Companions don’t stick around forever, but few of Doctor Who‘s costars feel as “we hardly knew ye” as Melanie Bush, played by Bonnie Langford. Initially appearing on the show, in a timey-wimey way, after she’d already met the Doctor, Mel only stuck around for six stories, a total of 20 episodes, from 1986-1987. But no one’s ever really gone in the Whoniverse, and the accomplished stage actor returned to the series 35 years later with a brief appearance in “The Power of the Doctor.” Little did we know, Mel would get bumped up to proper costar in “The Giggle.”

Now, Melanie returns for “The Legend of Ruby Sunday,” the first part of Ncuti Gatwa’s first season finale. Nerdist spoke to the delightful Bonnie Langford about getting to continue Mel’s story, joining UNIT, and being present for the game-changing “bi-generation.”

Bonnie Langford stands in front of a futuristic looking building in a press release photo tied to her return to Doctor Who.
BBC

Nerdist: At what point did you learn that you would not only come back for “The Giggle,” but you’d be coming back for multiple episodes?

Bonnie Langford: Well, let me think. [Showrunner] Russell [T Davies] just sent me the scripts and I just moved everything to be able to do it. It was very exciting. In fact, actually I was doing another show at the time. I was doing a musical, Anything Goes, and so I had to duck out of it for a couple of weeks. But yes, so Russell said, oh, we want you in the season finale of the Ncuti season, which is terribly exciting because we felt that we’d set up this whole UNIT thing as well.

Mel had been given a little bit of a slight backstory, but not too much. But now she has a job, she has a purpose, she has a place, and to be able to revisit it again [was great]. We had such a good time on “The Giggle.” I was really thrilled to be able to go back and she’s quite intrinsic to the plot, which is a gift that every actor dreams of.

You said around the time “The Giggle” came out that you were just excited that Mel got a job.

I had a computer job, a job that she actually could be doing, something that was supposedly her skills because she’d never been given that before.

BBC/Disney+

You obviously played Mel again in audio form over the years. Did you have an idea in your own mind before this, what Mel would’ve been up to?

You never really knew. But it was great to be able to do the audio dramas and sort of develop those different avenues as well. And to keep in touch with her, really. It was a bit like sending postcards. I could do those things. So when it came to, they asked me to do a little tiny scene in “The Power of the Doctor” with Jodie Whittaker. It was as if, oh yeah, this is nice. I wonder what she’d looked like. And we moved her on a little bit. And then the same with “The Giggle,” and she found her place. She’s still rooted in the past. She’s got all that wealth of experience, but she’s very much up with the generation, the current generation, and wanting to look to the future.

So yeah, I think it was nice to revisit her, to be able to help her grow. She’s grown. Not as sort of perky and irritating as perhaps she was before. And she’s not a scaredy cat, she’s much more calm, much more grounded. And yet she still has this joy and dedication and devotion really, to the Doctor.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I checked to make sure, but I believe Mel is the only companion who is present at multiple Regenerations. Yeah, that adds Mel to the history books, I guess.

(Delighted gasp) I love that. That’s great. Yeah, no, at one point I thought Mel was the one who sounds terrible being with most Doctors, but I don’t think she is at the moment. But you never know, because I was, I’ve worked with, well with Colin and Sylvester, obviously with Jodie, although I wasn’t in a scene with her, with David, with Ncuti. And I did a one-off special for Children in Need with Jon Pertwee. So six is quite a lot. She gets around too much.

BBC

Well that’s the headline.

You might call her flighty.

What was it like in “The Giggle” shooting the big bi-generation, pulling the Doctors apart along with Catherine Tate?

Wild. It was wild. I’m so grateful to have been present. It was very exciting. A lot of people were there. Suddenly Russell was there and everyone, Ncuti was very excited and anxious as well. But he brought such great energy and he and David just got on like an absolute house on fire. They were talking a lot. They both trained at the same drama school in Scotland. So they were talking all about that. They had that in common.

It was a very jolly celebratory atmosphere because I suppose it wasn’t really the ending that it normally would be. A new beginning, but it wasn’t final for anybody else. It wasn’t like, oh, you are leaving, bye. It was all still, oh, there’s so much hope here. And we had a lot of fun. Sun was shining all those days. We did quite a few days on it as well.

What was your impression of Ncuti and the new production during those first scenes?

It felt like the show was going to be in great hands going forward, and it seemed very exciting. Ncuti and I really just connected from the word go. So that was brilliant. I’d never met him before, but I was a great fan of his work. It just kind of came out of nowhere. And I think there was a lot more laughter than was expected. I think that brought such an extra beautiful dimension to that whole scene was that there was this fear, there was this wonder, there was this fear of the unknown, but then at the same time, suddenly, oh wow, this is exciting. This is jolly. We just laughed a lot because it was the unexpected. Yeah, it was great.

BBC/Disney+

After being there for Ncuti’s first day on set, what was it like coming back and seeing how he had grown as the Doctor for the finale of the season?

Well, I mean, he certainly got his feet under the table. It’s very difficult. You take over a part or you start re-create a part and everyone’s saying, well, whatcha going to do? Whatcha going to do? And you think, ‘I dunno till I get there.’ It was great to see that he’d found different styles. I love the fact that he blends, he embraces wherever he’s going to be. He doesn’t wear just one costume. It’s going to be difficult for the fans with all the cosplay. It’ll cost a fortune! But he definitely is a person who wants to blend in with whatever environment that he’s with, that he’s the Doctor that wants to be part of that world, literally as they would say in The Little Mermaid. But he, and yet he still is very much this larger than life, beautiful spirit.

Last question: you have obviously spent a lot of time with many Doctors. Do you think there is something that Ncuti has that they all have had in terms of what it means to be The Doctor?

Yeah, I think it’s a sincerity. It’s sincerity and authenticity and in whatever form. And also inclusivity in a world where lots of the time people are not seen or heard. And it’s a way of, I think there was a beautiful line in one of the first episodes, I think it was of this season where he says, people aren’t monsters. I shouldn’t be frightened of anyone. It’s just someone I haven’t met. There’s a lot to learn from this. It’s very poetic. The show has always been about trying to help us to be better people, those that watch it, that you sort of might take something in that you go, oh, hadn’t thought of life that way before. And he is very much an advocate of it being a show for everyone, but also to learn from everyone and to embrace everyone.

BBC/Disney+

And we can still be our own individual self. So we embrace our individuality, but we also embrace everybody else’s as well. And yeah, I think it’s, what he brings to it is this wonderful spirit of inclusion of all generations too. And that’s different about the show is that it has that legacy that is from the past. So it goes back to the past because we are here because of what happened in the past, whether that be good, bad, or indifferent. And maybe we can change that in the future going ahead. Sometimes we have to revisit that past to be able to deal with it, to put it to bed, or to change ourselves going forward, pay it forward differently. And that is very much suit and it’s very much part of this show, and I’m really proud to be part of all that.

Doctor Who drops at 7pm ET on Disney+.

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. He hosts the weekly pop culture deep-dive podcast Laser Focus. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.