Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Big Finish Reviews+ The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 7A - by Tony J Fyler

The Fourth Doctor Series 7A

Tony’s eight years old again.

When Tom Baker was eventually coaxed into performing in Big Finish audio adventures, reprising his role as the Fourth Doctor, there was initial joy, and then, when he delivered Destination Nerva in 2012, for me at least, there was a touch of sadness. His voice had changed, as voices do over time, and he sounded rather frail – the spirit tentative but willing, but the physical apparatus, if not broken, then changed to a point where it sounded inherently sad.

Spin forward, as you can if you happen to have a time machine, to 2018.

Tom Baker now, in 2018 (or 2017 when these stories were recorded) is the Tom Baker of the 1970s. His voice sounds rejuvenated, and, as he maintains in interviews, he’s found a job that gives him such pleasure, and brings him such love and adoration from armies of fans again, that his performances these days are as exuberant, as lightning-fast and layered and turn-on-a-dime as they ever were. Tom Baker is the Doctor in 2018, just as he was in 1978, and if you’re doing a job in your eighties as well as you did in your forties, then you’re an extraordinary person too.

Series 7 of the Fourth Doctor Adventures takes an unusual step, releasing the first three stories (two single-disc stories and a double-discer) both as individual tales and as a galumphing collection, a banquet of Baker to get your teeth well and truly stuck into, and there are things to say about it, but the first thing to do is go and buy it, because there’s not a disappointing story here.

First up, Sons of Kaldor. Kaldor Robots (the rather more politically neutral term for what everyone recognises as the Robots of Death), in the hands of Andrew Smith, a writer who’s always got a point to work around, and who builds strong stories with layers of characterisation and questions. You know that’s going to be good as soon as you read Kaldor Robots and Andrew Smith.

There have of course been a few different follow-ons from Robots of Death. There was a whole series of Kaldor City audios in the dark days between iterations of Doctor Who. There was a novel, Corpse Marker, and there was at Big Finish the Seventh Doctor story which introduced future companion, Med-Tech Liv Chaenka, Robophobia. Smith introduces us to another new way of using and seeing the Robots of Unfortunate Reprogramming, bringing the Fourth Doctor and Leela to a shipful of them, all of whom seem to have amnesia about their mission. When our time travellers discover two bodies in the medical bay, we’re invited to wonder what’s really going on, and to get it wrong. Smith builds a world outside the ship, a world inside the ship, and eventually brings the two into harmony and focus to build a bigger picture that makes sense of every conundrum he’s posed. You’ll fly through The Sons of Kaldor, partly because it’s the Robots of Freakin’ Death, but more because he yanks you through at speed, making you ask questions that have you impatiently waiting for the answers to come clear. The end pays off your curiosity, without ever making the answers too trite, too pat – there are still questions to ponder at the end, partly because the truth about what happens in The Sons of Kaldor is bigger than a single story can accommodate, but also, one sneakily suspects, because a sequel story would be lovely, thank you very much.
Having waxed lyrical about Tom Baker, can we talk about Louise Jameson for a moment? Louise Jameson has always been an enormously good, incredibly intuitive actor. On screen, she took a role that was supposed to be ‘Eliza Doolittle in a leather bikini’ and brought a sense of the bright child to her, making Leela feel ‘real’ in the most surreal of circumstances. Watch her in The Sun Makers, watch her in The Face of Evil or The Robots of Death, and see her being fully possessed of her own – Leela’s – thoughts and feelings, whatever the Doctor was doing or saying. She’s continued that great work at Big Finish, broadening Leela out in several stories, showing us how she thinks and feels as her time with the Doctor, and her time in the wider universe continues. The Crowmarsh Experiment, by David Llewelyn, isn’t exactly a Companion Chronicle, but it is a very strong Leela story, where she’s made to question the reality of her life, the certainty of her sanity and the boundaries of her trust in the Doctor, especially as someone who looks and sounds exactly like the Doctor is urging her to come back ‘to reality’ – the reality of a life on Earth in the 1970s, of a husband and children who want her back from the delusion of her life in time-travel. It’s a wrenching piece of character drama, and it’s arguably, by virtue of its depths and layers, the stand-out story of the set. You genuinely feel for Leela by the end of the piece, both in terms of the life she didn’t live and the fact that you’ve just seen a glimpse into a world for which she subconsciously yearns. It’s strong, affecting stuff, The Crowmarsh Experiment, and if you’re at all that way inclined, there may be teardrops to shed by the end of it.

The third story, The Mind Runners/The Demon Rises, by John Dorney, is probably the best sci-fi epic movie you’ll never see. It’s in the vein of a lot of eighties and nineties sci-fi that really took the genre forward – your Blade Runner, your Matrix, a lot of the best 2000AD – and like those other works, it unfolds, layer after layer, taking you from a teen trend, the idea of ‘mind running,’ or surfing into other people’s consciousness, to see through their eyes, think through their brains, through the highest echelons on the planet Chaldera, to several other levels and strata of society before you find out what’s really going on. Starting with the basic premise of mind running, the Doctor and Leela discover that mind runners have committed what looked like suicide, despite having no previously self-destructive thoughts or inclinations. There’s talk of conspiracy, and an urban bogeyman has grown up – people say the suicides encountered the Night Mind, a force of will so dark it corrupts anyone who comes into contact with it.

But while that would be story enough in some circumstances – and give a clear, linear battle for the Doctor and Leela to face, Dorney goes much much further to show us the world of Chaldera, from political forces worried about what the mind runners might be able to discover about what they’re up to, to police who are just trying to get to the truth of what’s happening, to interestingly psychotic semi-liquid supervillains, to cults who believe that the flesh is an abhorrence and only the mind (in suitably mechanical avatars) should survive, and more besides. There is such texture in Dorney’s world, and it’s all so oddly, believably realistic that you stand no chance of working out what really is going on from any kind of standing start – it’s not till at least halfway through the second disc that you begin to have an inkling of what’s actually happening on Chaldera, and when you do, it flips everything you think you know on its head.

The Fourth Doctor, Series 7A is both a celebration and an extension of everything Tom Baker and Louise Jameson did on screen, into a wider, more colourful, less budget-restricted audio universe – The Sons of Kaldor gives you a fresh new take on one of their most successful TV encounters; The Crowmarsh Experiment puts the emphasis on Leela in a way which would never have been allowed on 1970s TV, but which in 2018 makes the Doctor and his companions feel much more like real friends, looking out for and trusting in each other; and The Mind Runners/The Demon Rises is a sci-fi epic that would take at least New Who budgets and timescales to put on screen, and more probably Hollywood capabilities.

Between them, they’re a fantastic start to the seventh series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor, four joyous hours of audio-TV that will leave you entirely satisfied, but hungry for the release of the next set.

Big Finish Reviews+ Short Trips 8.1 - The Authentic Experience by Tony J Fyler

Short Trips 8.1 - The Authentic Experience

Tony goes in search of the real deal.

The Authentic Experience kicks off Series 8 of the Short Trips range from Big Finish, with a Sixth Doctor and Peri tale of alternative lives and experiences, written by TV and audio Sontaran of choice, Dan Starkey.

Trickily, even to summarise what’s going on in the story will ruin the first ten minutes or so of your listening experience, because it goes in heavy on the befuddlement factor – it depends on you not knowing what’s going on to sell both its concept and its atmosphere.
What can be said is that those first ten minutes are the start of a series of experiences, showing potential lives led and embodied by everyone’s favourite Eighties botanist, Peri Brown. It’s not a story that deals in alternative Peris though, so much as it is an interesting science fiction thought experiment on ways to monetise time travel. So far, so interesting. A script written by Starkey, an opportunity for Nicole Bryant to stretch herself in audio beyond her usual Peri performance (and an opportunity which it must be said she grasps with both hands, doing hard work with her duties as narrator, Peri and all the other characters in this story), and a Short Trip directed by regular Big Finish legend, Lisa Bowerman. Where’s the bad?

Sadly, the story feels like rather less than the sum of its parts. The Authentic Experience is not by any means a bad story. It’s more that it quickly becomes a guessable one, with science fiction concepts a touch too familiar from other sources blended together in a way that allows the imagination of listeners to spool ahead to the end faster than the run-time does, creating an artificial sense that the story is slow and padded, a handful of scenarios stitched together for the sake of showing Peri in different lives and outfits and moods between Point A and Point B.

The central plot-device is a time-honoured one, having more than a little in common with Carnival of Monsters, and there are plots throughout the history of Doctor Who based on machines going wrong or machines simply doing things the Doctor considers monstrous, and him battling to shut them down. The machine which allows Peri to experience the varieties of weirdness which make up the majority of the story, to be fair to Dan Starkey, is an interesting take on those plots. That said, there are elements studded throughout the storyline which make insufficient sense, the most nitty-gritty of which is that the people who sign up for the ‘Authentic Experience’ can enter that experience individually, but the Doctor determines they can only be brought out of it en masse, and through the actions of Peri. The reason for that never feels sufficiently explained, which adds to that sensation of things happening the way they do simply so this particular story can be told, rather than because of any consistent logic in the plot.

Bryant works gamely to create an immersion in the atmosphere of several different environments in the story, and she gives a performance that certainly carries the listener through to the end. She’s helped along by Bowerman’s direction and the sound design, but at the end of it all, you’re left with the sensation that you’ve heard the story of an irritating Sunday afternoon in the Doctor and Peri’s time-travelling life, rather than a story that demanded to be told.

That said, that’s almost the remit of the Short Trips series – to give us additional slices of life on board the Tardis, shorter stories that show us the Doctor and his friends dealing with the adventures where alien Armageddon isn’t necessarily the order of the day. The Authentic Experience certainly delivers on that level – its flaw is that by allowing listeners to guess its twists ahead of time, it ends up feeling like a Short Trip that’s nevertheless rather longer than it needs to be.

Big Finish Reviews+ Kingdom of Lies by Tony J Fyler

Kingdom of Lies

‘Up the Republic!’ says Tony.

Kingdom of Lies is a comedy of royalty and vanity, with occasional assassins, very occasional mishaps and more than a handful of references to British royal shenanigans over the last few decades.

A duke and a duchess, not long married and realising they hate each other, have divided the city of Cardenas right down the middle, with a blue zone and a red zone, and an enormously precise line that must not ever ever ever be crossed on pain of dungeon-wallowing and possibly death. They conduct a PR war to each appear the more wounded, the more compassionate, in order to win the love of the people, as a way of sticking it to each other, and potentially manoeuvring to a position of practical power over each other, the duke determined to keep his duchess’ dowry, the duchess intending to one day become the sole ruler of the duchy. They’re both, when it comes down to it, the kind of people you’d stab yourself in the leg with forks rather than spend any real time with.

And then the Fifth Doctor’s full Tardisload arrive, and are easily divided by virtue of where they happen to be standing, half the team going to the duke’s dungeons, the other half to the duchess’.

It’s a story premise you’d expect from the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era of Who, which rather proves how dedicated a performer Tom Baker actually was in selling their premises, because it doesn’t quite work with Peter Davison’s gang. There’s a degree of solid comedy from this particular Doctor being mistaken for an elusive assassin, and Sarah Sutton gives it her best pantomime effort as Nyssa, his deadly assistant – ‘He murders for money, I kill because I like it!’ – but a little too much of the story’s wiring is left on show for it to be truly immersive: the Doctor and Nyssa are ‘assassins’ brought in to kill the duchess, while Tegan and Adric are security consultants who can help the duchess defeat the assassins hired by her husband, and round and round and round we go, powered mostly by satire and the need to Do Stuff.

It’s not by any means a bad story, Kingdom of Lies – it’ll keep you entertained for a couple of hours, and if you like enclosed stories with stakes that are both high and a tiiiiny bit Moffatty (in that nobody who seems to be dead should necessarily be presumed dead, ever. Or, in fact, presumed to be what they seem), you’ll have enough fun with Kingdom of Lies to listen to it again a little while. If you happen to give a fig about, for instance, the heartache of the Charles and Diana years of British history, you might well find Something About Which You Can Be Offended, because writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky take a ruthlessly ‘plague on both your houses’ approach to skewering royal vanity, with allusions which feel obvious enough to punch, but as long as you don’t give the aforementioned fig, there’s fun to be had with, for instance, the duchess demanding her transport be crashed, so she can stumble bloodied from the wreckage into the glare of sympathetic publicity, and blame the pilot.
In a dislocation from any sense of reality, things get rather more fun again when the in-laws turn up – with the duchess’ dad (played with good bluster and imaginary bushy moustache by Tim Bentinck) declaring war on the duchy, and then nipping off to put a bet on the result. Richenda Carey, as Duchess Miranda’s mother, is a bonus to the production, adding energy and a sense of matriarchal power to proceedings. It’s fair to say though that things start to flag by the time the assassin the Doctor’s been pretending to be arrives in person, and it’s less than helpful that they’re played by Patsy Kensit, who fits neatly in a long line of actresses who turn in stolid performances and say the lines they’re given, despite clearly having very little idea what they’re doing – Beryl Reid and Joan Sims, we salute you.
Overall, Kingdom of Lies is a fluffy bit of royal fun that does very little harm and entertains for its running time. Will it change your life or push you to new depths of appreciation for what Doctor Who on audio can do? No, but then it’s not really trying to do that. It’s entertaining and fun and when it tries to make a deeper point about people who attach themselves to people in power to advance their own position by stoking conflict, it largely succeeds – no mean feat, because that’s a message that could easily have been lost in the spinning together of strands as the story comes to its conclusion.

Spend a vacation in the Kingdom of Lies – you’ll have a laugh, and then get on with your day.

Big Finish Reviews+ The First Doctor Adventures, Volume 1 by Tony J Fyler

The First Doctor Adventures, Volume 1

Tony’s in an Unbound Dimension.

Here’s the thing.

People die.

Every day, they just keel over and stop being. As the Doctor would say, that’s fine – everything has its time, and everything dies. Even the people who, because they played a certain role, have become immortal in our imaginations. We’ll die too, one day, and they will go on being immortal in someone else’s imaginations, because – well, because that’s what immortality means.

In the world of audio drama though, you can be reborn as somebody else, and then, to some extent they’ll be immortal too, for playing you, playing someone that people have taken to their hearts. If you want to keep up your immortality, sooner or later that has to be true, and that has to be OK.

Big Finish has, for instance, recast Jon Pertwee as Tim Treloar, and now the Third Doctor, immortal as he is because of Pertwee, is having new ideas through the body and the voice of Treloar. And that’s fine. The company also frequently uses Frazer ‘Holy gods, that’s uncanny’ Hines to play the Second Doctor, rather than the annoyingly extinct Patrick Troughton, who made him famous. Elliot Chapman now plays Michael Craze playing Ben Jackson, and both William Russell and Peter Purves have got their different versions of William Hartnell’s First Doctor down beautifully.

And that’s fine too.

I mention all this by way of prelude to telling you I had no enthusiasm for this box set. None at all.

David Bradley’s a fantastic actor, and playing William Hartnell in An Adventure In Time And Space, I thought he was entirely peerless. I wasn’t, however, in favour of his being written into the actual TV Doctor Who as the First Doctor, because, to my mind he neither looked nor sounded like the character when dressed in the get-up. Time however had passed between An Adventure and Twice Upon A Time, and Bradley did enormously good work on screen, winning me over to his interpretation of the First Doctor (despite the occasionally heavy-handed writing which made the First Doctor out to be more blatantly sexist than he ever was on screen).

And I still had absolutely no enthusiasm for this box set, because while the other members of this Tardis crew (Jamie Glover as Ian, Jemma Powell as Barbara, and Claudia Grant as Susan) are all fine actors in their own right, their roles in An Adventure had been minimal, and they felt cast more as lookalikes than especially as sound-alikes. So bringing them across to audio felt like a visual cash-in without, necessarily, the vocal skills to support it.
So – does it work? Could a box set like this convert me?

Well, mostly yes…and a little no.

There are two four-part adventures in the first volume of The First Doctor Adventures – The Destination Wars, which takes the crew to an alien world, and The Great White Hurricane, which is a pure historical that drops our heroes into 19th century New York and entangles them in the lives of the local gangs in the shadow of a great big meteorological time bomb – a superstorm blizzard that is due to hit the whole east coast.

The first thing to say is that the writing is superb in both stories – Matt Fitton poses a great philosophical question about whether the ends justify the means in The Destination Wars, and Guy Adams gives us a pulse-pounder that works like a much better version of The Day After Tomorrow in The Great White Hurricane. As might be expected of these experienced hands, there’s barely a note wrong in either of the stories, either in terms of delivering adventures with solid hooks, engaging characters and proper dilemmas, or of evoking the period of the first two years of Doctor Who on screen.

In Fitton’s story particularly, the excitement is especially pulled along by the inclusion of what is now the earliest audio version of the Master, played by James Dreyfus. Yes, really, James Dreyfus, known to generations of Britcom-watchers as Constable Goody in The Thin Blue Line, or as Tom Farrell in Gimme Gimme Gimme. Known, possibly, to most Americans as the camp workmate of Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. That James Dreyfus…is the Master.
Nails it.

Totally, utterly, without a moment’s hesitation, nails it. Sounds like nothing for which he’s best known, but channels the darkness efficiently into a slightly pre-Delgado version still very much on the side of dark sanity, rather than the increasingly demented versions of Alex Macqueen or Michelle Gomez. James Dreyfus: you’ll believe a voice can sound elegantly malignant.

The dilemma of The Destination Wars taps into the sad historical reality that war is an accelerator pedal for technological advancement, and brings the Tardis crew into the lives of a family on a far-distant planet, as time passes and war is brought, intentionally, to them. There’s a neat touch of proto-Salamander underpinning the story, the Master as Enemy of An Entirely Different World, playing both sides against the middle to boost their advancement for his own unspeakable ends. Bradley and Dreyfus become a solidly antagonistic pair, more bluntly adversarial than Pertwee and Delgado, Davison and Ainley, Tennant and Simm or Capaldi and Gomez, and the dynamic of soured, embittered friendship helps power the drama along.

The Great White Hurricane fulfils its destiny as a pure historical by making the weather the big bad, and separating our heroes early. Much of the story is a quest by each of them to find the others and get back to the Tardis, which rings true to the period. The adventures they have along the way, including internecine teen gang wars, a mother in search of her stolen child, a frozen train full of stranded passengers and a frozen river leading to some Titanic action and an all-hands-on-deck effort to save lives are rich in characterization, meaning we enjoy the time we spend in New York, while still feeling the imperative pull of the weather that’s about to hit.

So – all good then?


Bradley gets quite quickly into the swing of the audio adventures, and you begin believing that he’s just giving ‘another interpretation’ of the First Doctor you know and love. The rest of the Tardis crew though deliver their characters with varying degrees of success. Suffice it to say that in one case, the disparity between the performance of the original on screen and the performance here in audio goes beyond distracting and hits levels that disconnect the listener entirely from the character being played. It rather detracts from the drama when characters are put in peril if, whenever you hear them, you’re made to think ‘Who’s that again? No, really?’, and that’s what happens on this box set, though it’s more noticeable in The Great White Hurricane because in The Destination Wars, the Bradley-Dreyfus double act and the philosophical meat of the story does much to distract from that feeling of disconnection.

The stories are still compelling, and Bradley leads a bold effort to reimagine the First Doctor and his friends for the 21st century, allowing them to have new adventures. I would like to have been entirely wrong about the ‘lookalike, not sound-alike’ thing, and in forthcoming volumes, they may well square the circle and bring the one particularly distracting performance at least within a distance where with a hearty jump, the imagination of the listener can convince itself the character at least is the same, even if the person playing them is entirely different. In Volume 1, though, I’m only mostly wrong.

Mostly wrong is absolutely good enough to give this box set a whirl, incidentally. You can safely spend your money on the basis of my being mostly wrong.

But here’s to a future in which I’m increasingly, decidedly and thoroughly wrong.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Interviews Interview with Eve Myles at Collectormania 2013

Interview with Eve Myles
At Collectormania 2013

Fumbling as I was and praying the voice recorder would play ball then realised this was behaving as badly as it did when I was interviewing Dillon Casey I was so glad that Eve has the patience of a saint. I set the recorder down beside her and prayed for the best. Thankfully the counter was working.

The first question came from Natalie Vanstone, who had met Eve previously and had had such a blast with her. Natalie had asked two questions, the first of which fell flat, for a question that would wind up on a page and not on an audio interview but still fun to ask and listen over on the recorder later. I handed Eve the written words, and she replied. “Arse biscuits!” Natalie also asked if she’d like a pint of wine.

Eve: I actually haven’t’ been drinking in 8 months, I’m on a bit of a health kick but thank you very much!

Katya Armbruster said she looked forward to seeing Eve at MD Con next year. 

Eve smiled and said “OH yes that is going to be fantastic!”

John Bond-Winstone wanted to know what the funniest moment Eve had had at a convention.

Eve: I think it was John Barrowman making me do Pamela Plastic hip in Canada and then us making Gareth David Lloyd do Asparagus Man.  Hysterical! Or Ian Gelder doing an orgasm that lasted nearly 15 minutes, yeah because we all know they don’t last 15 minutes. She laughs.

Emma Tennant Jemison wanted to know if Eve would ever consider working on Doctor Who again?

Eve: Yes yes of course

Clare Witch Project asked: When you were emotional in Torchwood you broke many hearts, what did you think of when you did these scenes?

Eve: Oh that is very complimentary, thank you very much.  Because when you get given scenes hopefully people will believe in them and unfortunately people’s hearts got broken because they believed in it.

Amy Atkinson asked what Eve’s favourite Gwen outfit was

Eve: I think it’s the classic black with red top, black tight jeans, yeah.  Kind of classic look!

Mickie asked what do you think is Gwen’s defining episode?

Eve: I would say the last episode in the series of Miracle Day when she has to shoot Jack, to save the world.

More signing, including signing someone’s sling. Molly has come over with her recording and Eve is having a right laugh at it. Watching her actions prior to this filming was amusing from where I stood earlier!

Eve apologised several times to me during the breaks in the interview as more people requested an autograph but I didn’t mind one bit. 

Would you consider a role as a zombie, as Gareth is playing Jacob Fitts in I am Alone?

Eve hadn’t heard of the new film, so after giving a brief description of Gareth as a zombie, judging by his make-up, Eve replied, “I’m the biggest kind of horror fan of the world so I would do anything that was to do with a horror. “

I’m in a film at the moment called ‘Bad Blood’ and made up as a zombie.

Eve: I love it, I’ve just worked with a director, who is a huge director in horror and a writer in horror as well and we’re discussing a film together.

Oh, cool that will be brilliant!

Eve: Hence why Countrycide is my favourite episode.

If you were allowed to take 3 physical things from the set of Torchwood what would they be?

Eve: My thingymajig, you know the thingymajig that was in Children of Earth?  It looked like the Doctor’s pen but we don’t know whether it was or not.  And Owen’s sex perfume and the glove.

You’re back acting again with Anthony Head; can you tell us anything about your role?

Eve: I play a character called Lauren Gray who is a very upper middle class English girl whose travelled the world several times and finds love in an airport with Anthony Head.  He is 59 in it and she’s 33 and of course the prejudices around the family and friends think that this isn’t going to work and it’s ‘who is this guy?’ and it’s a ‘creepy kind of thing to do’ but they are the normal people who are desperately in love with each other and it’s the people and the family around them who are the nightmares.  It’s a comedy on UKGold and I think it’s airing October but I’m not sure, there’s an air date very soon.   It’s very funny.  It’s Gold’s first original comedy.

Were there outtakes when you were doing it?

Eve: I’m sure there’s a ton. This is the thing with comedy you can’t really mess about too much in it, because it’s the timing, comedy is the hardest thing you can do.  It’s so difficult.  Give me a Greek tragedy any day, it’s so difficult so technical, structured it’s really difficult.

Who directs that?

Eve: Simon Hind. Scottish director actually, wonderful guy, he’s completely brought me out of my shell confidence wise with comedy.  It’s going to be a really fun show.  It’s going to be 6 x 40 minutes

We loved Frankie and were gutted that it never made a 2nd series, and we signed the petitions.

Eve: I know I can’t quite believe it, I can’t get over the response, none of us can actually because it did better than any of us predicted.  We’re blown away by the figures every week and the audience appreciation.

When they altered the day it completely threw it.

Eve: It completely threw it. Football - England versus someone, it don’t think it helped that they didn’t publicise that we were back on at the same time on the following week. It was a difficult thing to do, but every week it just got more viewers.  People loved it, it was a huge disappointment to everybody involved that we didn’t get it, because we were all raring to go.

Do you think it helps having a good production crew, in order to give your best performance and are there some you haven’t clicked with?

Eve: The thing is every production has a small production team or a huge production team, all shapes and sizes, but what you have to understand is that you’ve got to work with these people a lot during the day and over an amount of time and the crew and cast that I’ve worked with in every production has been amazing and I can’t speak enough about them. To me it’s about the job and to make friends, it’s great!”

In the gun room scene in Torchwood when Jack was teaching Gwen how to shoot, how much of that was scripted?

Eve: When he teaches her to shoot? I would think 95% of that was scripted, but some bits and bobs were adlibbed. I mean not a lot, we have to be strict we’ve got to be really precise, there were little bits we could get away with.

I thanked Eve for the interview and she thanked me too, and we shook hands.  It was ten minutes before the photo shoot, so time to get ourselves over there before the queue began to grow.

Big Finish Reviews+ Spare Parts by Echo Fain

Spare Parts
By Echo Fain

Audio Drama by Big Finish Productions
Written by Marc Platt
Release date July 2002
Length 2 hrs 1 min

We all want immortality, says Thomas Dodd; he's cynical but not wrong.

It's Doctor Who at its science fiction best, the disparity of technology capable of cybernetic augmentation set in a 1950s Londonesque city locked down with rationing and curfews and cyber-Police on cyber-horses. Spare Parts is, to a newbie, a good place to start with Big Finish's Doctor Who audio drama line. The Cyberman voices are a throw-back to the television serial "The Tenth Planet" and that is continuity at a grand, scary level.

Intending to take Nyssa to the picture show in London, the Doctor has accidentally brought her to the wrong place. Not an unusual occurrence, but this time it could have larger repercussions than those usually faced by the time traveler and his companions. They have arrived in an underground city on Mondas, the lost twin of Earth, where the Cybermen were first created.  They're just in time to witness the last gasps of humanity on a planet where the surface is lethal and its people are being used up as a form of cannon fodder.

Here we find one of Big Finish Productions' most thought-provoking audio dramas, penned by Marc Platt. Spare Parts is a terrifying and darkly gritty tale set on Mondas, where the computerized committee government now enforces totalitarianism in the interest of survival.

Once he suspects the truth of where they are, the Doctor is sure he doesn't want to be involved.  Getting involved means changing the course of Cyberman history. To do so does not mean preventing their creation, but any alteration could result in a far worse trajectory than the one which both the Time Lord and his companion have been witness to. There are consequences to interfering with known events.

As the Doctor explains at a later point in the story, arguing with Nyssa about why they should stay disinterested: 'Sometimes you play. Sometimes you sit on the sideline. Sometimes you run afterwards with a stretcher.'

Unable to turn away immediately, they separate to explore on the cusp of the city's curfew and are caught up in the gears of Mondas' last days as a human world.  The population is doomed with disease, slow starvation, and the threat of a nebula which hangs ready to devour the frozen planet.

There is a black market for flesh body parts and the Police have been secretly ordered to dig up the cemetery, to provide the city with nutrients. Few of the processed Cybermen are surviving more than a week as their bodies reject the cybernetic augmentation. The propulsion system used to give the planet some means of directed travel is located on the frozen surface, needing crewmen for repairs and operation. Workers who go to the surface don't survive very long; even when protected by heavy gear, their minds cannot endure the terrible blackness which is their open sky.

Once again, the Doctor gets involved in saving the Cybermen, this time very much against his will. His physiology is mapped as the template for a new and improved cyborg, one that can survive the rigors of the surface. 

Mondas was perhaps doomed from its start. The people have lived in underground cities for a very long time, the planet's surface a mystery. Life on the surface is now memorialized in the ceremonies and trimmings of a holiday which seems to be similar to Earth-based Christmas but with symbolism that accents the differences between Earth and Mondas. For the Mondasian, the decorated fir tree is a reminder of an unremembered time when they lived on the surface, where the trees grew; the fairy lights are stars and the star at the top of the tree stands in for a long-lost sun, the star Sol.

They have reached an untenable position in their society. The people are dying out, fighting mortality with life-saving augmentations such as replacement hearts. Drifting in space, away from the light and heat of a star, the surface of Mondas is physically lethal and psychologically devastating. 

In this story, there is no central enemy to fight. These are organic beings with emotions and frailties. This is a war for survival in the hands of those who no longer have human feelings. With the Cybermen, the desire to survive subsumes personality and all other flesh needs into programmed responses. In the push for the survival of Mondasian humanity, they kill what it means to be human.

Spare Parts is full of easily understood characters both rich and colorful who turn the story into historical science fiction, ghastly and heart-wrenching by turns. The average citizens are like frightened rats, scurrying to be safely indoors by tea, when the curfew starts.  They are so like Earth humans that the listener cannot stay detached. The city might look like 1950s London, but it has social tones of an earlier era, with wartime rationing, curfews, and call-ups for recruits who are waved off with cheers and pride to their new job on the surface work crews. Many suspect what is really happening to those who go off for processing, but it is easier to pretend ignorance and accept the dictates of a secret government.

The Hartley family, who represent the average citizens of Mondas, clings to life on short rations and little hope, turning the telly up when a neighbor begs for help as she is collected by the Police. They sound like they're from the north of England, as dirt-common as Yorkshire. They decorate for the holiday, worry over a sluggish pet cyber-bird, fret over what to have for tea, and live in an interconnected unit which relies heavily on each beating heart---even when one of those hearts is an augmentation complete with turning paddles. 

Dad Hartley is a mat-catcher who has, at some point in the past, lost his wife. He apparently sold her body to a black marketeer; this doesn't make him a bad man, only one desperate to take care of his children. He's a brilliant, world-weary character who has become fatalistic in the face of encroaching doom.

Yvonne Hartley's a sweet and innocent teenage girl who works in the hydroponic factories, where the food is grown. She has breathing problems and a young man whom she fancies; she's as normal as any woman of her age can be and it's easy to admire her pluck and generosity of spirit, which makes her fate particularly touching. The one character who does not anticipate or deserve such a frightening end is the one character with whom you walk the queue for processing. Stripped of clothes and confused among other recruits, Yvonne only comes to the realization of what processing truly means as the knives and laser saws begin to flash.

Frank Hartley wants to be recruited for service but is also ignorant of what it means. He thinks there's honor and a steady pay packet to be made by joining the surface work crews. Frank's frustratingly jealous of his sister, Yvonne, for being given her call-up papers, and it's the listener who knows what Frank does not yet understand. This is no honorable service but a death sentence given for no other reason than Yvonne's suffering from consumption.

The true horror of this audio play comes from within their home, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever written for a Cyberman story. If your loved one was turned into a Cyberman, would you want to see them again? Would you want to know? What if they turned up at your door only half-processed and schizophrenic with the mental torment of an incomplete conversion, incapable of remembering their humanity but childlike in their need for you?

Other secondary characters who flesh out this tale include Thomas Dodd, a wide-boy who runs a body parts shop, trading in misery and spare transplant materials. He's an opportunist, but he isn't alone; Mondas has only one underground city left and its population has shrunk to a few thousand. Dodd won't be the only one capable of seeing the truth and working to make a profit while a profit is possible.

The city is run by a Central Committee, twelve of Mondas' finest minds hooked into a computer.  They are aided, primarily, by those who still possess the physical bodies necessary to carry out the gruesome task of conversion. 

Doctorman Allan is an alcoholic scientist who is responsible for the creation of the Cybermen race, but she is no John Lumic or Davros; she is human and hates herself for what she's done to her people. She has stripped the humanity from living Mondasians and her conscience is pricked by this; she spends much of the story drinking and it is, in fact, her wine which offers the Doctor a chance at stopping this metal march to doom. Allan is every bit the cynic that Thomas Dodd, the black marketeer, is. But while Dodd is working to supply body parts to the little man for a profit, Doctorman Allan has a grander goal of saving the world. 

She is assisted by Sisterman Constant, a selector. The selectors move among the remaining population, choosing the sick and damaged for processing. She takes pride in her position and is aware of its implications. Sisterman Constant believes she is doing good and is sanctimonious about her duty. Her blindness to the inevitable outcome is painful; she can only see the present need and not how this situation must eventually play out. In this way, she can be likened to the kapos of WWII concentration camps, a judas goat.

Commander Zheng, a processed Cyberman in charge of the surface work crews, answers directly to the Central Committee; without emotion or human thought, he acts as he is ordered to and begins the job of processing the full population with an intent of shutting down the city; there is no more choice, because the roof of the underground cavern is opened, letting in the frozen atmosphere from above. He is the instrument by which Mondas' destiny is fulfilled and his last line is just as chilling as the Central Committee/Cyberplanner's repeated cries of 'We must survive'. Zheng, despite being an emotionless Cyberman, lingers in the mind as strongly as any of the unprocessed human characters and reveals to the listener that, in the end, the Doctor's involvement has changed little.

Even if the sight of this legendary Doctor Who alien doesn't frighten you, the idea behind their existence should. The mesh of a human desire for survival with the cold logic of the machine should be enough to scare any living soul. A species of cyborgs whose most basic ambition comes from within its human origins: the drive for survival, at any cost, even the loss of humanity.  How far are we from a similar fate? A breast implant today, a hip replacement tomorrow, a new nose in a few years, cyberthetic limbs for the wounded soldier returning from war, cyberthetic eyes which contain a camera and a connection to the visual center of the brain...what's next? A neural augmentation for wifi? 

The push for physical, emotional, and social perfection can be a killer.

This audio drama has been influential in the Doctor Who television show, beginning with the parallel world episodes "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel", which see the Doctor witnessing the birth of Cybermen on Earth in another universe. But, this is not where the influence ends. In the episodes "Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday", the director of Torchwood One at Canary Wharf, is named Yvonne Hartman (close enough!) and she retains some of her humanity after conversion, enough so for us to draw a correlation to Spare Parts' Yvonne Hartley's uncompleted processing and the human behaviors which both Yvonnes show from under the Cyberman mask.

Many fans comment on how difficult it is to understand the Central Committee's voice, claiming it to be garbled and distorted. It is true that this particular voice is hard to follow at times, but given that the character is, story-wise, meant to be a composite of twelve brains joined together through a computer, the Central Committee's voice(s) is just about what a listener should expect. 

Spare Parts is a masterpiece of storytelling, a captivating dystopic history for one of the Doctor's greatest foes.


Art used here comes from:

You can find this audio drama at:

Marc Platt is a British writer well known for his contributions to Doctor Who. He has written twenty-one Doctor Who audio plays for Big Finish Audio. He wrote the 7th Doctor television serial "Ghost Light" and five Doctor Who novels, including the much-acclaimed Lungbarrow.  Spare Parts was the inspiration for the 2006 Doctor Who episodes "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel".

Directed by: Gary Russell
Sound Design: Alistair Lock
Music: Alistair Lock
Cover Art: Clayton Hickman
Number of Discs: 2
Duration: Disc 1 (59:08) Disc 2 (73:50)
ISBN: 1-903654-72-6
Recorded: 26 & 27 March 2002
Recorded At: The Moat Studios
Chronology: This story takes place between the 5th Doctor's television adventures Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity.

The Doctor --Peter Davison
Nyssa --Sarah Sutton
Doctorman Allan --Sally Knyvette
Sisterman Constant --Pamela Binns
Thomas Dodd --Derren Nesbitt
Mister Hartley --Paul Copley
Yvonne Hartley --Kathryn Guck
Frank Hartley --Jim Hartley
Mrs. Ginsberg --Ann Jenkins
Gary Russell --Philpott/Nurse
Alistair Lock --Minister/TV Commentator
Nicholas Briggs --Zheng/Cyber Voices/Radio Announcer/Citizen/Nurse

(Paul Copley also appeared as Clem McDonald in Children of Earth)