By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
First up I like Bonnie Langford who played the controversial sixth Doctor companion Melanie Bush from Pease Pottage. There. I said it.
She was unfairly dissed by fandom at the time as another example of John Nathan Turner’s predilection for star names in the show. Rumours say JNT wanted a red-haired companion and Bonnie fitted the role.
She was not given a chance at all by fans, which at the time I thought was pathetic and I still do. Actions like this only harm the show and helped executives to end it once and for all (almost). When fandom and certain individuals think their opinion matters in the making of the show it’s time to tell them where to go and that unfortunately was what Bonnie wandered into. I remember the late Barbara Windsor being hurt at the late Leslie Grantham’s comments at her casting as Peggy Mitchell which was not good as it knocked the reality of the show. As Babs said, she’s an actress that needs to earn a crust and Bonnie was the same. By the way, a web cam ended Leslie’s time on EastEnders and Babs went on to leave a successful reign in EastEnders in a blaze of glory and sensational storyline. Not bad for someone that affected the “reality” of the show.
Bonnie was a veteran of stage and screen with an exemplary CV and a victim of one of her roles – which I’m not going to mention as everyone knows it – and it’s not fair to be labelled just for that one role. Fandom can be so blinkered and narrow-minded when it comes to actors because that’s what they are – actors! Thank God that sort of fandom has been pushed to the background by a new generation of open-minded fans. They are still there, licking their wounds, but since Stephen Moffat has stated he would cast anyone if they suited the role, virtually vindicating JNT’s policy of putting well known people in his era. Remember Nicholas Parsons as the vicar in the classic story Curse of Fenric? He was known as a game show host but had a substantial movie resume and he absolutely shone in the Fenric arc. Watch it for yourself. Nuff said!
Bonnie had an unusual entrance for a companion. She was first seen in a future adventure where it was established she had been travelling with the sixth Doctor for a while. Her background was that she was a computer genius who first met the Doctor when the Master tried to commit some scheme and she saved the day with her skills earning her the chance aboard the Tardis. Mel was a health nut trying to help the Doctor get fit which echoed real life as Colin was losing weight to raise money for a cot death charity.
She was pulled out of time by the Master along with Sabalom Glitz to help with the Doctor’s defence to stop the Valeyard. She ended up back on the Tardis but sloppy writing did not make it clear if she continued from that point in time or had returned to her proper place in time so she could meet the Doctor again and let time flow as it should. Thankfully the BBC novels and Missing Adventures series sorted that plot point out for the sake of continuity.
She was also one of the few that oversaw a regeneration when the sixth became the seventh.
Mel was a screamer, the first to have her pitch added to the cliffhanger to tie in with the theme music but she had, pardon the expression, balls. She and the Doctor had a great time together; her fitness element dropped quickly as they battled the Rani, Kroagnon in Paradise Towers – where she was almost eaten by cannibal pensioners – and killed by robot crabs and battled the Bannermen in a 1950s Butlins camp before deciding to leave in Dragonfire to travel with Sabalom Glitz. This strange last-minute departure made no sense character-wise but was necessary to make way for Ace. It had to do with behind the scenes negotiations and Bonnie decided to go.
This was resolved in the novel Head Games where it was revealed that the Doctor, having realised that Ace was part of Fenric’s trap, telepathically made Mel leave to protect her which she wasn’t happy about especially as she later died, shot to death in a future book.
However, like everyone else, she has been redeemed in both books and especially in the Big Finish audio stories where she is portrayed as the companion she should have been, even being tricked into working for Davros and together Mel and the sixth Doctor shine. Now fans love her.
Overall, Mel was a victim of politics, bad writing and full-of-themselves fandom but real fans gave her a chance and have come to adore her as her character was expanded and deepened in the plays.
Over here, Bonnie, this house always loved you.