The second volume of Missy’s own audio adventures is one of those Doctor Who releases that captures wider attention and ends up being discussed feverishly among the fanbase on social media very shortly after release.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the creative zang of the first Missy boxset from Big Finish, this only increased anticipation to here the second, and the story that had got everyone talking: The Lumiat. We’re not going to spoil the revelation here – if you’re that desperate, listen to the set yourself and/or turn to Google. Needless to say, it’s important in the Doctor Who mythos.
Now it’s clear from this episode what the story it’s trying to tell is, and the boxset opener does put its cards on the table at the end of the first act. But then it plays those cards mostly for comedy in a story where a groundbreaking plot point – the one being talked about not only by fans online but also the press – goes to waste.
The first sticking point of this story is a throughly useless side-character called Bertram, who is acting as Missy’s companion purely as a vessel for the titlular character to deliver a substantial amount of exposition. He’s annoying to listen to, and annoying for Missy to be around, so you really wonder why she doesn’t just kill him off at the first opportunity.
The Lumiat, played by Spooks icon Gina McKee, makes her first appearance early in the story but is kept apart from Missy by the staccato nature of the first act. Even in the second, the story plays like a compilation of scenes to speed through as quickly as possible and to fill with as many funny lines for Michelle Gomez before a dramatic set-up is established in the final act.
McKee’s portrayal of the Lumiat, presented as the epitomy of niceness, has a brilliantly unsettling and slightly sinister edge even in the first two acts. While Missy wears her sarcasm on her sleeve, and the writers very much enjoy that, every statement this character makes has a second meaning hiding just under the surface.
But once the Lumiat and Missy are together, they just… get on with each other. The friction, which is the source of drama in this story, is saved until late on and that seems an odd choice for a character that’s introduced to make Missy and the listener question their very being.
However, the Lumiat does have some brilliant takes on Missy and the dynamics she has with other characters, including her previous incarnations, but it may be a production-based issue with the two actors not recording in the same room as Missy responds with minimal fuss for much of the duration.
The final act drops the comedy, and gives these two actors some really, really good set-ups to play in. Gomez brings her A-game – she always flourishes when the script gives her more range – and McKee matches that in a role that she’s only been inhabiting for 40 minutes.
While this story was written prior to Missy’s last television appearance, its big reveal does potentially answer questions from those serials – hence this audio story making the news. Here’s one clue: ‘temporal tourniquet’.
Where episode one missed its shots by leaning too much on the comedy, the next three stories balance the drama with the one-liners far better. In fact, from the off in Brimstone and Terror, it is clear that Missy is being written as a complex character rather than a humorous vessel.
The music is much more prominent in this Victorian-based tale, which lends itself to better worldbuilding too. It also features the return of characters from the first boxset, and a certain Sontaran butler, that makes this feel all the more like a ‘typical’ Missy tale. Which says a lot about how this audio range has already built up its own recognisable tone.
Strax’s involvement, if a little questionable at first, works very well and forms a core cast who feel like a well-known team already. Missy gets to play headmistress in this story too, which mirrors the Twelfth Doctor’s years of university lecturing, and tells you everything you wouldn’t want to know if you’re a parent sending your child to her school. It’s a well paced story until the very end, where it abruptly comes to a close.
Story three is Treason and Plot, a time traveller’s guide to the Gunpowder Plot. Missy’s inclusion in such a historically famous event can only mean trouble. Throwing Missy back even further in history means she has to face up to the hardships of being a woman during that time (she unfortunately can’t kill everyone to achieve her goals), and Gomez revels in talking to everyday Stuart folk.
Getting a wide array of supporting cast members, whose accents have a historical significance explained in the behind the scenes interviews, makes this story properly immersive and makes the meshing of the historical plot with the time agent-led science fiction plot near seamless.
The caution of an inexperienced time agent versus the reckless knows-it-all style of Missy is a great contrast to see in the field, but she doesn’t get to reflect on the success of her trip as she teleported straight into the next story Too Many Masters.
Rufus Hound’s incarnation of The Monk ended up marrying Missy in her first Big Finish series (we have confirmation it was not consummated in this story), and somehow their relationship gets even crazier in this boxset-closing tale. The Monk’s gloating is predictable, Missy’s nefarious do-badding similarly so, but the real familiar ground this story treads on is plotlines from the Third Doctor’s television tenure and the intergalactic role of Ogrons.
Missy has to confront her devious and bearded past in confrontation with these hairy humanoids, led by a female member of the species on this occasion. It’s a multi-generational grudge that the Ogrons have taken to their former employer, with compound interest applied, and this simple and funny tale – which harks back to Pertwee-era telly in its format too – is a far stronger character piece than The Lumiat. Also, the Monk is suspiciously grounded in 20th century British culture and the popularity of Stevenage town.
The fourth wall breaking here is just as effective as it was in the first boxset, and makes it funnier, and writer John Dorney does a good job of a task Hound points out as being very difficult in the behind-the-scenes interviews: you need to be very clever to keep two Time Lord renegades with slippery morals together for a whole story and actually working towards a common goal.