When discussing Doctor Who’s approach to time, Steven Moffat perhaps summed it up best in the episode ‘Blink’, when he had the Doctor explain that it is not in fact linear, with effect not always following cause.
Timey-wimeyness – to purloin Moffat’s turn of phrase – is clearly the only viable explanation for how Russell T. Davies’ first script for the series ended up being produced 17 years after he became showrunner, and the year before his second stint helming the show takes effect. Everything is relative, it appears, and for this bizarre achronological miracle, we have lockdown tweetalongs and Big Finish to thank.
As the world reeled from the onslaught of COVID-19, with everyone being told to stay at home, writer and fan Emily Cook organised a series of events which became known as Doctor Who: Lockdown!, where devotees would be able to watch episodes of the show together, and post comments about them on Twitter, creating an online community and a movement whereby people would feel less isolated, and so could bond over these shared experiences.
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As the popularity of the watchalongs grew, special content was created to accompany them, with cast and crew joining in. For the viewing of Russell T. Davies’ Christmas tale ‘The Runaway Bride’, he tried to find some rarities to share with the audience, and in the process unearthed an old, yellowing script, written in the late 1980s on an electric typewriter his mother had bought him as a 21st birthday present. He ended up sharing some excerpts on Twitter, and even made a joke about Big Finish approaching him to make it.
Never ones to let a golden opportunity like that slip through their fingers, Big Finish duly got in touch and enquired about being able to bring to life the script which he had submitted to the Doctor Who production office, just as the programme was coming to an end. Actually, what they had to work with here was a complete script for the first episode, as well as a detailed breakdown for the second half, which was given to Scott Handcock, Davies’ friend of 15 years and accomplished writer himself, to complete ‘Mind Of The Hodiac’.
The titular Hodiac (Laurie Kynaston) has been manipulating the Galactic Stock Exchange for his own nefarious ends, and using his ill-gotten gains to hire a cadre of mercenaries who will help his plans of conquest and domination. Meanwhile, on Earth, a seemingly normal family have ended up having a great many abnormal things happening, leading to them all becoming involved with an institute that deals with psychic phenomena. Can the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) save the family and the planet, or is the Hodiac’s mind too great?
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One of the trademarks of Russell T. Davies’ time working on Doctor Who was being able to perfectly blend the ordinary and everyday with the extraordinary, giving us a window into the Doctor’s world without alienating the viewing audience, by making everything relatable. Even though ‘Mind Of The Hodiac’ predates his era as the programme’s main creative force, this proto-Davies does show many of his later familiar hallmarks, using a suburban family as our anchor, which is a similar kind of change in direction the show had started to do at the point in time Davies wrote this script.
A lovely little touch is seeing the Doctor and Mel having the chance for some downtime between adventures, showing not only the rapport which the pair have, but also a glimpse into what happens when they’re not hurtling all across time and space, righting wrongs and fighting injustice. We sadly had little time to see Baker and Langford together on screen before the actor was sacked in 1986, which is a crying shame when you see just how well they work together, with the warm affection between the actors also evident in their characters.
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Baker’s Doctor was always the more literary incarnation, and in having him enjoying Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, it does help further smooth over some of the rough edges his character had on screen, giving him a real sense of childlike wonder. Baker’s Doctor was sadly maligned at the time, but Big Finish’s work to rehabilitate how his version of the character is seen has been nothing short of remarkable, with ‘Mind Of The Hodiac’ rubber stamping that, and shows us how the younger Davies felt they should be written.
Another trait of Davies’ writing – not just on Doctor Who – is his representation of strong female characters, and there are definitely plenty of those in evidence here. Langford’s Mel was rather thinly-drawn on screen, which is no reflection on the actress, but more how her companion role was written as just a generic cipher, lacking the development that has been afforded to her modern counterparts. Here, she manages to shine, and it shows just what a handle Davies has on Mel, by giving her plenty of moments to show her mettle.
Some of Davies’ collaborators are also part of the mix, from Annette Badland (who had appeared as a Slitheen alongside Christopher Eccleston), to T’Nia Miller (seen in Davies’ BBC drama Years And Years, as well as appearing in his Channel 4 shows Banana and Cucumber). This clever casting manages to strengthen the link with Davies, bridging the gap across his career from when he first penned this story, coming up to date, encompassing the breadth of his work by making use of this mini-repertory company.
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The notion of stock market manipulation would have likely been fresh in Davies’ mind at the time, due to the ‘80s being the ‘greed is good’ era of city traders and Yuppies, as well as 1987’s infamous Black Monday, when all the global markets crashed. Having faced several more financial disasters since then, this part of Davies’ story is still just as relevant as ever, which is a sad indictment of how little things have changed in some respects over the last three decades or so, or perhaps how cyclical some of these events are.
‘Mind Of The Hodiac’ is a glimpse into a past that never was, a road not taken, where Russell T. Davies would have ended up writing for Doctor Who on TV years before his time. This production is such a perfect fusion of old and new Who, and should be enjoyed equally by fans of all eras, as well as lovers of Davies’ work overall.
Doctor Who – ‘Mind Of The Hodiac’ is out now from Big Finish.