There are now two versions of the Master with their own box sets from Big Finish: Derek Jacobi’s quiet, cunning, deceptively charming War Master and Michelle Gomez’s nutter with a brolly, Missy. The fact they play the same character reaffirms my love for the sprawling mess of brilliance that is Doctor Who. I hope that they get to meet one day, and that Geoffrey Beevers and Alexander McQueen get their time in the spotlight. For now, Missy is in her own little world.
And what fun she will have.
A Spoonful of Mayhem by Roy Gill
Missy’s initial appearances fashioned her as Scary Poppins. She floated down to the ground holding up her umbrella like Julie Andrews, but with less menace. The opening story of the set capitalises on this with more than just a spoonful of Victorian shenanigans. Missy becomes the Mistress to a couple of children in need of an education. Unsurprisingly, she is not quite the influence that their father had hoped for. There is some lovely tongue in cheek dialogue about how ‘She can’t possibly take the place of the old Master’.
The story opens on a rooftop where Missy has a chat with a Dick Van Dyke type character. We learn that Missy is imprisoned in Victorian London and her incarcerators have told her to get a job to pass the time. There’s a reason she chooses to be a Nanny, but you’ll have to listen to find out why.
What follows is a fun romp through Victorian London with elements of Mary Poppins, The Phoenix and the Carpet, Five Children and IT, and other children’s urban fantasy. There’s a real joy in seeing (or hearing) Missy interact with the magic of this period. She is leading her young charges astray, prompting them to get into all sorts of mischief.
Charisma emanates from Michelle Gomez’s performance. It is so easy to imagine the looks of derision or scorn etched onto Missy’s face as Gomez delivers yet another putdown. You can’t help but get caught up in the thrilling her plans, not matter how evil.
Divorced Beheaded Regenerated by John Dorney
There are so many unhinged individuals with access to time travel in the Doctor Who universe that it’s a wonder that reality still exists. Every nutter with a plan to change history has the whole of time and space to run amok in, usually with disastrous consequences. One such individual is the Meddling Monk, a character first introduced in the First Doctor story. The Time Meddler, now played for Big Finish by Rufus Hound (The Woman Who Lived).
Pairing up the Master and the Monk is something that should have happened years ago. Alexander McQueen and Graham Garden would have been a delight together, but Gomez and Hound are just as exciting a prospect. In the behind the scenes interviews, John Dorney says that he has the privilege of being the first to hear these characters interacting (in his head) and I would agree that is a true privilege to listen. This story is a riot.
I imagine you could put Missy and the Monk in any setting and have fun. In this story, he is pretending to be King Henry VIII – which is as fun as you imagine it to be. This story is an out and out comedy in a set that shows off all sides of Michelle Gomez’s character. Here is a Missy in control and just having fun with the Monk who gets increasingly flustered by her. They continually try to one-up each another, neither really knowing what the other is up to.
Seeds of Missy’s overall plan are sewn in this story; she’s up to something, but you don’t find out exactly what until the very end of the series.
The Broken Clock by Nev Fountain
Every now and then, Big Finish get experimental, which I think is when they are at their best. A story based around a shlocky true crime TV show is a perfect fit for this delightfully OTT Time Lord. There may be a format to follow, but Missy is very much in control.
This could be the one time that Big Finish’s propensity for fairly iffy American accents works in their favour. Everyone in this story is dialled to eleven. It’s so aggressively noir and pulpy that you’ll be imagining it all in black and white.
From the voice over explaining what is happening in tedious detail, even when they already said it two minutes ago, to the inexplicable murders, that turn out to be very explicable: I was entertained throughout.
It’s nice to have a counter point to the War Master with Missy’s series having humour among the bloodshed. She gets to put on a daft English accent to play DI Missy Masters from Scotland Yard. I don’t think we’ve had a Master since Ainley who relished dressing up quite so much. Sometimes I think the Master comes up with ideas for costumes first and then works out the rest on the fly. It would certainly explain a lot.
The Belly of the Beast by Jonathan Morris
The final story in the set reminds you that this is still the character who destroyed Traken. A character who revels in the misery and death of others. The suffering of lesser beings is of little importance to her and she actually finds it quite fun.
The Belly of the Beast sees Missy as the tyrannical ruler of some sort of mine. She has an endless wave of slaves to keep on digging as their comrades die around them. It’s a bleak, terrible existence for the workers and Missy does not care a jot. Her reaction to finding out any number of the workers have died is simply to recruit some more, because slaves are cheaper than machines.
Like the War Master set, you may come out of this story no longer liking the character who’s been mostly harmless fun through the rest of the series, but I think that’s the point. You get caught up in the madness and forget about the horrors our main character is committing. You find out Missy’s reasons for involving herself in the previous stories and the ending sets up a brilliant future of horror for her.
And I think that’s brilliant…. Not the horrors, you understand, but the fact that we can be made to enjoy them.
Missy Series 1 is out now from Big Finish.