Mel Bush at Big Finish

PrintE-mail Written by Tony Jones

On November 1st, 1986, Melanie Jane Bush, MSc (Hons), of Pease Pottage, mostly known as Mel appeared from nowhere as a companion to the sixth incarnation of the Doctor in the Terror of the Vervoids segment of Trial of a Time Lord. If that wasn’t a difficult enough beginning, she survived a handful of adventures, a dodgy regeneration, the Rani, and then vanished at the end of Dragonfire with galactic rogue Sabalom Glitz on December 7th, 1987. Mel passed into other media as the show itself faded away, and various ‘what happened next and how did she meet the Doctor’ ideas have been explored.

Cue the twenty-first century and, in a year when many Big Finish ranges are offering new jumping-on points, Melanie Bush is back on audio for a trilogy with the Seventh Doctor. The trilogy kicks off with Matt Fitton’s A Life of Crime, and this time, an older Mel comes back into contact with Ace and the Doctor. A simple, yet brilliant idea. This may not be Mel’s travels with Glitz, but it does give yet another angle on Mel for fans to enjoy.

Bonnie Langford has reprised Mel many times for Big Finish. She first appeared all the way back in the 2000 story The Fires of Vulcan; since then she has been in seventeen different main range stories, the most recent until now being Terror of the Sontarans in 2015. Although both these stories also feature the Sylvester McCoy Doctor, she has had plenty of adventures with Colin Baker, including the 2015 special boxset The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure. Here, Colin finally got his regeneration story and marked the passing of his incarnation after a delay of almost twenty-nine years. Although there was a regeneration scene at the start of Time and The Rani, Sylvester himself donned a week and stood in for Colin.

Back to Mel herself. Like all characters, Mel has been able to express herself on audio in ways she wasn’t able to back in the ‘80s. It’s important to remember she joined the show aged 22. She’d been a child star in the early ‘70s and most viewers would have known her as the character Violet Elizabeth Bott in the show Just William, broadcast in 1976-77. Her character was known for the line “I'll thcream and thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick”. While Mel may not have been known only for screaming, this is not the best way for a character to start her time on the show.

Mel has now appeared in more audios than she ever did TV stories. Bonnie has had plenty of opportunity to show her range with the character, and a good case in point is the 2003 story He Jests at Scars. This is one of the Big Finish Unbound range - a set of titles set in alternate versions of Doctor Who canon [and about to be revisited by Bernice Summerfield in August this year, but that’s another story…]. In Garry Russell’s story Michael Jayston returned as the Valeyard and the story explores the world where the Valeyard had won. This is a dark story and Bonnie Langford’s portrayal of a less sugar-coated Mel is gripping and a far cry from her prior TV performances.

As a whole, the Big Finish main range stories focus on Mel’s intelligence and kind nature. They’ve even touched upon how she first met the Doctor. In the various spin-off media, Mel met the Doctor in Brighton. In the 2013 Matt Fitton story The Wrong Doctors we are treated to not one but two versions of both Mel and the Doctor as we learn just what happened both when the Sixth dropped Mel back in her timeline (after Trial of a Time Lord) and then later on, dropped back to meet her so she could come on board the TARDIS. This is one of the more complex plots, but Matt Fitton’s assures STARBURST readers he has the whole story mapped out on a special sheet of five-dimensional paper he keeps for such occasions.

Fortunately, not all stories need degrees in trans-temporal physics (we’ve left ours at the dry cleaners in the Orion Nebula), and Mel has proven herself to be as capable a companion as any of the others Big Finish has brought to our ears in encounters with Daleks, mind-control, a galactic version of the Eurovision song contest, Davros and much else besides. With the forthcoming trilogy, she joins the Doctor and Ace to deal with the benefits of retiring from a life of crime, the Spanish Civil War, and a maker of demons.

We can’t wait!

DOCTOR WHO - A LIFE OF CRIME: PART ONE is out now from BIG FINISH.
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