Thanks to a lucky lockdown discovery Mind of the Hodiac, Russell T Davies’ earliest script for Doctor Who, gains a new life on audio.
Unearthed while he was preparing for one of the Doctor Who: Lockdown! live tweetalongs, Mind of the Hodiac was a speculative script for mid-1980s Doctor Who. Featuring Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Bonnie Langford’s Mel, it appears designed for Season 22’s format of 45-minute episodes.
However, the discovery was not a full script, but rather the first episode with a detailed synopsis for the second. Quite how it fared at the show production office remains unclear as RTDs memories are a bit vague; being reasonable, this was about thirty-five years ago!
Offered to Big Finish, with director Scott Handcock stepping in to complete the second instalment and adapt the story for audio, it has joined their Lost Stories range. For the uninitiated, these are various Doctor Who tales which went unproduced for one reason or another over the years.
As the tale begins, we meet the impressive Hodiac as the intense director of a dubious financial operation. With a gaggle of verbose underlings, he soon demonstrates his ruthlessness by despatching a traitor within their midst.
Like many of the stories from this era, Mind of the Hodiac introduces the regulars while travelling in the TARDIS. However, on this occasion, it is time well-spent when the impressive force of the villain’s mental powers directed at them…
The other strand, which feels quite disparate to begin with, centres on the Maitland family; a mother, grandmother and two daughters plagued by unexplained phenomena; poltergeist-like episodes which see household items taking to the air around then. To her teen daughter’s horror, Mrs Maitland (T’Nia Miller) thinks she has found a source of help – a psychic researcher called Mrs Chinn, so they head off to overnight at a research institute…
It is fair to say that the story bears the hallmarks of Davies’ later work. Despite universal implications, it hinges on the fate of a seemingly ordinary human family. There is also a note of religious condemnation and hypocrisy thrown in for good measure too. It is beautifully, poetically written and the quotes from The Wind in the Willows fit the bombastic Sixth Doctor perfectly. The comparison to Mr Toad is an apposite one and we loved the descriptions of the Doctor’s coat too.
The script is also clever, making light work of necessary exposition; the complex scheme to manipulate financial markets is delivered amusingly as one character deliberately talks down to another. It is a light touch much missed on television Doctor Who these days!
“Your mind. His mind. His mind in your mind. Two minds. One mind.”
The villain himself, impresses with motivations beyond the usual lusts for power. Laurie Kynaston (Life After Life) brings a desperate intensity to the character. With his sidekick (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo) speaking for him and to him in the third person, he’s an effective threat. Then of course, there’s the brilliant mental contact too, with its litany like a twisted Vulcan mind-meld. While his downfall is relatively straightforward, it comes through a satisfying, empowering revelation.
A busy story
However, this is a busy story and there are a lot of characters. The threat of the fearsome Tungsten Warriors is much trumpeted but then ill-defined; like a bunch of low-rent Cybermen, they’re easily defeated.
It also fails to do much with Bonnie Lanford’s Mel beyond that of a generic companion’s role. However, we are inclined to be less critical of that; given the incongruity of line up and format, the script probably hails from after her casting and before she appeared. We imagine, had he known, RTD would have put Mel’s expert computer programming to good use. Regardless, the brilliant Bonnie never gives less than 115% and brings plenty of life to her scenes. As ever, her interactions with Colin Baker’s Doctor here are a joy.
In such a packed tale, we have barely had time to mention the excellent supporting roles of Annette Badland as Mrs Chinn – surely named as a call-back to The Claws of Axos – the psychic research gripped with a religious fervour and her amusingly timid assistant Miss Fairfax (Laura Riseborough).
Mind of the Hodiac is a fascinating slice of Doctor Who that never was. One that demands a couple of airings to fully appreciate. We can only wonder what it might have looked like if produced for Season 23. Or indeed re-tooled for Sylvester McCoy further down the line. It would doubtless have been slimmed down in scope to meet a television budget. Instead, as it sits, the story is perhaps the ultimate mix of the show’s 80s and modern sensibilities. Rob Harvey’s score catches that fusion too, with period elements but a very new series style at times.
Were it ever in doubt, it is clear we were very lucky to have Russell T Davies running Doctor Who… and what a thrill it is to anticipate his second coming for the 60th Anniversary with this tale.