Russell T Davies’ original Doctor Who story is here! Mind of the Hodiac offers a unique insight by inserting Davies’ innate talent into the context of the Sixth Doctor era
Russell T Davies returns to Doctor Who! Yet, in appropriately timey wimey fashion, Mind of Hodiac’s author is a youthful Davies time travelling from the 1980s. A Davies banging away at the keys of an electric typewriter. And one surely unaware of all the future had in store for both him and Doctor Who. It’s an element which makes this old/new adventure for the Sixth Doctor and Mel even more special and intriguing than even if Davies had penned a new script for Big Finish.
And Blogtor Who must salute the once and future king of Doctor Who for resisting any temptation to redraft it. It’s a brave move, preserving the less experienced Davies’ version in amber, without the benefit of hindsight. But it’s an approach that means we can really appreciate the insight Mind of the Hodiac gives us into his development as a writer. It’s genuinely fascinating to see which elements of Davies’ style where there from his earliest beginnings. While seeing exactly how they interact with the idioms of 1980s Who is intriguing. As with many teenage writers, it’s also possible to practically picture the books on his bedside cabinet. Both The Wind in the Willows and Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme work their way into the story’s DNA; fitting influences for any young writer.
At the heart of Mind of the Hodiac is Russell T Davies’ trademark connection to ordinary families faced with extraordinary events
The story revolves around the quest of powerful psychic alien the Hodiac to find a woman. But not just any woman. But a woman desperately hiding from him somewhere in the vast, unknown reaches of the universe. It’s a search that, perhaps inevitably for Doctor Who, brings him ultimately to Earth. But not the Earth of sleepy country villages or industrial complexes that regularly populated 20th century Who. Instead Davies focuses squarely on the Maitland family, living on a very ordinary housing estate, but forced to deal with very extraordinary problems. And fundamental to the family dynamic is the fraught, but loving, relationship between mothers and daughters. It’s the most familiar element from his Doctor Who philosophy to appear here, and one set to appear again and again from his 90s novel Damaged Goods to the Powell Estate home of Rose Tyler.
The focus on the Doctor’s patchwork coat is largely misdirection, but is an early sign of Davies’ gift for fun story hooks
But it’s far from the only familiar flourish. Elsewhere, Davies’ disdain for organized religion is, if anything, even stronger in his adolescent years. And Mind of the Hodiac reveals that Davies’ gift for a striking visual, balanced with enough canny awareness to know when to dispense with it, was there from the start. The fact that the Hodiac covets the Sixth Doctor’s totally tasteless coat is a superb hook for a story. It’s a ridiculous but fun idea that he nevertheless dispenses with as soon as it’s done its part in bringing the Time Lord into his narrative web. And the script also shows the writer’s gift for wrong footing the audience with his endings. It’s perhaps not quite as artfully done, but Davies’ panache at making one resolution apparently obvious, before a last second swap for a completely different one, is present and correct. And, magically, it’s an ending that somehow feels like it was actually inevitable all along,
The Doctor and Mel’s relationship gets a very RTD polish here too. After two decades of Big Finish it’s easy to forget just how abrasive Colin Baker’s Doctor could be on television. So the fact that this was actually written at the time, and features such an easygoing and cosy friendship between the two, hints at his Davies’ strong instinct about how Doctor and companion relationships should be. (No snogging though, for better or worse.) For their part, Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford as our heroes are on fine form. They share an infectious enthusiasm for Davies’ script that shines through in every scene.
Although the three distinct plot strands take some time to come together, Davies keeps things lively with regular gruesome murders
However, in other ways the story very much reflects its origins in 1980s Doctor Who. Like so many television stories of the era, a healthy portion of the first of the forty-five minute episodes is taken up by interminable TARDIS scenes, as the Doctor and Mel theorize about what has pulled the ship off course. In fact, it’s not until the second episode that the three main strands of the story start to come together. The Doctor and Mel don’t meet any of the other main characters in Part One at all.
It’s the one element of the plot that indicates Davies’ youthful inexperience. Once he establishes the three parallel storylines, with the Doctor trying to discover who has brought him here and why, the Hodiac trying to locate his quarry, and the Maitlands experiencing poltergeist like activity, all three spend a lot of time simply repeatedly restating their questions and goals.
The dynamism of the script offsets this though. Davies certainly cuts back and forth between his three sets of characters with pace and energy. And signs of his later philosophy as showrunner about maintaining a certain body count is evident; the Hodiac helpfully murdering his own underlings at regular intervals. Some of the dialogue also falls fouls of 80s cliches rather than the more familiar Davies wit with lines like “This can’t happen!” and “Yet death steals my every breath.”
As a piece of Doctor Who archaeology, Mind of the Hodiac gives fresh insight into Davies’ writing and 80s Who
Regular Big Finish director and producer Scott Handcock has worked up the second episode of Mind of the Hodiac from Davies’ extensive breakdown. And it’s testament to how well placed Davies’ trust in Handcock is that it’s difficult to see the join. Handcock does make a little mischief, perhaps, by throwing in the odd reference to concepts Davies hadn’t actually got around to inventing yet in 1986, but it’s all in good fun.
In order stay true to the original script, Big Finish have also assembled an impressive guest cast. It’s both larger than normal for an audio drama, and contains some well known names. They’re script gives them plenty to work with, too, with Annette Badland in particular taking relish in an early example of Davies’ patented all too human monsters, Mrs Chinn. While her comically timid assistant Miss Fairfax is another classic Davies character played to perfection by Laura Riseborough. Though it almost feels like teasing to cast T’Nia Miller – so often listed as a potential future Doctor – as a distinctly undoctorish single mum, buffeted along by the stronger personalities of her own mother and daughter.
As a piece of televisual archaeology, Mind of the Hodiac is a priceless opportunity. More than anything it emphasizes just what a formidable talent Russell T Davies possessed even as a teenager. But by presenting it unfiltered by all the lessons he’s learned since, it also paints a compelling picture of just how far he’s come. And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s an intriguing opportunity to look at the world of 1980s Doctor Who afresh. Perhaps in essence, Mind of the Hodiac is the era seen through the prism of Davies’ instinctive understanding of what makes the show great.
Doctor Who: Mind of the Hodiac
In the depths of space, the mysterious Hodiac is manipulating the Galactic Stock Exchange to raise money. His aim? To hire mercenaries for a deadly quest across the stars.
Meanwhile, on Earth, an ordinary British family is plagued by a series of psychic events.
The one thing connecting these events is a magnificent patchwork coat –which just so happens to belong to the Doctor!
Doctor Who — The Lost Stories: Mind of the Hodiac is now available to own for just £14.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £12.99 (download only), exclusively from the Big Finish website.
Please note that Big Finish is currently operating a digital-first release schedule. In the event of delays to the mailout of collector’s edition CDs all purchases of this release unlock a digital copy that users can be immediately download or play on the Big Finish app from the release date.