in motivating both characters, which makes perfect sense considering that this story has to take place only a few weeks or months at most after the events of “Earthshock”.
Author Marc Platt depicts a Mondasian civilization that is on the edge of the cliff, and despite the Doctor’s efforts, the tipping point is reached and passed, and nothing can be done to stop it. It’s a vicious cycle. The planet is drifting through interstellar space, so the population cannot live on the surface. The planet is also heading for a nebula, meaning it will ultimately be ripped apart. Meanwhile, in the cavern below the surface, resources are scarce and running out, and the remaining population are sickly, and forced more and more to replace organs and limbs with mechanical replacements. The shadowy government lies to the population about just how advanced the whole project is. Disinformation is the order of the day. There’s no power-mad grab for galactic dominance going on here. The Cybermen are born out of a desperate need to survive and avoid extinction.
The production is excellent. For the long-time fan, familiar with the Cyberman stories of the 1960s, the voices of the police/Cybermen match those we heard in “The Tenth Planet”, and the Committee sounds very much like various Cybercontrollers from “The Wheel in Space” or “The Invasion”. The music is quiet and understated much of the time, creating a sense of unease or foreboding. Peter Davison gives a great performance, and so do Sarah Sutton and the guest cast. There’s no one who doesn’t act out their roles with absolute conviction. The actors really sell the situation.
Any Doctor Who fan ought to order and listen to this story. It’s one of those productions where every aspect of the story is firing on all cylinders. It’s good drama, and it’s good Doctor Who.