“Doctor Who” star Bonnie Langford on Mel’s return and how the show has evolved since the ‘80s

Almost 40 years after traveling with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, beloved "Who" companion Melanie Bush returns to the TARDIS with Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor.

It’s been almost 40 years since Melanie Bush first stepped aboard the TARDIS. Bonnie Langford made her Doctor Who debut in 1986, and her bubbly red-haired companion Mel quickly became a fan favorite, traveling the universe with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. Now, Langford is returning to the show, first appearing in last year’s 60th anniversary special “The Giggle” and then joining Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor in the upcoming season (premiering May 10 on Disney+ and the BBC).

As part of Entertainment Weekly’s recent cover story on Doctor Who, Langford sat down with EW to reflect on the show’s legacy and what it’s been like to revisit Mel all these years later. She says she particularly noticed a difference while the filming the high-budget 60th anniversary special, standing on a lavish UNIT helipad with costars David Tennant, Catherine Tate, and Neil Patrick Harris.

“It was a whole different world,” the 59-year-old actress marvels. “When we made it in the ‘80s, we rehearsed in a rehearsal room running up and down fake corridors, and then we would go in and record it all in one, maybe two days maximum. It was almost like doing it live, with very few special effects. So to walk on to that set with [a] helipad, I mean, never in anybody’s wildest dreams did you think that would be a Doctor Who set. It was like being in a Marvel Avengers movie.”

Alistair Heap/BBC Studios Bonnie Langford returns as Mel Bush on 'Doctor Who'
Alistair Heap/BBC Studios Bonnie Langford returns as Mel Bush on 'Doctor Who'

Mel made a brief cameo in Jodie Whittaker’s final episode in 2022, and she returned in “The Giggle” as a full-time employee of UNIT, using her previous alien experience to help protect the Earth. Langford particularly praises returning showrunner Russell T Davies — who’s long said that Mel was one of his favorite classic companions — for adding new depth to the character.

“When I played Mel in the ’80s, I just used to run about and scream at monsters and go, ‘Oh, Doctor!’” she explains. “It was at the time when the companions were really just there as a diversion, and I didn’t have that much to do, in many respects. I felt I couldn’t find my place at all.”

She adds that Mel was first written as a computer programmer, but in the original run, she “didn’t go anywhere near a computer.” “I didn’t touch a single button on the TARDIS!” she says with a laugh. “I did nothing that was technical at all. I didn’t even answer a phone. So, it’s wonderful to think that Mel can use her talents and skills, but she also has this love for what the Doctor gave her and all the other companions — this desire to do good in the world.” 

Avalon/Getty 'Doctor Who' stars Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford in 1987
Avalon/Getty 'Doctor Who' stars Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford in 1987

Mel returns in the new season, teaming up with Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor to face off against a new threat. Langford is one of the rare companions to share the screen with multiple Doctors — including Baker, McCoy, Whittaker, and Tennant — and she says Gatwa’s iteration has a warmth and emotional depth that feels different from his predecessors.  

“Often, the Doctor could be quite quirky, but he could be quite hard to connect with because he had this distance about him,” Langford notes. “Sometimes he was played as a mad professor or a scientist, and you couldn’t get to his emotions. Ncuti plays it with huge emotion.”

Other than that, Langford is remaining tight-lipped about what the season might entail. But she does tease one minor plot detail: Mel gets to ride a scooter.

“See, that’s a huge change because Mel would’ve been clinging on to the Doctor going, ‘Oh Doctor, no!’” she says. “Now, Mel does the driving.” 

For more on Doctor Who, read EW’s full cover story on the series’ return here.

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