Big Finish: Doctor Who MIND OF THE HODIAC Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who MIND OF THE HODIAC Review

Matthew Kresal dabbles on the Galactic Stock Exchange.
It seems safe to say that Big Finish's Lost Stories range has been undergoing something of a resurgence. Having finished in 2013 with The Mega, it has spent the last couple of years with new releases showcasing Doctor Who serials conceived for TV but unmade for various reasons. All have a reason to seek them out, but few have been as high profile as Mind of Hodiac. Why? Because of who its author is: Russell T Davies.

As revealed on Twitter during the Lockdown tweetalong event for The Runaway Bride, the man who brought Doctor Who back to BBC television in 2005 (and will be doing so again) wrote a script for the Sixth Doctor and Mel back in 1986. Specifically, the first half, in the 45-minute format of Classic Who's 1985 season (and the revival Davies oversaw), while the back half was laid out in a detailed outline by Davies and fleshed out by Davies' friend (and Big Finish writer/director) Scott Hancock. Not that you'd know listening to it, of course, as Hancock perfectly channels Davies' writing and ear for dialogue to round off the adventure.

Listening to this in spring 2022 is an experience worthy of Doctor Who itself, mashing up two different eras of the show's history. The presence of the Sixth Doctor and Mel and the subplot around intergalactic financing and stockbrokers, for example, all firmly root Mind of the Hodiac in the mid-1980s, fitting it in nicely alongside the two Sil stories and the post-Trial of a Time Lord era. Yet the Earth-based portions of the plot, ranging from a working=class family experiencing the extraordinary and a mysterious government agency they come into contact with, all harken to what Davies would do with the series two decades later. The Hodiac script also features pre-echoes of Davies' 1997 Virgin New Adventures novel Damaged Goods (earlier adapted by Big Finish in 2015). It's a slightly surreal experience, especially realizing how well everything dovetails into one another.

Not that Mind of the Hodiac avoids some of the pitfalls of those eras. The first half suffers from the same issue as Revelation of the Daleks, with the Doctor and Mel essentially guest stars in their own series at the expense of setting up everything and everyone else. The finale suffers from a couple of issues, including the threat of a battle that could consume and destroy all of Earth, yet seems very contained to a single building where it isn't doing much damage (something owed to the show's eighties production style, one imagines). The other issue lies within the ending itself, which this reviewer won't spoil, though it involves a bit of Davies deus ex machina in the process. None of which are fatal flaws, by any means, and remain as much for historical value as anything else but might perhaps dampen enjoyment a little.

There can be no doubt of how well-made this is as a production. Big Finish has pulled out all the stops for Mind of the Hodiac, including a larger than your typical cast, led by Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. Both of whom, it must be said, clearly relish the writing given to them by Davies, with Baker especially getting plenty of good material (often head and shoulders above what the actual TV writers of the era gave him). Surrounding them is a cast featuring several of Big Finish's past performers and those with ties to Davies's past work. They include Annette Badland as the delightfully batty and malevolent Mrs. Chinn, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo as the right-hand woman of the Hodiac (with the villain wonderfully performed by Laurie Kynaston), and Sutara Gayle as the Nan of the family caught up in events. It's a cast full of strong female characters, in particular, and a showcase for all of the actresses involved. It's to the credit of both Hancock as director and Emily Cook as the producer of this release that they assembled the caliber of a cast that they did, which makes it all the better.

Sound design and music also play a sizable role in Big Finish's work, with Mind of the Hodiac being no exception. Rob Harvey's work on both showcases why that is, with him creating soundscapes that take listeners from a group of galactic stockbrokers to spaceships and 1980s London, sometimes in consecutive scenes. It's the underscore where Harvey outdoes himself, with his music pulling the same trick as Davies's script: combining different Doctor Who eras. There are both the eighties synthesizer elements from the TV scores of the time you'd expect, but there are also hints of the orchestral work that became a hallmark of the series' 21st-century incarnation. All of which suits the story well and make the ten-minute suite of music included with the release a highlight in its own right.

It all comes together to make Mind of the Hodiac into something special. Not a perfect story, perhaps, but one that nonetheless brings together one of the series' legendary writers, an underserved on TV TARDIS team, and showcases what Big Finish has to offer. As a mashing up of two eras of Doctor Who, it's essential listening for any fan of the series. Not to mention one that will likely have them asking, "What if?"

Doctor Who: Mind of the Hodiac is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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