The Doctor tells Clara that he obtained it from the Maldovarium Market (first seen in ‘The Pandorica Opens’). There is a story to be told here. Where did this Cyberman head come from? How did it end up at the market? What made the Doctor think it would be useful to him as a companion?
While it lacks any organic parts the Doctor has accessed its full set of databanks. We have seen Cybermen operate without a human brain but this mostly consisted of opening and closing its helmet like a bear trap. Handles is capable of independent thought and enough of a personality for the Doctor to bond with.
It is unknown whether all Cybermen suits have the capability to operate without any organic parts or whether Handles is unique, a result of the Doctor’s repairs. If it is the former why do the Cybermen even need to convert people since the organic components are unnecessary.
Handles is able to interface with the TARDIS controls, allowing it to teleport the Doctor. Again this is either due to adjustments made by the Doctor or an indicator that any Cyberman could take over the ship if it had access.
We don’t know how long the Doctor has had Handles before the events of this story. The fact the Doctor trusts Handles enough to send him to alien ships could suggest that it has been some time, leaving room for unseen adventures for the two.
Not only does Handles not speak with a normal Cyberman voice it doesn’t appear to follow their programming. It doesn’t seek to convert anyone else or destroy the Doctor (although putting him on hostile ships might be its subtle attempt to get rid of him). It shows no resistance to helping him.
Could this indicate that it is the organic part of the Cybermen that make them evil? Survival and the need to replicate does seem to be an ingrained imperative for all living beings. Remove that and you have a race of robots that just follow instructions.
The fact that Handles remains operational for hundreds of years gives us an indicator of how long a Cyberman can operate (or at least their suit remains functional). It is possible that their heads are the last to survive. It would only need to clamp on to an victim to upload its data and programming. It could then have its new host build the rest of the Cyberman suit and convert others.
It would be much easier to hide a head that a whole Cyberman. If they had to survive for a long time without access to their hibernation tombs they might willing behead themselves and have the last unit hide their heads. PCs stumbling across the headless Cybermen might wonder what happened, little suspecting that the seeds of their rebirth have already been planted.
I’ve discussed the events on Trenzalore here but didn’t discuss the involvement of Handles. How well did the inhabitants of Christmas know it? Did Handles have a special place in their heart? Was he as beloved as the Doctor? Did the children draw pictures for him?
Did Handles help detect the presence of aliens? Did he databanks contain information about various species that proved useful to the Doctor? Did the Cybermen attempt to sway it back to its original programming?
We know that the Doctor remained on good terms with Handles up to its ‘death.’ We also know that the Doctor states that the decline of the robot head was because he couldn’t get the parts.
Might the Doctor have attempted to resurrect him? Following the battles with the Cybermen there might indeed have been the pieces he needed to resurrect him. If he was brought back would its personality have remained the same?
Handles seems to have struck a chord with many viewers, with his death having a lot of emotional weight behind it. I believe that this is largely because we see that the Doctor cares and is affected by the loss.
People can create emotional bonds with anything. Not only people they know but their pets, their vehicle or even their toaster. Anything which we interact with on a regular basis can be invested with an identity and personality, whether they exist or not.
This can easily happen in a roleplaying game. Anything the PCs use or interact with regularly can become beloved. As the GM you don’t need to invest too much character into things for them to become NPCs in their own right.
A character like Handles can serve to fill a gap in the PCs abilities. It is designed to perform a single function but it is still the PCs who need to coax it into doing what they want. The opening scene with the Doctor trying to get Handles to remind him later about rerouting the phone is a good example of this.
You might have a similar machine interfacing with the TARDIS, if you don’t have a Time Lord PC. The danger would be that they are putting their trust in the machine over where they go and hoping that it doesn’t leave them.
If you are looking to run such a scenario but featuring Handles there is the possibility that after the Doctor was beamed to the Dalek ship the TARDIS dematerialised (either by design or accident).
The PCs could witness the arrival of the TARDIS but find only Handles inside. They’d then have to work with it to find out what has happened to the Doctor and get the TARDIS back to him in order for him to be picked up.
If the Doctor didn’t resurrect him after he regained the TARDIS he could have sent Handles off to recruit help or just tie up some loose ends for him (so that he didn’t have to leave the planet himself).