Big Finish Productions
Mind of the Hodiac
|Written by||Russell T Davies and Scott Handcock|
|Starring Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford|
|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!|
The Beginning of All Things Davies by Niall Jones 17/9/22
With Russell T Davies once again taking over as head writer of Doctor Who, now would seem a natural time to revisit his earlier contributions to the series. To most viewers, Davies' association with Doctor Who began with Rose, in which he transformed a fondly remembered, but apparently moribund, family sci-fi series into a national institution. To the most loyal of long-term fans, Davies' contributions began with his 1996 novel, Damaged Goods, a dark and daring story about drug dealing and Time Lord technology set in a rundown London housing estate. (Although the novel is now an out-of-print rarity, anyone interested in finding out more can listen to the excellent Big Finish adaptation.) Even this, though, wasn't Davies' first contribution to the world of Doctor Who.
In fact, Davies' first work of Whovian fiction lay dormant for decades, forgotten even by its author. Davies wrote Mind of the Hodiac as a teenager, sometime during 1986 or 1987 and sent it off to the producers. Although they chose not to develop it, Davies later received a letter from script editor Andrew Cartmell saying: 'Thank you for your idea, I liked it and put it to one side for consideration, but now we've closed down...' Clearly, the story had potential.
Mind of the Hodiac remained forgotten until Davies unexpectedly unearthed the hand-typed manuscript during lockdown and decided to tweet a copy of some of its pages, joking that Big Finish should 'come and bid'. Big Finish being Big Finish, this is exactly what happened.
In 2022, an audio version of the story was released, starring Colin Baker as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush. The first half of the story was directly adapted from Davies' script, while the second half, which originally consisted only of a plot outline, was co-written with Scott Handcock.
The story consists of three different plot strands, which combine in the second half. The first of these takes place on a galactic stock exchange where the Hodiac, a being with powerful mental abilities, is manipulating the markets in order to raise money for a mercenary army to track down his 'other'. The second part takes place in 1980s England and concerns the Maitland family, who are plagued by poltergeist-like disturbances, while the third part follows the Doctor and Mel as they trace a force that enters the TARDIS.
What is striking about Mind of the Hodiac is how well it fits in with the rest of Davies' contributions to Doctor Who. In fact, part of the story's plot would be echoed in 2005's The Long Game, with financial manipulation being replaced by manipulation of the media. Like in many of his later scripts for the series, family is an important theme, with Mrs Maitland struggling to bring up her daughters as a single mother.
Another familiar theme is the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary. This is not only explored through the experiences of the Maitland family, but also through the presentation of the galactic stock exchange. Space, for Davies, is not just a source of wonder, but also somewhere where mundane, terrestrial activities carry on regardless. His vision of the universe is of a place full of hospitals, congested motorways and sightseeing tours. While this could be seen as showing a lack of imagination, it in fact highlights the consistency of human behaviour over time. If a story like Aliens of London or Smith and Jones shows how the strangeness and terror of space disrupt ordinary life, stories like New Earth or Midnight do the opposite, showing how the ordinariness of human life expands into the universe. What makes Mind of the Hodiac unusual is that it does both of these things.
At the very beginning of the story, there is a beautiful and poetic passage, in which the Hodiac gives a rhapsodic description of the Doctor's coat. Much of his speech focuses on the colours. The coat contains 'every hue in the galaxy, the sleeves red and pink like the skies of Zentilion 5; the collar adorned with the patchwork fields of Randosion plains and in the body the green mountains of Selesquious mingle with the grid squares of the Mechanosphere and each cuff shines like the rays of a thousand suns. To wear this coat is to clothe oneself in the universe.'
This last line is particularly lovely, as it serves to reclaim the Doctor's coat from the usual criticism of it as embarrassingly garish.
By including a series of allusions to planets that he has just made up, Davies not only evokes wonder, but also emphasises the vastness and diversity of the universe. These planets exist only as a series of syllables that tripwire the imagination, inviting each listener to create their own version of the world. It's a technique that Davies would use throughout his time as head writer, starting with the reference to the Shadow Proclamation in Rose. The use of this poetic register also recurs throughout his episodes of Doctor Who, such as in the Doctor's descriptions of Gallifrey in Gridlock and Last of the Time Lords. Crucially, though, this register is not maintained throughout the story, as the scene soon switches to Earth and to an argument between Mrs Maitland and her daughter Lisa, further highlighting the extent to which the ordinary and the extraordinary sit side by side.
Another interesting feature of the story, and one that is unique in Davies' work, is the presentation of the Sixth Doctor. Whereas he frequently comes across as pompous and aggressive on TV, particularly in Season 22, the Doctor that appears in Mind of the Hodiac is more measured. He remains a slightly ambiguous figure, but one whose darkness feels wholly integrated with his goodness. In fact, Davies presents him as both melancholy and oddly innocent. In the story, he is obsessed with The Wind in the Willows, identifying particularly with Mr Toad. He quotes explicitly from the book, describing 'Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.' It's not a vision that Mel particularly likes, but it is one that sums up the Time Lord's ambiguity. The Doctor is never evil, never cruel or cowardly but is often impatient and reckless.
Mel's relationship with the Doctor is one of easy friendship and, although she does sometimes find him exasperating and is not afraid to challenge him, there is no antagonism between them. As in her other Big Finish appearances, Bonnie Langford's performance is less emphatic than on TV and, as a consequence, Mel comes across as a more believable character. This is further helped by Davies' writing, which gives her more naturalistic dialogue than she had on TV.
Davies' original characters are also worth writing about. Mrs Chinn, played with gusto by Annette Badland, is particularly memorable. She is a psychic researcher who traps the Maitland family in order to study them. Motivated by intense religious fervour, she comes across as mad rather than bad. While Davies' portrayal of her religion as a kind of mania does express his own atheism, the exploration of the relationship between religion and science in the story is more nuanced than is often the case in Doctor Who.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Mind of the Hodiac is that it doesn't feel like it was written by someone just beginning their writing career. The story not only foreshadows some of the themes and stylistic choices that would become hallmarks of Russell T Davies' scripts for Doctor Who, but deserves to be considered alongside the best of them.