This week, Doctor Who is all about the companions. There’s the much-discussed reveal of Pearl Mackie as Bill, for example, in a two-minute scene that aired during the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday afternoon. The decision to show it at that point in the day prompted a few complaints from non-football fans I spoke to, who resented having to turn it on, but it did at least give me an excuse to write a little something about the Doctor’s history with sport, so that’s all right.
Also in Metro, Cameron McEwan has produced a list that ranks every Doctor Who companion from worst to best. Said list has drawn the usual criticism from people who think that Rose should be higher and Donna should be lower, who don’t understand why Kylie isn’t there and who cannot understand why he’d choose to include companions they’ve never seen before in the top ten, citing instead a final countdown that exclusively concentrates on post-2005 content.
But the main thing about Cameron’s list is that producing an objective rundown of companions in order of supposed greatness is the wrong way of doing it. Because there’s only one correct way of ranking the companions, although it took me most of Saturday evening to puzzle it out. Hair? Certainly Bill’s hair is an enigma – “not that it’s big,” said Gareth, “but how it stops so abruptly in profile”. It’s looking – along with the Prince t-shirt, which is a little spooky given last week, although I’m assured that the scene was filmed in advance – like an eighties throwback might be the direction they’ve chosen to take for this particular venture, which will undoubtedly lead to heaps of awkward examples of comedic irony and obvious historical anachronisms. Or perhaps Bill’s into cosplay. I can’t really comment on what’s probably a filmed audition script, nor do I want to judge her, but I will address two of the criticisms I’ve heard: she is not Martha’s mum, nor is she ‘not black enough’. I mean, honestly.
Where were we? Yes, companion rankings. Listen, there’s only one way to rank companions, and that’s their scores on a Scrabble board, which was Gareth’s suggestion. So that’s what we’ve done. The results will surprise and annoy you (particularly when you see who’s at the top) but I think we can all conclude that this is UNAMBIGUOUSLY AND DEFINITIVELY the only way to rank companions correctly.
Important points of note:
- For the sake of the argument, I’ve stuck to the list that Cameron used. That means no Astrid Peth, no River Song and no Brigadier. (Because if you include the Brigadier you also have to include Benton and Yates and before you know it half of UNIT is sitting around the board drinking cups of tea.)
- These are vanilla scores only – i.e. the combined letter totals as if they do not cover any double / triple spaces. (In most cases such an instance would be impossible, due to the layout of the board, but it’s the only way to make it fair.)
- Full names – where they exist – are always used. (Titles are another matter, but we’ll get to that.)
- The editor’s decision is final.
Let’s get this one out of the way first:
Sad to say that Romana’s twenty-letter name covers more than the length / width of the board, and is thus disqualified on the grounds that it exceeds the fifteen-letter limit. Which is a shame for you, Romana, but you’re the one who didn’t want it shortened – unless it was to Fred, which wouldn’t have served you much better. Sorry.
37. K-9 (5 points)
Poor K-9. He was always doomed, given that his name consists of a single letter and a character that had to be employed with a blank tile. This is what happens if you have a number in your name; it just confuses alphabetisation (does ‘7’ come under ‘S’, or before the A’s?) and it makes you look pretentious. It’s a shame, in a way, that the K tile is only worth five points, instead of nine. At least that would have been funny.
36. Leela (5 points)
Leela’s not really doing much better, is she? This is what happens when your name consists of one-point tiles, although if I’d done this with actor’s names, then Lalla Ward wouldn’t have fared a great deal better. Still, Leela left with K-9, so I can visualise them sitting in their rooms on Gallifrey while Andred’s out on patrol, sobbing over their bad luck in between rounds of Janus Thorn Chess. (I have no idea what that is. I just made it up.)
35. Adric (8 points)
Well, Adric’s a douche, so I have no real sympathy for him. He’d presumably start quoting the numbers in binary and use the block transfer computations to alter reality so that Scrabble had never been invented, the impetuous git.
34. Polly (10 points)
You see, this is what happens if you swan around the TARDIS refusing to give your real name. And yes, I’m aware that the production notes list her as Polly Wright, but we’re not supposed to know that, largely because it would have confused the viewers (which is a fair point, given many fans’ determination to link absolutely everybody that happens to share an extremely common name, but also demonstrating that as far back as 1966 the production team were prepared to assume that the audience was stupid). And yes, I know she’s established as Polly Wright (later Jackson) in spin-off fiction. Stable door, meet horse.
33. Katarina (12 points)
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we? I KNOW I SPELLED HER NAME WRONG. It doesn’t matter, because the score would have been the same. Still, no wonder I couldn’t find any pictures.
32. Rose Tyler (12 points)
I’m grinning like an idiot at this one, because – ha! – the irritating Rose is dropped to the lower ranks of the top forty, where she belongs. Curiously every letter in her name is worth a single point, with the exception of one – suggesting that it’s the ‘Y’ of Rose Tyler that’s important. But then that put us back into companion-as-jewel-at-the-centre-of-the-universe territory, so let’s not go there. Ever.
31. Donna Noble (13 points)
There are better photos of Donna, but this is the one I picked, because it’s the look I suspect she’d have given me. “Number firty-one? FIRTY-ONE? IS THAT ALL YOU FINK I’M WORTH? Wouldna been so bad if you’d said it was me age….”
30. Kamelion (15 points)
The Rubbish Robot From The Dawn of Time gets a horrendously bad press, whereas I just like to think of him as a good idea gone wrong (also a neat summary of Torchwood, Wagon Wheels and the plot of Romeo and Juliet). I’d toyed with the idea of having ‘Karma Karma Karma Kamelion’, just for a joke, but there are only two blanks, and we’d have been screwed. Can I just mention at this point that had I gone with my original idea of ranking hairstyles, he would have got the top spot?
29. Amy Pond (15 points)
For his own reasons (probably space-related) Cameron lists Amy and Rory together, but I have teased them apart for the purposes of this exercise, largely because Amy was a companion for far longer than her husband. You have two roads here that lead to the same destination, as ‘Amelia’ gives the same score as ‘Amy’. ‘Amy Williams’ would have done better than ‘Amy Pond’, of course, but no one calls her that. No one.
28. Jo Grant (15 points)
It breaks my heart to put Jo all the way down here, because (behind a certain kilted Scot) she’s far and away my favourite companion, and Katie Manning’s such a sweetheart. But Jo hails from the early seventies, one of those periods of Who where the names companions were given were usually rather mundane, even if the people who owned them were not. Although she’d have done better if I’d spelled her as ‘Josephine’. Dammit, I should have done that. Why didn’t I do that?
27. Clara Oswald (17 points)
The impossible girl, languishing in the lower reaches of the top thirty. Of course, if you tot up the scores given to each of her separate fragments, she wins the game outright. But we’re not doing that.
26. Susan Foreman (17 points)
Susan – who, from the looks of things, has either tried to scratch her head after handling superglue or has been locked in a room playing a Justin Bieber concert on a loop – doesn’t do too badly, given her comparatively high-scoring surname. (The Gallifreyan equivalent, assuming it exists, would undoubtedly be far more interesting. Please leave your suggestions in the comments box; it all contributes to the blog stats.)
25. Ian Chesterton (18 points)
Supposition: if you substitute the other names that the Doctor used when Hartnell fluffed his lines (or when they turned it into a gimmick; I’m never quite sure which is the chicken and which is the egg) then Ian would be higher. Proof: ‘Charterhouse’ would have done quite well. As for me, I’m just wondering if Coal Hill have interviewed for Clara’s replacement yet.
24. Melanie Bush (18 points)
I very nearly wrote her as ‘Mel’, just out of spite. But that wouldn’t have been fair. And I’m all about fair. Even when dealing with someone who had a scream that could cut glass. (Here’s a thought: is Peter Harness’s decision to refer to Clara’s Zygon duplicate as ‘Bonnie’ a coincidence, or…oh, who am I kidding, it’s a coincidence.)
23. Steven Taylor (18 points)
Steven Taylor is worth 18 points. Peter Purves is also worth 18 points. IS THIS A COINCIDENCE?
22. Ace (19 points)
I came dangerously close to being very hard on Ace, and granting her the solitary five points achieved by her first name. But there’s something grossly unfair about that. Of course, if she’d been happy to call herself Dorothy Gale McShane, she’d have been ranked much higher. Sorry, Ace: you’ve made your bed, now lie in it.
21. Sara Kingdom (19 points)
It’s unfortunate that the only decent resolution image I could find of an unaccompanied Sara Kingdom is that of her ageing to death at the end of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, but it’s a tribute to the self-sacrifice that defines her character. Too bad her parents were too lazy to stick an ‘H’ on the end of her first name, or she’d have beaten…
20. Dodo Chaplet (20 points)
…this young lady, she of the interesting hats. I did manage to use this in an actual game of Scrabble once, but it caused a minor upset when it disappeared from the board halfway through the game with no explanation.
19. Rory Williams (20 points)
For some reason the board kept getting upset when I was putting down these letters, to the extent that I had to do it seven times. I’m sure there’s some explanation for this. In The Silent Stars Go By, the Doctor refers to Rory as “Rory Williams Pond”, to which the young nurse replies “Totally not my name”. Would that it had been, Rory. Would that it had been.
18. Vislor Turlough (21 points)
Turlough does quite well out of having an unusual first name, although if he’d opted for the slightly more European (or perhaps American) spelling of ‘Vizlor’, he’d have been bumped right up the table. Bet Mark Strickson’s kicking himself.
17. Zoe Heriot (21 points)
Ah, Wendy Padbury. One of the nicest bottoms in Doctor Who. Zoe was always last in the register (and always got the dregs when it got to milk time) but she reaps the benefits now. If she were here I daresay she’d work out an algorithm of some sort to generate median scores, all without breaking a sweat.
16. Adam Mitchell (22 points)
Adam is at the tail end of Cameron’s list, and with good reason. I don’t particularly like him being placed so high up here, either. The bastard’s hogged both the M’s. Perhaps we could take him to a beat poetry recital and watch his forehead repeatedly open and close.
15. Harry Sullivan (22 points)
Harry. We love Harry. We miss Harry. Good old Harry.
14. Liz Shaw (22 points)
Liz ties with Harry and Adam, but I’ve placed her above the two of them because she never really had a chance in Who, being written out after a single series. She does quite well here – of course, Elizabeth Shaw, her villainous doppelganger from ‘Inferno’, would have done even better. (Presumably Scrabble games in that parallel Earth typically end with the loser being shot in the head.)
13. Martha Jones (23 points)
Martha Jones. She saved the world. She get herself out of Japan, but she can’t get herself into the top ten. Not that 13th place is bad in the grand scheme of things. Of course, after her adventures in the TARDIS Martha married Mickey, changed her name to Smith, and saw her ranking decrease slightly, which led to marital discord and eventually divorce.
12. Nyssa of Traken (23 points)
My decision to refer to Nyssa in this manner (thus granting her a much higher score than she’d otherwise have achieved) is partly guilt; I’ve been rather hard on Sarah Sutton’s acting in the past when the truth is she’s really not that bad (and certainly much better in the Big Finish recordings). Simultaneously it’s a nod to Davison’s tendency to introduce her (in ‘Arc of Infinity’, and a number of audio stories) as ‘Nyssa of Traken’. There’s a bit of a Tolkienesque vibe to this, echoing as it does certain parts of Lord of the Rings in which Aragorn introduces his bromies not as Legolas and Gimli the way normal people do, but as “Legolas Greenleaf of the Woodland Realm, and Gimli son of Gloin”. Or something like that.
11. Barbara Wright (24 points)
Good old Jacqueline Hill. You could always rely on her, except when she got poisoned in ‘Planet of Giants’ and started being generally stupid. Still, it takes a supreme effort to abandon a name that would have netted you 31 points (the J and the Q take the lion’s share) in order to play a character worth a measly 24. Not that travelling with the Doctor is without its merits: at the end of Hunters of the Burning Stone, Barbara and Ian get married, which (assuming convention applies) makes her Barbara Chesterton (26 points) or Barbara Chesterton-Wright (Twitter meltdown). Well, David Whitaker always thought they should pair up.
10. Jamie McCrimmon (24 points)
Oh, Frazer. I’m so, so sorry. You’d have got another six points if it hadn’t been for the stupid Scrabble set and its criminal lack of M’s. I can’t even talk about this anymore, I’m too upset.
(Edit: it’s just been pointed out to me that I’ve spelled McCrimmon wrong. Oops. In my defence, we were watching The Lion King and it was the wildebeest stampede.)
9. Ben Jackson (25 points)
I’ve been dithering about this. On the one hand I really felt that I ought to have added ‘Able Seaman’, which is Ben’s full title (something that turns up again later). On the other hand I think he’s doing quite well on his own, and it’s not as if Michael Craze (Mayherestinpeace) is here to argue.
8. Grace Holloway (25 points)
Single story, multiple points. I’m now dithering as to whether she ought to be ‘Dr Grace Holloway’, which is better, or even ‘Doctor Grace Holloway’, which is better still. You decide. (I’m still not sure that blouse really goes with Daphne Ashbrook’s hair, but perhaps it’s the TARDIS lighting.)
7. Vicki Pallister (25 points)
Just try and ignore the fact that Vicki looks like a jester in this photo and the fact that my Scrabble picture is out of focus. And mourn, instead, that she spells her name with an ‘I’ instead of a ‘Y’.
(Edit: Gareth pointed out that, as far as we’re aware, Vicki’s surname is also only ever mentioned in spin-off material, which decreases her score dramatically. Oh well. The poor girl often gets overlooked.)
6. Mickey Smith (27 points)
In the olden days of New Who, Mickey was someone I loved to hate. By the end of ‘Doomsday’, he’d grown almost bearable. When he turned up at the beginning of ‘Journey’s End’, I cheered. I’m almost pleased that he’s ranked as high as he has. Almost, but not quite.
5. Tegan Jovanka (27 points)
Mouth on legs, but very nice legs. Plus she’s nicked the ‘J’ and the ‘K’, which does her nicely. “A broken scoreboard keeps better score than you!” Or something like that.
4. Perpugillliam Brown / Peri (29 points)
Peri (who did not regrow her hair or marry Brian Blessed and who DIED ON THAT OPERATING TABLE) always considered her name something of a millstone, but it’s enough to catapult her all the way up the leaderboard from 27th to 5th. It’s enough to make you want to take your shoes off and throw them in a lake.
3. Sarah Jane Smith (29 points)
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love Sarah Jane? Actually it turns out there is, as we found out recently when someone in a Facebook group to which I belong started a thread talking about the fact that they didn’t like Sarah Jane Smith and did anyone else feel the same way? I think you can probably guess the answer to that one. Here she is in a rare moment of non-hypnosis.
2. Victoria Waterfield (30 points)
I like to picture Victoria, sitting in her cosy home, not exactly repatriated, playing board games and enjoying the quiet life. I don’t think she was ever really comfortable in the TARDIS, which is a shame because she and Jamie are really quite lovely together. Almost lovely enough to grant her the top spot – but not quite, because that goes to…
1. Captain Jack Harkness (38 points)
You’re not happy, are you? Well, tough. He’s Captain Jack Harkness. That’s what we call him, in the absence of an actual name. You can call him the Face of Boe if you want. But I happen to be very fond of Jack, and if his ranking is a little controversial, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Go and stand on a rooftop for a little while; it usually works for him.
So there you are. It’s definitive and if you’ve got to the end of this three-thousand word missive without skim-reading then frankly I admire your persistence. We need to stop now. “Enough is enough,” I said to Gareth, when he pointed out (correctly) that Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was far more of a companion than many others on the list. “If I go down this road I’ll be here all evening. Besides, I’ve put the Scrabble board away.”
Whereupon Emily put her head round the door of the study and pointed out that they’d all have been disqualified anyway, as they’re all proper nouns. Bollocks.