You really thought I'd just tell you? Come on, this is me, Ms. Long-Winded. You have quite a few words to go to get to the winner.
The Deathmatch isn't particularly old or long and storied, considering that Gallifrey One turned thirty this year. This is only the fourth year they've had it. The first was Best Bond Film (The Spy Who Loved Me), the second was Best Doctor (Third), the third was Best Season (new Ninth, which was the current season at the time - narrowly beat out new first, new third, and classic twelve). What, you may ask, makes the Deathmatch a reliable ranking system? Nothing at all. It's just a whole lot of fun - and yet, there's some truth to the madness.
The panel is hosted by Paul Cornell, writer of many DW novels and comics, as well as "Father's Day" and "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood" (so you might guess he's one of my absolute favorite DW writers). He's a really nice guy, seems a bit dopey (as evidenced by how the rules morph back and forth during each Deathmatch), but knows his DW. He assembles a panel of nine judges who are all vaguely important and/or interesting fandom people - or, perhaps like this year, a random person from last year's audience - then goes through the list of whatever it is they're judging to come out with the winner. The process works something like this. (Note that any votes mentioned here are done with eyes closed, so the judges cannot be influenced by other judges' votes.)
- Paul reads each entry and asks the judges to vote if they feel the entry can reasonably be expected to make it into the top 10. If the entry gets no votes, it gets dropped from the list. (To speed things up, he might ask them in a group, so, for example, last year all of the Sixth Doctor seasons fell out in one swipe.)
- He then reviews each remaining entry with the judges, asking them to defend their opinion on either why the entry should stay or why the entry should go. They then vote again, and this time the entry must get a majority to stay in. It's really hard to get large lists like this down to 16 entries for a bracket, so he usually has to go back through this step a couple of times.
- Once the entries are down to 16, he does a bracket Deathmatch. He matches up the last with the first and has the judges vote for one or the other, and the one with majority moves on. Thus, the field gets cut to 8, then 4, then 2, and then the winner is declared.
Of course, the best part of this whole thing is that it's fun, and it gets people talking about the subject. Last year, it was fascinating to hear people's opinions of the different seasons of DW and watch the field get cut down to the finalists of Season 12, Series 1, Series 3, and Series 9. Series 3, can you believe it? I personally think Series 3 is the best story-wise, but I had no idea anyone else thought so. And Series 1 almost won! But I couldn't remember how it all went.
So this year, I took notes.
The topic was Best Companion. As with last year's Deathmatch, this was not defined. Best according to what criteria? Not important. There also really weren't any rules as to what "companion" really meant either. Paul had written a list on the whiteboard which included a few people who you might not consider companions (e.g. Craig Owens) but missed a couple who were definitely official companions (e.g. Harry Sullivan, Grace Holloway). Then he asked the audience who else should be included, and thus Mickey Smith and Chang Lee were added. Interestingly, Jackson Lake and Adelaide Brooke were nixed even though they are official BBC companions, though Astrid Peth and Lady Christina de Souza were included. (Insert cynical comment about how Jackson and Adelaide were too independent and strong as characters to qualify as a companion, mostly because I really love both characters and was upset they weren't included. ;)
This is how it went.
Step 1: Cutting the chaff
From what I've seen over two Deathmatches, the judges do not like cutting people from the list. Give them any companion and one of them will argue that he/she is the Best Companion because reasons. I mean really, someone thought Kamelion could possibly be in the top 10? So this first step only cut out five people: Sara Kingdom, Dodo Chaplet, Adam Mitchell, Lady Christina de Souza, and Craig Owens.
Step 2: Sifting for gold
This is the longest part of the competition, where everyone gets examined and votes are taken. This was the one instance of dopeyness that was pretty unfair. Paul opened the discussion with asking the judges to vote on the current TARDIS team as a whole, rather than as individuals, and they got dropped immediately. For every other discussion, he asked the judges to give their opinions on the group (e.g. first Barbara, Ian, and Susan, then Vicki, Steven, and Katarina, etc.), and then had them vote on each individual in the group. Thus, Barbara and Ian advanced to the bracket while Susan got cut, which was far more fair. I expect if the current TARDIS team had had the same treatment, at least one of them would have survived at least the first vote, even if they didn't eventually make it to the bracket.
- Not a single one of Five's or Six's companions survived.
- There was definitely a trend of favoring the classic female companions who stood on their own. Zoe Heriot, Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane, both Romanas, Leela, and Ace all advanced.
- There was a huge amount of love for Harry Sullivan as the companion who was in way over his head but still soldiered on.
- I don't remember why, but to eliminate the last person to finish the bracket, there was a sudden death between Rory and Jo Grant. Jo won.
- Interestingly, River was nixed, with only two of the judges voting for her.
- Clara also failed to make the bracket, with a similar low vote.
There are too many losing companions to list, so the bracket is in the next section.
Step 3: First bracket
The bracket, with results.
- Barbara Wright vs. Bill Potts: Bill wins, 7-2
- Ian Chesterton vs. Amy Pond: Amy wins, 7-2
- Jamie McCrimmon vs. Donna Noble: Donna wins, 7-2
- Zoe Heriot vs. Martha Jones: Martha wins, 6-3
- Liz Shaw vs. Rose Tyler: Liz wins, 6-3
- Jo Grant vs. Ace McShane: Ace wins, 8-1
- Sarah Jane Smith vs. Romana II: Sarah Jane wins, 8-1
- Leela vs. Romana I: Leela wins, 6-3
I was honestly surprised how decisively Liz beat Rose. I'd really thought that Rose was the darling of the fandom (with Amy as a close second), but I suppose that's among the fans who've either never seen classic or don't like it. All of the judges knew the classic show and have a broader view of the show as a whole. Still, Liz isn't a companion you'd think of as being either more popular or a better companion to the Doctor than Rose. Ah well. I was happy. ;)
Step 4: Second bracket
- Bill Potts vs. Liz Shaw: Bill wins, 5-4
- Amy Pond vs. Sarah Jane Smith: Sarah wins, 7-2
- Donna Noble vs. Leela: Donna wins, 8-1
- Martha Jones vs. Ace McShane: Ace wins, 7-2
Bill only barely squeaked a win over Liz. Martha didn't stand a chance against Ace. I was surprised that Donna won so handily.
I'm going to be a bit uncharitable here and note that the arguments for Bill and Martha boiled down to, "She's the best because I felt for the first time that my race (Martha) or orientation (Bill) was represented on DW." I was amazed. No one said anything about what Martha did for the Doctor or how badly she was treated. For Bill, they talked a bit about how Bill made a good student for the professorial Doctor in Series 10, and then turned back to talking about her orientation. For the other companions, people talked about their story arc or how close they were with the Doctor or how they took care of the rest of the TARDIS team, etc. - character and personality things. For Martha and Bill, it was only about race and orientation. It's sad that appreciating a minority character is reduced to only those talking points.
Step 5: Quarterfinals
It's getting down to the wire.
- Bill Potts vs. Sarah Jane Smith: Bill wins, 5-4
- Donna Noble vs. Ace McShane: Ace wins, 6-3
Awww, Donna! But there aren't many who could beat Ace. At least Donna got to the final four. Bill winning over Sarah Jane was a shock, especially after she barely made it past Liz.
And so we're down to the very last match-up...
Step 6: Finals
- Bill Potts vs. Ace McShane: Ace wins, 6-3
Ace McShane is the Deathmatch 2019: Companions Edition winner!