Review by Jacob Licklider
There isn’t often the opportunity to see some of the first work of an author that has gone on to make an impact. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson had both early works published in some form (Jordan’s being published by hid wife and Sanderson publishing a first draft as a Kickstarter reward), yet with Big Finish it’s almost surprising that something like Mind of the Hodiac hasn’t happened sooner. Russell T. Davies found the initial script for Part One and storyline for Part Two in a box in 2020 when Emily Cook was doing the Lockdown watch-alongs on Twitter which he wrote at some point between 1986 and 1987 before even making it into TV, the first script he sent to the Doctor Who Production Office which was, of course, rejected. In finding the script, pictures were posted on Twitter of some of the pages as a treat and in Davies’ mind that was the end of that. But then Scott Handcock, director and writer for Big Finish, contacted Davies with Emily Cook in tow as one of the newer producers to acquire a copy of the script (apparently physically and not just scanned into a computer if the behind the scenes interviews are correct in its implication).Mind of the Hodiac upon listening is clearly the first piece of work from a writer with potential, it’s a Russell T. Davies script through and through, stuffed with ideas that will find themselves in much of Davies work on Doctor Who and in television in general. There is a clear anti-capitalist slant through much of the first episode, comments on sexism of the time, familial disputes, and religion vs. science. There are a lot of ideas packed into this two hour audio, and if we’re being honest, that isn’t enough time to fully unpack everything. It’s clear the younger Davies was using this one shot at writing Doctor Who to get all of his thoughts and opinions on the world and the show out there. There is also this reverent respect for the Sixth Doctor and Mel, even in the first episode which was mostly Davies’ original script, two characters who most fans at the time unfairly despised. The difference in their dynamic is explored throughout the first episode where they are mostly in the TARDIS as Davies follows Eric Saward’s style of not having the Doctor make impact on the plot until halfway through the story, however, unlike Revelation of the Daleks where the Doctor and Peri have scenes that go nowhere, Mind of the Hodiac actually has fun with the dynamic and exploring why the characters travel. This wasn’t explored on television as there were six episodes with the characters together, and Davies wants to give Mel something to do and some genuine character outside of computer programmer who is obsessed with fitness.
Throughout the production, Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford, who recorded together for this release, shine with their chemistry. This release was a mix of in studio and remote recording due to the larger cast, and having that element of everyone together feels amazing. The Doctor and Mel just work so well when you realise they are back recording together and their interactions are so friendly as Davies isn’t writing the Doctor/Peri relationship. The rest of the cast is also perfection. Among the cast are Annette Badland, Richard Clifford, Victoria Lambert, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, T’Nia Miller, and Alexander Vlahos. There are sixteen credited cast members and all of them have unique roles, with very little doubling of characters due to the way Davies’ planned Mind of the Hodiac. There are two distinct settings that overlap as the Hodiac is revealed and explained, a fascinating alien idea which is performed wonderfully. The first half of the story is honestly a slow burn as the characters are introduced, the Doctor and Mel not appearing for a while in a simple TARDIS scene, but that time is clearly used by Davies to get the character conflicts and ideas established. The psychic research building is a fascinating setting as Davies has a cynical approach to the whole thing which is where Annette Badland perhaps shines the most. When the second episode comes around and the writing essentially shifts to Scott Handcock working from a very detailed outline, the feel of the audio changes quite a bit. Much of this comes to the first episode being by an inexperienced writer while Handcock’s very experienced hand takes the outline and makes it the best that it can be. It almost makes the release indicative of how The Lost Stories as a range works, with releases based on existing scripts being very constrained to the era they were to be produced to those based on outlines having more freedom to tell a story on audio over one on video. Handcock is also a wonderful director, bringing the entire story to life beautifully. There is a deft hand over all of the cast, many of whom haven’t done much or any Big Finish mixed with plenty of Big Finish regulars. Finally, mention must be made of Rob Harvey’s evocative score, while inspired by the 1980s has a feeling of a score written for Davies’ time as showrunner with less orchestration than Murray Gold scores. The music suite itself is one that sticks in your head, but in the actual episodes it works so well as a subtle background enhancement.
Russell T. Davies’ Mind of the Hodiac may not be the tightest script or nearly as developed as what Davies would be known for, it is a must listen release from Big Finish. It’s a perfect example of The Lost Stories with a brilliant cast, beautifully haunting score, evocative settings and direction, and a glimpse into the development of a writer who would become one of the most lauded in modern television. It’s a story to see how far Davies has come as a writer and how far he could still grow coming back to Doctor Who in 2023. 9/10.
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