Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Who the hell is Missy?

This is a Doctor Who post. You don't have to read it if you don't want to, but I encourage it regardless.

God damn it, here we go again. Let's get on with another angry post about Doctor Who.

 The Master is an old character, stretching back well into the classic series. Despite this, he's always had a character, like the Doctor has always had a character. Different actors have still maintained a cohesive idea of who the Master is.

John Simm and Russel T. Davies took the Master and amped up all his craziness and all his insanity to 11. It was risky, but it paid off brilliantly. John Simm's Master was everything that the Master should be, and he set the tone of the character from there on.

Well, at least he should have.

Steven Moffat introduced a new actor to play the Master. This actor was Michelle Gomez. Honestly, I think that it was very risky to choose any female actor to play the Master. The first reason for this is Steven Moffat's horrific track record with writing female characters.

Steven Moffat frequently attempts the "strong woman" archetype. I have no problems with this, but he does it lacking so much nuance that it just makes the character rude, blunt and annoying. I was discussing this with a friend a few days ago, and he brought up Ellen Ripley from the movie Alien as a good example of a strong female character. She didn't crack under the pressure of being stalked by a Xenomorph, but she didn't totally stonewall the opposition. She didn't insist on adding "quips" and one-liners which serve only to undermine the story being told.

The second reason for this is that the Master has always had a character practically defined by masculine norms. I'm not saying it's impossible for a female character to play the Master, but it's more difficult to pull off either the cold, calculated character of the first Master as well as the completely insane rendition of the Master played by John Simm.

I could go on a tangent here about how characters and art in general are received in light of their cultural and social context and how inequality in perception of women has affected all of this, but I'll spare you that and just head directly to my point. Also, from here on I'll be using the term "the Master" to refer to John Simm's performance in particular.

Missy is not the Master. Missy has none of the character traits of the Master. Her brand of insanity is markedly different from the Master's. The Master's insanity was manic and spurious. There are a hundred shots of the Master laughing just between The Sound of Drums and The End of Time, because that is who the Master is and has been defined as- manic.

Missy's brand of insanity is considerably more calculated. You could argue that it's whimsical but it's far too reserved to be called "manic". Missy's character is defined by her candidly sadistic attitude.

The Master is a great character because of his insanity. He wasn't like the Daleks who filled the role of the "abject hatred" enemy. The Master was an incredibly emotional opposition to the Doctor. Art works best when it invokes an emotion, and the Master was the perfect character to do just that.


Though the Master only appeared for a total of 2 stories, he often invokes more emotion in the audience than the Daleks. Remember the time the Master was the president and ordered decimation of the world while playing Rogue Traders - Voodoo Child? Do you remember the time when the Doctor was demanding that the Master regenerates, but he refused out of spite? Do you remember when the Master shot at the Doctor but embraced him when he fell over, shortly before dropping him again?

There are countless more of these scenes, and all of them are memorable. This is because the Master has a place in the show which no other character does. He is the Doctor's best friend and the Doctor's worst enemy.

Unfortunately, Missy telling the Doctor "I am your friend" doesn't amount to character building. That amounts to a vague understanding of the character but a total failure to apply that understanding to the writing.

Missy is fine as a character. I don't believe she is a bad character, because she is often written consistently. However, she is not the Master. Her character is an evil Mary Poppins while the Master is an unhinged maniac.

The scene that really spurred me to write this was in the episode "Extremis". In this episode, Missy begs the Doctor to let her live. Not only does this raise peculiar implications of the Doctor's authority over her execution, but it is very uncharacteristic of the Master. Remember when he refused to regenerate after being shot just to spite the Doctor? Why is she willing to beg for her life now, knowing full well that she would have to spend one thousand years quite literally imprisoned by the Doctor?

Missy's entire character sums up Steven Moffat's writing in general. While I'm sure that he is good at writing something, he's not good at writing Doctor Who(or female characters, for that matter). Maybe he should go back to Sherlock.

Either way, thanks for reading. Stay tuned for some more stuff, potentially Doctor Who related or otherwise.

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