Monday, 19 January 2015
DW Companions as PCs: Melanie Bush
After a rather weird dream in which she turns up to the next game session only for the GM to hand her a character sheet with a talking penguin on it, she instead creates uptight scream queen Melanie Bush, better known simply as 'Mel'. The character's surname is, incidentally, never mentioned on screen, but it's been confirmed pretty conclusively by her real-world creator, so, as with Polly in the '60s, I'll stick with it.
Along with Adric, Mel is, unfortunately, one of the two prime contenders for "least popular companion ever." Not everyone agrees, of course, and even less agree as to which one should actually come bottom, but that's the broad fan consensus. As with Adric, though, her character sheet isn't actually all that bad. In her case, however, we do have to rather work at it for that to be the case. The problem being that, like Peri before her, Mel's only real function on screen is to scream at the monsters and get into trouble.
To try and figure out what sort of character Mel really is, then, we need to look at her original conception according to the show's producer. Little of this comes across on screen, perhaps in part because Mel only appears in six stories, and the first three of those were all either written or co-written by... shall we say, one of the less admired writing partnerships in the show's history. But, if we're going to create our own adventures, we should look at what she was supposed to be.
According to the real-world character notes, Mel is a professional computer programmer. About the only time this is apparent in the show is when she identifies a futuristic modem in The Ultimate Foe. (Being from a society thousands of years more advanced than our own, the modem apparently has a bit rate of a few Mbit/s. Gosh.) But it does imply a good knowledge of technology in general, probably a high skill in maths, and, given that she's a female programmer in the 1980s, a certain degree of stubborn determination. She probably at least has a basic grounding in science to go along with it, and, like Zoe, we're also told that she has a photographic memory.
One thing we can see on screen is that she's a fitness fanatic. Certainly some kind of Athletics skill is justifiable, and we also know, from Paradise Towers, that she's a good swimmer. She's unlikely to have a high strength, being as petite as she is, but a high CON (or equivalent) makes sense, and she does look rather agile. Combined with what's at least supposed to be a high INT, that actually makes her core stats pretty reasonable.
Although, to be honest, she does fail horribly in the Charisma department.
That, of course, goes to the heart of her unpopularity among fans. We have a character who, in the show, doesn't do anything much useful, and doesn't even manage to be particularly charming while doing it. On the other hand, this is largely down to writing (and, to some extent, memory of Bonnie Langford's previous TV roles) which is something that needn't impact an RPG. On paper, we have an intelligent character, with what may well be decent technical skills, and who's physically fit and athletic. Yeah, Charisma is her dump stat, but that's not exactly uncommon in PCs, now is it?
The low charisma manifests in a somewhat obsessive attitude, and she has a high regard for truthfulness and general moral rectitude - and an inability to shut up about it. It's been half-seriously suggested that she might have Asperger's syndrome, but this doesn't really fit with the fact that she noticeably starts to loosen up in her final story, Dragonfire. Her own honesty, does, however, tend to blind her to the dishonesty in others, and she's not a great judge of character.
Turning to her background, we do at least know that Mel is from Pease Pottage, a small village in Sussex. However, she is notable as the only companion, other than Susan, whose first meeting with the Doctor remains unseen. Her first actual appearance is in Terror of the Vervoids, in which the Doctor sees a glimpse of his personal future - some time after Mel has become a companion. From her perspective, she leaves him some time after that story, and re-joins him in The Ultimate Foe, which is, from his perspective, their first meeting. The remaining TV stories are set after that event, from both their perspectives.
At any rate, that's one explanation for what the heck is going on (there are others), and, if true, it means that, Terror of the Vervoids aside, there's a whole set of stories featuring Mel that we don't get to see. Including, and rather crucially for the purposes of this post, their first adventure together. Um... from her perspective, that is.
That first adventure is, however, described in the 1997 novel Business Unusual. According to that, she was born in 1964, which, if we go with the older age I suggested for Peri last time, would make Mel the first "contemporary" companion to have been born after Ian and Barbara first set foot inside the TARDIS. She first meets the Doctor in 1989 (so she's three years older than her actress, which is unusual), and this, given that most of her clothes would have looked out-of-date even then, may be further evidence of her lack of social skills.
She leaves the Doctor for good at the end of Dragonfire, for no reason that's explained on screen at all - she just says that it's time to move on, and does so. This leaves her in what is apparently the far future (although there's no date given) travelling on a spaceship with con-man Sabalom Glitz. It's hard to imagine that they'll get on well, and he certainly doesn't seem happy about the arrangement, so she almost certainly leaves him not long after.
The spin-off media have contrived to get her back to present-day Earth, but there's no consistency between different stories as to how that actually happens. According to one, she's a charity worker in Africa by 2010, but, honestly, her entire future history - and, given the timey-wimeyness, some of her past - is basically up for grabs.