Melanie Bush is one of the more unusual Doctor Who companions in that she never officially arrived, and her life is a permanent loop! Just who is she?
First, let’s deal with the easy stuff. Melanie Bush (or Mel) was one of the Doctor Who companions who travelled with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors between 1986 and 1987. Played by Bonnie Langford, she was originally chosen (according to legend) because the producer John Nathan-Turner felt that the programme needed a red-headed companion. There had never been one, after all.
Unfortunately, this decision came at a time of some unease in the Doctor Who production office. The ‘trials and tribulations’ of this era are expanded upon at length in the Season 23 box set, but suffice it to say the script editor Eric Saward didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his boss, even over the casting of Doctor Who companions. The same was true for the character of Mel, as Saward was keen for the actor to audition before she was offered the role outright, and he wanted to know that she was right for the part.
And what was the part, exactly? Well, in (something) of a first for Doctor Who companions, Mel was a computer programmer from the 1980s, although this detail isn’t given a huge amount of attention in her on-screen adventures, and sadly Mel was given few opportunities to show off her specialist skills. However, she does at least recognise a megabyte modem in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ – an important observation, given that it’s a key part of the Valeyard‘s plan to steal the Doctor’s remaining regenerations and wreak havoc on the cosmos.
Moreover, Mel’s memory (be it random access or otherwise) is exceptional, and on several occasions she has the opportunity to display her proficiency in total recall – an ability to remember the precise details of past events. Again, Mel makes good use of this in Season 23’s ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ when she helps the Doctor to fight the Vervoids and unmask an elusive killer.
And speaking of total recall, you may remember that we alluded to something of a paradox when it comes to Mel’s life? This is because, unlike other Doctor Who companions, she was never afforded a proper introduction, at least not in the TV series. When we first meet Mel in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ she is already travelling with the Doctor, and has been doing so for some time.
This is because her initial episodes are actually a vision of the future, which has been retrieved from the Matrix and played out in the Gallifreyan courtroom where the Doctor is on trial. The Doctor hasn’t met Mel yet, but will do one day. And this isn’t the worst problem in the Whoniverse – other Doctor Who companions have experienced hurried arrivals, such as Katarina in ‘The Myth Makers’ or even Susan Foreman in ‘An Unearthly Child,’ who is already travelling with the Doctor when we meet her.
But things get a bit tricky when Mel leaves in the TARDIS at the end of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ episode 14. The Doctor acts like he already knows her, even though he hasn’t met her yet. And if this is the point where he meets her for the first time, her life is – in effect – a permanent loop. The Doctor will meet her for the first time in the trial, and then she will meet the Vervoids, and then she will meet the Doctor for the first time, and then she will meet the Vervoids, and so on. It’s more timey-wimey than a Steven Moffat script.
Of course, other Doctor Who companions have led complex lives (River Song, anyone?) but unlike other Doctor Who companions, the paradoxical nature of Mel’s life is never addressed on-screen, or even acknowledged. She does eventually leave the Doctor at the end of Season 24‘s ‘Dragonfire’ with the dodgy dealer Sabalom Glitz, with whom she travels the cosmos on board the Nosferatu II.
For more information about Mel, we have to look elsewhere. For Mel (and indeed, for other Doctor Who companions) the audio company Big Finish proves useful. Their 2013 adventure ‘The Wrong Doctors‘ goes some way to addressing her origins as it’s where she meets the Sixth Doctor for the, uhh, first time in the midst of a plot hatched by a demon to manipulate time. Mel sacrifices herself in this adventure and removes herself from the timeline, but the Doctor is able to piece her memories back together again – well, most of them.
And another plot point that ‘The Wrong Doctors’ addresses is the fact that Mel comes from the village of Pease Pottage in Sussex, a detail that (again, according to legend) the producer John Nathan-Turner selected from a street sign.
As for Mel’s post-‘Dragonfire’ adventures we can also look to Big Finish, although we can debate the stories’ canonicity until the end of time. In the Big Finish universe, Mel is reunited with the Seventh Doctor and Ace and spends some time travelling with them both in the TARDIS, after having been abandoned by Glitz on the planet Ricosta in ‘A Life of Crime.’
And to date, Big Finish hasn’t given Mel a definitive departure from the TARDIS. Indeed, like many Doctor Who companions from this era, there are number of explanations as to what happened to Mel, one being found in the Virgin novel ‘Head Games’ which sees her return to Pease Pottage after accepting a ride on Ace’s time hopper. As you do.
But then we have the television explanations. The first of these is the online minisode to promote the Season 24 Blu-ray box set, where Mel is portrayed as a high-powered business woman running her own version of the TV show Dragons’ Den from the farthest reaches of space. It’s admittedly more of a comedy sketch than a legitimate Doctor Who adventure, but given that Mel went off to explore the universe with the cosmos’ most famous businessman, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
However, the most canonical explanation must surely be found in the 2021 episode ‘The Power of the Doctor’ which reunited a whole heap of Doctor Who companions, Melanie Bush being one of them. In this instance, she is back on Earth in the 21st century and is part of a therapy group where Doctor Who companions gather to swap stories about the famous Time Lord. So even though we don’t know exactly how she got back to Earth, we know that she is safe and well.
It remains to be seen if Mel’s origins (or indeed her departure from the Nosferatu II) will be addressed when Mel returns for Doctor Who Series 14 alongside Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson. It will certainly be great to see her back.
Until then, suffice it to say that the lives of Doctor Who companions are never straightforward, and Melanie Bush is no exception. How do you explain her timey-wimey existence? And what do you think is the canonical explanation for her departure? Let me know in the comments below.
Seventh Doctor Who umbrella – order now from the Lovarzi shop!