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Confessions of a Melaphile

This is an article I had published in TSV 54...

Hello, my name's Alden Bates, and I like Melanie Bush.

No, stop backing away; the foam is purely decorative, beside which, I've already had all my shots.

Melanie Bush is one of the most disliked companions in the show's history, debatable the most disliked, only contending with Adric for that particular title. Some days, I'm given to wondering why...

What's so good about Mel anyway?

Well, she's nice.

Mel is the ultimate nice person; Always kind and courteous. She's always willing to help others, wanting to help them to better themselves and overcome their problems. She cheerfully attempted to reduce the sixth Doctor's waistline. (and it was, indeed, reduced at the start of Time and the Rani) Unlike the previous companions much as Tegan and Peri, it's more plausible why she would become a companion: because she saw in the Doctor another person who helped others.

She's outspoken, never afraid to face up to the villain and tell them what she thinks of them. In a universe where everyone's out to get you, Mel's out to stop them.

Her gentle manner can be contrasted with the other companions of the time. Peri, although a nice person in the same ways as Mel, had the tendency to whine more at the Doctor, at least until their relationship was softened in the Trial season. Ace was more angsty and unrepentantly demanding. Mel seemed to be the only companion since Nyssa that the Doctor got along with the whole time, despite her efforts to get him in shape. And despite what the Doctor says in Head Games and Dave Stone's two NAs, there is no sign throughout season 24 that this changes with his regeneration.

Speaking of "despites": despite the popular (mis) conception of Mel as a useless screamer, this image is really only upheld by Time and the Rani, where she gets little to do (mainly because she spends the whole time trying to rescue the Doctor, which is a role reversal for a start) and tends to scream a lot at the Tetraps. (which is explained in Business Unusual as a dread fear of bats due to a bad experience as a child) Mel is not stupid. She is, after all, a computer programmer, although it wasn't touched on much onscreen. Neither is she naive, despite inhabiting naive stories.

Mel is a great companion, with great potential that was never fully realised in the series.

What's so bad about Mel anyway?

Well, OK... I've already mentioned the screaming, which everyone says she does lots of.

Except when I sat down and counted the screams I discovered that only in half of her stories does she scream more than twice, and only in two does she reach double figures. Time and the Rani turned out to hold the record of at least thirty screams, most of them dubbed on by the sound effects department. In The Ultimate Foe she screams only once.

Her dress sense is another factor occasionally cited. For instance, the hideous polka-dot outfit she wears in Paradise Towers. Still, Sarah Jane Smith had her off days, as did many of the other companions, and the argument that the TARDIS wardrobe isn't exactly full of fashionable clothing helps.

The biggest factor for her unpopularity is Bonnie Langford herself. In England, loathing Bonnie appears to be a national pastime. Her over-exposure during the eighties made her the subject of an increasing number of jokes and gags in the media, mainly in comedy shows. As an outsider, it's difficult to appreciate how such a feeling can become so deep seated, but in England, she is mainly remembered as an obnoxious child-star.

Additionally, being more used to the stage, her acting was occasionally "larger- than-life". This contributed to the perceived "pantomime" atmosphere of Season 24, a season largely unpopular and seen as too joking in tone.

There are other factors stemming from the tumultuous period the show was going through. The Trial season took place just after a hiatus and because of the disjointed nature of the adventures presented, Mel never got an introductory story.

Season 24, in addition, was highly disorganised and little was planned or executed in the way of character development for Mel. Andrew Cartmel wanted to take the show in a darker direction, and she didn't fit in with this image at all.

There are still more factors I could cite: half her stories were written by the largely despised team of Pip and Jane Baker, Malcolm Kohll and Ian Briggs were concentrating on introducing their own potential companions, Stephen Wyatt admitted in a DWM interview that he didn't have a handle on Mel's character.

Alone, any one of the myriad of factors may not have produced a companion as despised, but together they resulted in a very unpopular companion indeed. Unpopular, but bad? I think not...

The Potted Mel

Mel, the companion without an introductory story, was picked up from Pease Pottage and presumibly immediately put the Doctor on his exercise routine. Judging by the dialogue at the start of Terror of the Vervoids (The Doctor is surprised to be given carrot juice) and the fact that the Doctor first makes the elephant joke during this story, it would appear that she hasn't been with him for long. Her relationship with the Doctor is established to be very much one of equals, as Mel constantly comes up with suggestions and ideas. It is she, for instance who suggests asking Laskey about the Demeter seeds.

At some point, presumably after Terror of the Vervoids (In the novelisation, she's a year older at twenty three) but before the Doctor's regeneration, she is snatched by the Master to be a witness during the Doctor's trial. She proves, once again, a loyal and able companion, entering the Matrix to rescue the Doctor (Although this action proves unnecessary) and assisting him in defeating the Valeyard.

According to the novelisation, Time and the Rani takes place directly after Mel is returned to her own timestream by the Doctor. As well as the Rani turning into an average Who megalomaniac, and the Doctor getting lines meant for his previous incarnation, Mel seems to get mischaracterised in this story. A hike with Ikona seems to wear down the normally athletic companion, and at one point, the Doctor ismoved to say "Less of the pessimism, Mel." This doesn't sit well with Mel's eternal optimism.

Paradise Towers sits better. Mel's determination to reach the pool is not illogical, since her main aim is to find the Doctor and that's where they arranged to meet. Her trusting nature almost causes her downfall at the hands of the Rezzies, and still she manages to trust Pex, despite his actions. Her treatment of Pex once she finds out his deception was a little cruel; the poor guy was only trying to impress her! Still, in the end, she helps Pex overcome his lack of courage.

Delta and the Bannermen at last sees Mel in an Earth setting. She befriends Delta and lends her a dress to go to the dance. (Those presumably this is a dress from the TARDIS wardrobe, as it would be unlikely to fit Mel) When Gavrok destroys the tour shuttle, (a surprisingly dark moment in such a light story) Mel attempts to throw him off the scent by telling him that Delta was still on the bus when it blew up. Even after helping defeat the Bannermen, she is one of the ones standing over them with a gun...

In Dragonfire, as I have already mentioned, Ian Briggs was introducing Ace as a potential companion, so most of the focus on Mel as a companion is largely lost. Mel and Ace spend most of the story together with Ace doing most of the work (it's a pity that the scene on the ice cliff (which appears in the novelisation) never made it to screen or it might have been more balenced) The Doctor entrusts Mel with the Dragonfire crystal, and she is faced with the dilemma of either handing it to Kane or watching Ace die.

Mel's departure scene is one of the best a companion has got, and it's somewhat unfortunate that Steve Lyons undermines its very meaning in Head Games.

Mel Beyond the Box

When Virgin began publishing original Doctor Who novels, the opportunity arose for greater characterisation than had been achieved in the series. It's a pity then, that when Mel finally appeared in the novels she would appear in two vastly different forms.

Millennial Rites presented us with a competent Mel, one who computer programs, one who fights the creatures created by Chapel, and one who is presented, as in Terror of the Vervoids, as a companion who works with the Doctor, not for him.

In contrast, Head Games presents us with a caracature, a Mel who, in the midst of an adventure, stops to look at paintings; who is so self-righteous she calls Chris and Roz "trained killers" because they carry guns; (totally overlooking the fact that in every story in season 24 she wielded a weapon of some kind) who stands and screams; (a throwback to Time and the Rani, but worse) and, even when the Doctor apologises to her, she still shouts at him. (Not that the characterisation of the Doctor is much better)

In short, Millennial Rites shows Mel as she should be, flaws and all, while Head Games shows Mel as a distillation of her bad qualities, the typical view of someone who hates the character.

Her other two appearances in the Virgin line have been brief.

So who likes Mel anyway?

I do, for a start.

So do many other people. Shortly after constructing a web page about Mel, I co- founded the Bonnie Langford/Mel Bush Internet Fan Club (BLMBIFC for short) with Jason Fraser, Carson Maynard and Melissa White. While the club hasn't rocketed in size, there's enough people to convince me that not all of fandom hates Mel.

While Mel will probably remain a popularly disliked character, there are fans out there who do like the character and who do like Bonnie.

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