Doctor Who: Mind of the Hodiac (Big Finish Review)

Russell T Davies’ love for Doctor Who goes far beyond reviving the show in 2005 and overseeing the tenures of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s Doctors. Not only is he returning to oversee the show again, starting with its 60th anniversary (see our thoughts on We Made This‘s Doctor Who podcast The TARDIS Crew here), but he was writing ideas for the show all the way back in the 1980s.

Davies’ talked about his very first Doctor Who script back in Doctor Who Magazine issue 574,

“Who would have thought, as I sat there in that little flat in Roath in Cardiff, bashing away on an electric typewriter my mother had bought me for my 21st birthday…?”

Through the work of producer Emily Cook to bring Mind of the Hodiac back to life, his ‘lost script’ has now been adapted for audio, with director and writer Scott Handcock stepping in to pen the second half of this two-part adventure based on Davies’ notes. Leading this impressive – and extensive – cast, is Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, reunited with Bonnie Langford as companion Mel.

The Review…

There’s a weight of expectation going into this release. Will Russell T Davies’ story be the best Sixth Doctor story ever written? Is it a classic tale that would have been one of 80s’ Doctor Who most beloved entries? The answer is something of a mixed bag. There are moments in this story that are great and director / co-writer Scott Handcock has brought together a fabulous cast for this complex tale of family drama, alien invasions and psychological warfare. When you have amazing talent like T’Nia Miller on the roster, you know there’s going to be some powerful stuff to come.

It’s a story that almost needs to be reviewed in two halves. This two-hour adventure is split into two parts, with the first Davies’ original script and the second part Handcock’s adaptation. Part one certainly captures the vibe of 80s Doctor Who – particularly Colin Baker’s Doctor Who, with multiple plot threads running concurrently with very little crossover. A family unit across three generations, the mysterious Hodiac manipulating the Galactic Stock Exchange, an alien invasion force and the Doctor and Mel hanging out in the TARDIS. It’s often confusing and only really starts to make sense in part two, but that’s almost exactly what lots of 80s Doctor Who was like. Four separate stories, with the Doctor and Mel almost entirely absent from the main events taking place.

Where Davies’ biggest strength lies is in – unsurprisingly – the  family drama of Miller’s single mum, Mrs Maitland, her two daughters Lisa (Loreece Harrison) and Katy (Darcey-Ella Whittington) and mother (Sutara Gayle’s Nan), who’s stories of fantastical worlds tie the mundane human life with the wider, intergalactic narrative. Miller and Gayle are superb, and the real heart of the tale. There’s both an ordinariness and desperation as Nan’s psychic abilities find them lured into an increasingly dangerous situation.

If Mind of the Hodiac had been largely focused on the Maitland family and the TARDIS duo, it would have been more successful. Instead, there are so many characters flying around, it is difficult to keep up with the Hodiac and alien invasion plot lines, which in themselves need more focus. Instead, all the elements of the story feel like they are fighting for the limelight. Again – this is very 80s Doctor Who. At least the cast are all great, with several Big Finish stalwarts like Laura Riseborough and Alexander Vlahos brought in to bring Davies’ script to life.

There’s an intriguing thematic focus on the nature of storytelling, which ties Nan’s visions and the Doctor and Mel’s discussion on The Wind in the Willows. The two ‘leads’ end up largely redundant from the main plot threads, only really getting the opportunity to take action in the second part. But I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the Sixth Doctor and Mel dynamic, which was barely glimpsed on screen (Bonnie Langford spending more time with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor at Big Finish).

Handcock does an excellent job of bringing everything together in the second half. His years of experience at Big Finish shines through here, as the plot becomes more cohesive for the listener, while also ramping up the stakes. As the Doctor and Mel become entrenched in stopping the alien invasion and saving the Maitlands, all the plot threads start to gel and there really is a sense that not everyone is going to get out alive.

In true Davies’ fashion, the drama is rooted in the emotional journeys of the human characters and as Lisa and Nan fight back, it’s their bravery that makes for a compelling final act. A number of supporting cast members do get lost in the mix, but Handcock never really moves the focus away from the Maitlands and their very personal struggle to survive.

Ultimately, Mind of the Hodiac feels like both an 80s slice of Doctor Who and a much more modern tale, driven by Davies’ unmistakable focus on the human journey. There’s plenty of room for the Doctor and Mel to play the hero, but ultimately they are just another passenger in the story of Mrs Maitland, her two daughters and old Nan.

The Extras…

A ten minute music suite from Rob Harvey accompanies the release. It’s a beautiful sequence of music, packed full of atmosphere and emotion that captures the character-driven nature of the story. There’s a fun juxtaposition of soaring string movements and brassy percussion and synth as it transitions into the very 80s action-packed themes of the second half. It’s big, bold and epic, both more spectacular than any score we might have had in the Colin Baker-era of the show, while also feeling right at home in those mid-eighties episodes.

In the behind the scenes interviews, there’s some great insights into the development of Mind of the Hodiac, as producer Emily Cook talks about her time in the world of Doctor Who and Doctor Who Magazine, setting up the the Doctor Who tweetalongs during lockdown and working with Russell T Davies and director Scott Handcock to develop the story for Big Finish. There are some nice moments with Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford as they reflect on the script and working together, while Russell T Davies recalls finding the unfinished electronic typewriter-written script while preparing for the lockdown tweetalong for The Runaway Bride. He also draws upon the influences of The Wind in the Willows he became obsessed with at the time writing Mind of the Hodiac and talks about the never-ending love for Doctor Who, which only excites us more for his return to the TV show.

Synopsis

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!

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Bonnie Langford (Mel)
Annette Badland (Mrs Chinn)
Richard Clifford (Jessop)
Lu Corfield (Matra Fennel)
Sutara Gayle (Nan)
Raj Ghatak (Jenfold / Tungsten Leader)
Loreece Harrison (Lisa)
Laurie Kynaston (The Hodiac)
Victoria Lambert (Matra Fiss)
Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (The Woman)
T’Nia Miller (Mrs Maitland)
Laura Riseborough (Miss Fairfax)
Wilf Scolding (Jassic / Guard)
Alexander Vlahos (Jerring)
Darcey-Ella Whittington (Katy)

Production Credits

Cover Art by Sophie Cowdrey
Director Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Music by Rob Harvey
Producer Emily Cook
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Sound Design by Rob Harvey
Written by Russell T Davies & Scott Handcock
Senior Producer David Richardson

Recommended Listening

Doctor Who: Static

Doctor Who: Hour of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: The Quantum Possibility Engine

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