Bonnie Langford Exclusive: Doctor Who was seen as 'weird' now it has 'respect'

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) stand in a corridor. Mel is showing him something on her phone and looking over her shoulder. He is looking in the same direction that she is.
(Image credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf)

When Bonnie Langford joined Doctor Who as new companion Mel Bush in 1986, she wasn't sure if she would be in the show for more than a couple of years — let alone appearing in it nearly 40 years later!

After originally departing the TARDIS in 1987, Bonnie reprised the role of Mel for the 1993 Children in Need special Dimensions In Time, as well as in various Doctor Who audio dramas, but her first canonical return on TV came in 2022's "The Power Of The Doctor", the swansong for Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor, when Mel made a cameo appearance in a scene where former companions of the Doctor met in a support group.

However, new showrunner Russell T Davies decided to bring Mel back to the series for the 2023 anniversary specials as a member of UNIT, the military organization that often works alongside the Doctor. As the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) enlists the help of UNIT in this season's two-part finale to help solve the mystery of Ruby's (Millie Gibson) birth, Mel returns to the show once more, so we caught up with Bonnie to find out what it's like to be part of the Whoniverse again...

Bonnie Langford interview for Doctor Who

What can you tell us about the first part of the finale, The Legend Of Ruby Sunday?

"Not a lot! [laughs] They've set up from the Christmas special that Ruby has been trying to discover her birth mother — she feels that her whole life is such a mystery. I don't think she travels with the Doctor for that, but certainly there is that curiosity — and at the very beginning of the series, he'd said 'if you travel with me, that's one thing we can't do', so it'll be interesting whether she gets her wish, to find the missing piece of her life. So that's where we start from — her wish is to go to the place where she just happens to find out who her mum is."

Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) sits on her mum's bed, with an open shoebox in front of her. Ruby is clutching something from inside the box to her chest, as her mother Carla (Michelle Greenidge) - visible in the foreground but out of focus - is talking to her

Will Ruby (Millie Gibson) finally discover the secret of her birth? (Image credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf)

How do Mel and UNIT feature in the episode?

"Well, as so often happens, UNIT come in either to help the Doctor or for the Doctor to help them — usually the second one! But together, they're all on the same page and they've got the same motive. UNIT are there to support him, and to support one another in every which way they can, but it does become rather massive, and unexpected events get involved..."

How are you enjoying Mel's new life as part of the UNIT team?

"It's really great! I was in the show 37 years ago, and I would never in my life have turned around and said, 'yeah, I'll be back doing that' — the thought of it seems ridiculous now. But it's a very happy, lovely place to work. It's very nice to be able to come back to a character who I always felt was unfinished, or probably unstarted, really — she didn't even get a beginning story! [Mel had already been travelling with the Doctor for some time when viewers met her in 1986's 'Terror Of The Vervoids'.] So there were, I suppose, like Ruby, unanswered questions, and although they're still unanswered, it's very nice to be in a place that feels like home, and is also a story environment where Mel is able to contribute with her skills and feel part of this family that understands who and what the Doctor is."

You were there for Ncuti's first on-screen appearance as the Doctor in the 2023 episode The Giggle. What was it like getting to work with him again?

"Oh it was great, because he'd been able to find his Doctor a bit — it's so difficult taking over any role, but particularly an iconic one. Everyone turns around and goes 'what's your Doctor going to be like?' and frankly, you don't know until you do it! There's no such definite decision when you first start any kind of job, let alone one where every single person has their own opinion.

When we first worked together on 'The Giggle', Ncuti and I instantly bonded — in fact, the very first thing he did was fall into my arms! He's got such a great energy and such a light in his spirit, and he brings that with him on set, and to the Doctor. To work with Millie was delightful too — they're just very charming. I felt weirdly maternal towards them both — although we were all actors doing a job, there was something that was really quite bonding about it all, and there were moments where I was able to perhaps fill in a few gaps about certain lines or stories!"

Ruby (Millie Gibson), the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) stand in a row in front of a room filled with bright lights and displays in the background. All three of them are looking at something off-camera to the right.

Ruby, the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) investigate suspicious happenings (Image credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf)

Does the show feel very different these days from when you were first on it?

"Well, I mean, yeah, it does! We used to rehearse running up and down corridors in a rehearsal room, it seems daft now! It always felt like we were a little rep company, in that Sylvester [McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor] or Colin [Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor] and I were sort of the regulars who would welcome everybody in. 'Come to our party! Come and join the fun!' Obviously, technically, everything is completely different, and there seems to be a lot more love for it now. It really is treated with a lot more respect — when I did it, I think it was just regarded as this slightly offbeat, weird show where a small minority of people would watch it, but now it really does feel so inclusive and so open. Of course, when I was in it the first time it was about to be shut down, so there was this sort of tremendous anger and anxiety around the show — there's none of that now."

What are your favourite episodes from your initial run on the show?

"Somebody showed me 'Paradise Towers' the other day, where the little old ladies are trying to fatten me up and eat me — it's hilarious! It's completely camp, totally outrageous and ridiculous, and I had to get in a swimming pool that was completely unheated. 

I think the thing I always enjoyed about Doctor Who was the cast. It was totally cast with all these star names — at one point Stubby Kaye was in it, who I knew from musical theatre. I'd actually met him when I was about nine, I was doing a show and he was touring with another one, and we met by chance in a hotel — and then he was over here in [the 1987 Doctor Who serial] Delta And The Bannermen, and I was thinking, 'Stubby Kaye! Guys And Dolls, musical theatre history, Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat — here he is in Doctor Who!' Ken Dodd was in that episode as well, that was even more bizarre!"

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) stands at the bottom of an imposing cliff. Mel (Bonnie Langford) is leaning against him, smiling and resting her chin on the lapel of his jacket.

Mel with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) in her original stint on the show (Image credit: South West News Service/Shutterstock)

What have you particularly enjoyed about this season?

"I'm very excited that the finale is going to be in cinemas! The series started off all light and jolly and fluffy, and then it's really started to veer in all different directions, because that's what you can do with sci-fi. But what I think is so important — literally, the two hearts of it — is that this incredible being is basically a ray of hope."

  • Doctor Who: 'The Legend Of Ruby Sunday' is available in the UK from midnight on Friday June 14 on BBC iPlayer, and will air on BBC One on Saturday June 15 at 6.30 pm. Internationally, the episode will air on Disney Plus where available from Saturday, June 15.
Steven Perkins
Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and

Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and, who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.