The following column addresses the most recent episode of Doctor Who and may contain SPOILERS for anyone not caught up.
An evil female counterpart to a time-traveling hero. That may not have been such a great idea 22 years ago (wow, it’s been that long since Quantum Leap leapt off the air?), but for Doctor Who it’s one of the few things that’s kept the show great in the new era of the 12th Doctor. Not that I’m one of the Peter Capaldi incarnation haters, but his first season had its ups and downs (see my recaps here) and I wasn’t terribly excited for this fall’s return except for the promise that Michelle Gomez would be returning as the evil female counterpart to the eponymous time-traveling hero. Now that both of her known season nine episodes have aired, I want more. Of her, not necessarily the rest.
But that doesn’t mean I really need more of Missy, the woman-form of Doctor Who’s nemesis and fellow Time Lord, the Master (aka, now, the Mistress). As I stated in my write-up of last season’s finale, it’s a good thing to be left wanting more. The hint that she survived her supposed death made me assume the Master wasn’t gone for good, but I thought maybe that version was. And as much as I wanted more of that version, I wouldn’t have wanted the character overused. Well, that version did return, and instead of wearing out her welcome she made up for a very sloppy season premiere (“The Magician’s Apprentice”) before just plain killing it in the second episode, “The Witch’s Familiar.” Now what?
While the fate of the Master is up in the air again, we last saw her on this weekend’s episode claiming out loud to have a clever idea of how to avoid extermination by the Daleks. There’s a good chance the plan involves another regeneration, so no more Missy version. But that would be a disappointment to many fans, as well as to some of the players involved. While doing a Q&A through the official Doctor Who Twitter handle yesterday, Gomez was asked about doing a spinoff focused on her character, and she in turn asked back for fans to help make it happen. Two days earlier, Entertainment Weekly proposed, in an interview with Jenna Coleman, the idea of a spin-off focused on more of the pairing of her character, Clara, with Missy.
Those two as “partners” is the highlight of “The Witch’s Familiar” (and much of “The Magician’s Apprentice”), as the characters are far more enjoyable opposite each other than either is with the 12th Doctor. But a lot of that, for me, has to do with my general dislike of Clara. She isn’t exactly better opposite Missy, since she doesn’t get to be anything but a tool for the Time Lady, who ties her and hangs her up, tosses her into a hole, treats her like a canary in a coal mine, handcuffs her, uses her as bait, uses her as a Trojan Horse by tossing her into the shell of a Dalek and finally tries to get her mistakenly killed by the Doctor. Missy is hilarious – in her wit and her physical mannerisms, altogether perfect in their comic timing – the whole way through, but even as a straight foil in this buddy-cop dynamic Clara is kind of a bore up until her emotional pleas of mercy in Dalek voice.
As for a solo outing, how interesting would Missy be on her own? Sure, there’s something wickedly fun that could be written for her, at least in a miniseries. And I’m all for Gomez getting more work out of her success and popularity here. But with respect to the greatness of the character, she is nothing without the Doctor. As is typical of archenemies in fiction, The Master has always been nothing without the Doctor. She is the yin to his yang, though we should no longer consider her the “evil” counterpart, because as she points out in the last episode, everyone is a hybrid (that goes along with all of last season’s development of the Doctor, peaked with Missy’s prodding, as a character who isn’t purely good – a development echoed in a familiar line spoken by Davros (Julian Bleach) in “The Witch’s Familiar”). She shows that she can also play against others, here Clara and the Daleks, but it’s always in the aim of getting to play the Doctor.
Just as Missy wouldn’t work so well in a solo storyline, though, I also don’t think the Doctor is going to work so well without her. Sure, he has Clara, for the time being, but after Missy elevated what we expect from character dynamics at the end of last season and beginning of this one, the Doctor and Clara are by comparison a very bland duo. And the next two episodes look to be familiar Doctor Who material but nothing special. Fortunately we still have the two-part guest appearance of Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams to look forward to, but there’s no certainty she’ll be another savior for a series that is, itself, starting to feel worn out at times. And after she’s come and gone, who knows?
Thanks to its second episode, this season has kicked off at a level that will be hard to sustain if there aren’t more characters and performances as great as Gomez’s Missy, which can’t be very easily done. But as much as I love her, I hope Missy isn’t brought back, at least not a lot, just to fulfill us fans and make up for the show’s weaknesses. While it’s possible she could become a regular and be acceptable as such, there’s also a chance she could wind up the Urkel, or less annoyingly the Fonz, of Doctor Who.
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