The Doctor and Nyssa find themselves wandering through the dark and hauntingly quiet streets of what could be London in the late 1950’s, only it isn’t. There are many similarities, but far too many differences such as the astronomical location of the planet to the Cherrybowl Nebula. The Doctor is in a peculiar mood and seems just as anxious to get away as he is interested in investigating further, but on his own. Nyssa wanders off and encounters a father and daughter engaged in ‘mat hunting just as the young woman’s father is badly injured, appearing to be dead by Nyssa’s reckoning. To her surprise, ‘Dad’ sits up right as rain even though he has no pulse. Fearing the police-patrolled streets after curfew, they encourage Nyssa to follow them home. Meanwhile the Doctor encounters a street doctor who is eagerly looking for limb and organ donors even though most fashionable replacements are cybernetic these days.
This is clearly not Earth.
When Davison first started his run as the Doctor, he confessed that his favorite ‘monster’ from his childhood was the Cybermen. This should come as no surprise given that he primarily watched Patrick Troughton as a child and the Second Doctor faced the silver-faced cyborgs on several occasions. Billed as a kind ‘Genesis of the Cybermen,’ Spare Parts is a very bizarre story. Written by Marc Platt (Ghost Light, Loups Garoux), Spare Parts is a period piece mixed with cyberpunk elements and a healthy dose of Yorkshire accented locals. I’m not sure how I imagined an adventure that explored the origins of the Cybermen, but patrols of neo-Cyber-cops on horseback was far from my mind!
On screen, Peter Davison was faced with many convoluted plots involving chicken monsters running water-powered generators in Amsterdam, a giant dog in a vest starting the Big Bang and Concords being swiped to the Stone Age by a stereotypical Oriental wizard. He rarely had the opportunity to flesh out his character with the many mannerisms and quirks that he wished to inject. In Phantasmagoria, Loups Garoux and Spare Parts he is in fine form, depicting a harried and strange traveler who carries firecrackers in his pockets and gives the impression of a very old man in a youngster’s body. His stammering, a terrible sense of direction and tendency for witty puns in moments of terrible danger are very appealing and are all in full effect here.
As Nyssa, actress Sarah Sutton was terribly young when she appeared on screen and came off as rather wooden most of the time. She’s terribly cute and clever, but quite boring in the personality department. I imagine that her creator Johnny Byrne saw this as a sign of her royal breeding, but it is difficult to get invested in her character. In Spare Parts, Nyssa spends much of her time away from the Doctor and by the time they are reunited, she has realized that they have arrived at the genesis of the dreaded Cybermen, the same monsters who killed Adric. Eager to change history so that her friend’s life can be spared by history, she butts heads with the Doctor who once again reminds her of the Web of Time… and that Adric was a rather rubbish companion (I made that bit up).
Spare Parts is very atmospheric, set entirely in a world underground, fearful of life in the surface and protected by miles of concrete from ever seeing the staggering sky. Vocal auteur extraordinaire Nicholas Briggs also brings life to the early and haunting ‘Tenth Planet’-style voices along with the resounding Cybercontroller in its first chronological appearance. There are some spine-chilling moments as well such as the swarming Cybermats attacking the TARDIS and the desecration of the graveyard for fresh material to build more Cybermen.
Amazing fan-made animation
I recall reading before the Cybermen returned in the BBC Wales version that this audio adventure was a strong influence on the televised two-parter ‘Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel.’ Marc Platt is even given credit as a source on screen for the story. Yet after listening to Spare Parts, I am dumbfounded as to how the production crew passed up the opportunity to translate at least some of the ideas in Platt’s scrip for the small screen. The dirigibles, President of the UK, sports drinks and alternate Tyler family are poor substitutes for the amount of fantastic concepts here. Spare Parts does have its problems, but it is miles better than the BBC Wales alternate Cybermen. Imagine The Doctor and Rose landing in what looks like 1950’s London only to encounter a Cyberman on horseback, or the crumbling sky cliffhanger revealing a strange vision of space and you can see right away how amazing this story could have been.