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Russell T Davies returns to Doctor Who! No, I’m not talking about the announcement that he’ll be taking over from Chris Chibnall as showrunner next year, I’m talking about Mind of the Hodiac, a new audio adventure from Big Finish adapted from Davies’ very first scripts for Doctor Who, written in the 1980s! Produced by Emily Cook, creator of the wonderful Doctor Who: Lockdown tweetalongs and web content from 2020, and brought to life by an all-star cast, Mind of the Hodiac has all the makings of something very special indeed… but do all of these discrete parts come together to form an enjoyable whole?
That’s a rather difficult question to answer. On the one hand, you have to keep in mind that this is a script from over thirty years ago and that it was written when the kind of stories told in Doctor Who were far different to what we expect nowadays. On the other hand, however, it’s very difficult to temper your reaction to something like this, when you’re used to a far higher quality of story from Doctor Who, Russell T Davies and, indeed, television/audio in general.
All of this is to say that Mind of the Hodiac is definitely a product of its time, being a little too traditionally “80s Who” to truly work for the modern listener. The storyline itself is very trad, the Doctor and Mel don’t leave the TARDIS or even meet any other characters until near the end of part one, the resolution is so simple that it makes you wonder why there had to be two hours of story leading up to it, and there are far too many characters who contribute little or nothing to the story. Plot and character-wise, it’s really just not up there with the kind of story we’re used to from Big Finish.
Despite these issues, Mind of the Hodiac is brought to life by some wonderful performances. While none of the characters are exceptionally well-written, a side effect of having close to twenty (!!) named parts throughout the piece, the guest cast are undeniably all on top form. Standouts include the inimitable T’Nia Miller as the matriarchal Mrs Maitland, Annette Badland as sinister psychic activity investigator Mrs Chinn, Sutara Gayle as the mercurial Nan and Laurie Kynaston as the titular Hodiac, who serves as the villain of the piece.
Similarly, Rob Harvey‘s music and sound design is excellent throughout, with a gorgeous understated soundtrack and some great effects for the action sequences. What struck me about Harvey’s work is just how continuous this story felt; in a lot of audio dramas there are pauses between scenes, or music cues to show we’re moving to a different location, but in Mind of the Hodiac (particularly in the first half), everything flows together wonderfully, almost as if we’re listening to the soundtrack of something broadcast on TV.
Mind of the Hodiac is a very hard story to sum up. Had this been broadcast as intended back in the 80s, I think it would have been a smash hit, tearing up Doctor Who convention and telling the kind of story the show had never done before. Released as it was in 2022, however, I think it isn’t quite as special as it otherwise would have been. The truth is, Russell T Davies did this story far better in Damaged Goods, and indeed multiple times in the 2005 revival of the show, so, when put in comparison with those, Mind of the Hodiac seems a little underdeveloped, or even primitive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means a bad story, and it’s fascinating from a historical perspective to see Davies’ very first Doctor Who script, but in terms of entertainment this is only a tad above average.
Mind of the Hodiac is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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