Here we have the case of Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford). She’s an odd companion. She joined up with the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) at…some point. We don’t know when. She was introduced during “Trial of a Time Lord”, where she turned up as someone from the Doctor’s future. Had Baker’s time on the show continued, we would have seen her proper introduction, but instead Baker was removed, and replaced by Sylvester McCoy. Mel continued on with him, but she never got a proper origin story…well, at least not on TV. She got one in a novel, and now she gets another one in this latest audio from Big Finish which, interestingly, doesn’t contradict the novel.
The story features the Doctor, immediately after his trial, dropping Mel off in her hometown of Pease Pottage. This is so that he can, later on, come meet her properly. He deposits her at home and makes ready to leave, not knowing that he actually dropped her off a few months to early, and not knowing that there’s a slightly younger version of Mel wandering around. To make matters worse, a future version of the Sixth Doctor, who had been traveling with Evelyn, now turns up, ready to officially “meet” Mel for the first time and take her through space and time. So now we have a future version of the Doctor, a future version of Mel, the current version of the Doctor and the current version of Mel all running around doing things and oh, dear, my brain just broke.
If all this sounds confusing, it is. Bear in mind that it is even more confusing because it’s all in audio format. You have to pay really close attention to tell the difference between current Sixie (wearing the coat of many colors), and future Sixie (wearing the blue coat), as well as telling the difference between what the story calls Mel A and Mel B (Mel C jokes do indeed happen). Add into this things like dinosaurs menacing the locals, people long dead who are running around and all sorts of timey-wimey stuff and you have a story that really, really requires careful listening. But if you do pay close attention, you’re going to be in for a real treat.
I liked this story in part because of that complexity. It gives Langford a chance to show what she can do as an actor, but the real star here is Baker, who does an excellent job playing both the “TV version” of the Doctor and the version that mellowed out considerably after traveling with Evelyn. The supporting cast members, most notably James Joyce and Patricia Leventon, also do the usual excellent job one would expect of Big Finish’s actors.
The story might have benefited a bit from a more clear delineation between the Doctors and Mels. But even despite that, this is a good, entertaining adventure and a really bold concept. Also, as I indicated above, fans of the novel “Business Unusual” will doubtlessly be glad to know that nothing in here contradicts that story.
As for my usual question: is this a good story to start with? It is, yes, if you’re familiar with the Baker years on TV. You might not really know who Evelyn Smythe is, but you’ll still be good. An all-around success, and highly recommend!
Next time: The Doctor and Mel continue their adventures!
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