The DOCTOR WHO History of Melanie ‘Mel’ Bush

The final David Tennant special of Doctor Who saw the proper return of one of the Doctor’s former companions. Though she had appeared in “The Power of the Doctor” as part of the companion support group, Melanie “Mel” Bush (played by stage star Bonnie Langford) had a major role in “The Giggle.” We knew she was returning thanks to a press release earlier in the year. But if you don’t know who Mel is, or what adventures she had with the Doctor, read below!

Mel (Bonnie Langford) as she looks in 2023 and in 1987 on Doctor Who.
BBC Studios
Spoiler Alert

Mel’s Strange First Doctor Who Story

If one can quantify such things, Melanie Bush’s entry to the TARDIS is the weirdest in all of Doctor Who. To start with, we need to explain the external situation. The BBC had canceled Doctor Who (or decided to “give it a rest” depending on which side you believe) after season 22, Colin Baker’s first as the Sixth Doctor. During the fallow time, lots of very cringe “Save Doctor Who” campaigns commenced, including a “We Are the World”-esque charity single called “ Doctor in Distress.”

At any rate, the BBC relented and brought the series back, bringing the episodes back to 25 minutes rather than the previous season’s 45. That season had the overall title of “Trial of a Time Lord” which, reflective of the real-life “trial” of the series, was a courtroom drama. The four individual serials took the form of “evidence” presented at the Doctor’s trial. It’s all very silly and needlessly complicated. At the end of the second of these serials, the Doctor learns in the courtroom that his companion Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) had died. (Spoilers: she got better.)

Mel (Bonnie Langford) holds a stopwatch while the Doctor (Colin Baker) rides a stationary bike in Doctor Who.
BBC Studios

In the following serial, the evidence presented is an event in the Doctor’s future, where Mel Bush, a computer programmer from the 20th century, was already the Doctor’s companion. Her first appearance doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of companions’ first stories. She doesn’t meet the Doctor, doesn’t get to say “it’s bigger on the inside,” any of it. She just is.

What Was Mel on Doctor Who Like?

While fans never got to “meet” Mel properly, they very quickly got to learn about her through her personality. Her main trait? Probably now we’d call it “toxic positivity.” Her first scene is forcing the Sixth Doctor to work out on a stationary bicycle and drink carrot juice. Given Langford’s musical theatre roots, Mel was very exuberant and pantomimically cheerful. She could also scream roughly seven octaves higher than anyone previously.

After “Trial of a Time Lord” finished, the BBC (perhaps looking to save some amount of face) required that, for the show to continue, the Doctor would need to change. So after only two full seasons, Colin Baker was out. Sylvester McCoy came in for season 24, following a very hackneyed regeneration scene in which Colin didn’t even appear. Mel, however, stuck around and kept up her cheerful screams until the end of that season.

How Did Mel Leave the TARDIS Crew?

The final serial of season 24 was “Dragonfire,” which incidentally also introduced Ace (Sophie Aldred) who would take Mel’s place as companion. In that story (which according to yours truly isn’t very good), the Doctor and Mel meet up with a ruffian space mercenary named Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby) who had appeared in “Trial.” At the culmination of that story, for seemingly no reason other than Langford was done, Mel decides to go off with Glitz to keep him in line on his spacefaring adventures. I dunno, man. Weird pairing, if you ask me.

Ace, Glitz, Mel, and the Seventh Doctor stand in the TARDIS control room.
BBC Studios

How Is Mel Back on Doctor Who?

Whatever spinoff material may exist out there about what happened to Mel after her adventures with the Doctor ended, “The Giggle” writer, showrunner Russell T Davies, offers a new official story. The Fourteenth Doctor asks what she’s been doing and she says she traveled with Glitz until he passed away at the age of 101. He died falling over a whiskey bottle, which is very Glitz. After his Viking-style funeral, she came back to Earth. However, given her family were all gone, she didn’t know what to do. Kate Stewart offered her a job at UNIT, and the rest is there in the show.

Given Kate also offered a job to Donna Noble, it seems pretty likely Mel is but the first of the Doctor’s former companions to join UNIT, which points to the all-but-officially-announced spinoff series featuring a number of familiar faces.

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.

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