Written by David A. McIntee, directed by: John Ainsworth
Released June 2005
Fresh from her experience on the planet Lakertia, Melanie Bush is back on the planet Earth. But it’s not the right time period, everyone is obsessed with pop culture and reality television, making her feel more out of place than ever. When the TARDIS finally turns up, the Doctor is absent but in his place is a holographic recording telling her where to find him. Sadly, the Doctor has gone mad and is being held in a mysterious asylum.
With only an ex-bouncer turned cabbie for protection, Mel must free the Doctor and unravel the mad trap that he has found himself ensnared in. Unfortunately, this particular trap is a cat’s cradle that even the Doctor has become caught in. What hope can Mel have when the newly regenerated Doctor has gone insane?
This is a terribly unusual audio adventure set in a time when the program had completely reinvented itself as a soft harmless family entertainment with weird dark undertones. In addition, the companion Mel is, at best, controversial. Introduced as a successor to Nicola Bryant’s Peri, Mel is so traditionally English and sweet that she ends up appearing comical. To boot, her backstory makes absolutely no sense at all. A companion of the Sixth Doctor, she is first seen in a future adventure yet pulled out of time (along with Sabalon Glitz) at the conclusion of Trial of a Time Lord. In effect, she has no first adventure and no back story! As viewers we have no idea who she is or why she is traveling with the Doctor. She is also the only connecting thread to the Seventh Doctor from the past and in that sense she fails miserably.
An awkward screaming companion played by a sexless former child actress, Melanie Bush is one of those companion that fans wish never happened. But before you ditch her, you should hear her in these audio adventures where she shines most brilliantly. Appearing opposite both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, Mel is a superb companion on the Big Finish productions, full of fire and intelligence. She remains a homely kind of personality who is so pure and good that she becomes almost comical, but a more experienced Langford (and a better set of scripts) manages to breath some life into the character.
But you may ask yourself why I am spending so much time on Mel and the answer is that throughout most of Unregenerate!, the Doctor is a gibbering mess, spouting nonsense and helpless in the thrall of the facility he has become trapped in. Only Mel stands a chance of helping the Doctor out of the mess he has landed himself in, and as such she becomes terribly important.
I wasn’t sure what to make of Unregenerate! as it was frankly a convoluted premise made all the more complicated by a non-linear narrative approach. This meant that the many pieces to the complex puzzle were arranged out of order. Even so, it’s a thrilling and inspired plot that utilizes McCoy range to the utmost. Granted, much of the story demands that McCoy echo the lines of his fellow cast members or speak in riddles, but when he finally ‘arrives,’ he is in fine form. Set in an early period of the Seventh Doctor’s reign, this version of the character is less of a wise manipulator and more of a clownish innocent galactic vagrant. This is of course a period that Doctor Who books, audios and comic strips side-steps most avidly, so I am impressed with the bravery of McIntee’s script in delving headfirst into a world of playing the spoons and pastel colors.
As the story (slowly) unfolds, the overly convoluted plot is impressive to say the least. The paranoia of Gallifrey has reached a fever pitch to the point that they are convinced manipulation of the lesser species is necessary to insure that time travel be regulated and controlled. In short, they are transplanting artificial intelligences into various alien races that could develop time travel capability in hopes of controlling them. Unfortunately, the Doctor sets off an experiment and becomes taken over by another intelligence. He is driven insane, but no one knows quite what to do with him. Mel cons a cabbie into helping her break into the facility and finds that she has other confederates that have escaped manipulation.
After finally getting the Doctor back in his ‘right mind,’ the pieces start to fall into place but not before numerous violent attempts to gain control of the situation by the facility staff. There is a lot of continuity and Doctor Who self-reference going on in this story, but it is also a very interesting concept, albeit told in a manner that is a bit too complicated for its own good. The idea of featuring a Doctor so soon after his regeneration seems a bit out of place as this confusion was, more or less, resolved in screen in Time and the Rani. Even so, it’s an unusual choice and that must be applauded.
The biggest star of Unregenerate! is of course Bonnie Langford, who is given so much to do that one unfamiliar with her TV appearance would think her to be one of the more celebrated companions. Another surprising star is Jennie Linden, who played the role of Barbara in the feature film version of Doctor Who and the Daleks.