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Never mind River Song and her blessed spoilers, Doctor Who has been messing about with the correct order in which people meet each other for AGES. Mel’s first encounter with the TARDIS and the Doctor is not recorded on screen. When we first see them together, it’s as part of a the Sixth Doctor’s 14-episode story Trial of a Time Lord, in which the Doctor (Sixth, this time) is once again on trial for meddling. She’s already his companion because, from the perspective of the court, they’re watching events in the future.
It’s all rather confusing. And remember, this is some 20 years before the expression “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” was ever coined.
So here’s the Doctor and Mel in action in Terror of the Vervoids, an adventure she has to relate to the Time Lord court as if it’s old to her, even though it is new to him.
Once the trial was over, and the Doctor escaped, the two had a chance to get to know each other again. She’s really into computer progamming and keep fit, and at the time the show was made, this meant drinking a lot of this voguish new concoction, carrot juice. Nowadays it’d be all wheatgrass smoothies and low-carb diets, but at the time, this was the cutting edge of fitness technology. Not that the Doctor is remotely interested in all of that stuff, hence this pantomime silliness:
She did get to be one of the few companions who witness a regeneration. Although bearing in mind she was unconscious at the time, perhaps ‘witness’ is exactly the wrong word.
And it does take the two of them a while to get along. Is that stage fighting I see?
As an aside, Mel’s real talent, beyond nagging, was her scream. No one in Who history has ever been able to scream quite like she does. Listen to this (not too carefully though)
And now watch this, it’s Bonnie Langford playing Violet Elizabeth Botts in the 1970s adaptation of Just William books. At around the 40 seconds mark, she delivers the catchphrase that meant her face would pop up whenever anyone in ’80s TV thought of the word ‘scream’.
After only a year of on-screem adventuring (possibly a lot longer in their respective timelines), Mel’s last flight with the Doctor was to the ice planet Svartos, where she met the scoundrel Sabalom Glitz. Having realised it was time for a change, she traded herself for Ace, and this rather odd couple – Mel and Sabalom, I mean, all of the Doctor’s couples are odd – flew off into the distance, to have even more adventures. Not bad for a girl from Pease Pottage in Sussex.
Of course, the very nature of their backwards-forwards hello means that the goodbye is kind of odd too:
So you could say that Mel is a kind of trial run for the River Song story, and the corkscrew hair is certainly familiar, if a little less flamey these days. On the other hand, you can’t really see Alex Kingston ripping her lungs out over some monster, not when she could be tearing their lungs out instead.
Next: Ace – space teenager
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic