Written by Amy North

Arts

Who’s Mastered by a Woman?

Series eight of Doctor Who has left fans with Missy, a female Master, and some Whovians are not happy. Amy North would like them to get a grip.

The Mistress

“New York, Paris, Rome, Marrakech, Brisbane, Glasgow … Everywhere, anywhere! Me and my boys, we’re going viral.”

Forget the dark cloud of “cyber pollen” that hovered over the finale of Doctor Who this Saturday, there was miasma of another variety hanging over the Who-niverse – The Master was still very much a woman, disappointing all those die-hards who had hoped last week’s big reveal was just a bad dream (or at least something reversible with a paradox manipulator).

And not any old woman; a demented, belligerently evil Mary Poppins with a nice line in one liners and a psychopath’s rationale for killing; in short Michelle Gomez’s turn as the Doctor’s childhood friend turned eternal foe was deliciously bonkers – and for my part, bang on the money.

For the uninitiated, The Master looked into the Time Vortex on the Time Lords’ home planet of Gallifrey and went quite, quite mad. He last appeared to us in the sinewy, unhinged form of John Simm trying to unravel David Tennant’s tenth time traveller and has been portrayed by a man since the show’s inception… until now.

Not that some of us didn’t see it coming; for once showrunner Steven Moffat played it straight by giving us Missy’s name at the beginning of season eight. ‘Missy, Mistress… the Master’: if it seemed too obvious to certain fans, the transformation caught Peter Capaldi’s lugubrious Doctor off guard – not to mention denizens of certain old school Who forums.

With much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there have been threats to abandon the show and the usual backlash towards Moffat. The Who boss – who is regularly bashed for writing unrealistic female characters – was suddenly branded a feminist and accused of laying the groundwork for a female Doctor, as if that would be a bad thing.

“It should’ve been the Rani,” the classicists cried, citing the very female scientist villain of yore, “The Master makes no sense as a woman.” But this is Doctor Who; it’s the story of a time-travelling alien who changes appearance instead of dying… as far back as series four of the classic Who, the Doctor revealed that Time Lords could flit from sex to sex. And as Gomez lasciviously reminded us in Saturday’s Death in Heaven, The Master is ‘bananas’. It’s exactly the kind of trick the twisted Time Lord would pull to entrap his chum from Gallifrey.

And for all the cries of pandering to the Feminists (maybe they could be a new foe for series nine?), Missy isn’t going to help the Moff improve his score on the Bechdel test: almost all of her interaction is with the Doctor, and she dispatches the two most laudable women surrounding the Doctor (Osgood and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart) in the first half the show. A nod to political correctness she is not; this Master/Mistress-stroke is about all out entertainment.

Gomez even plays her Missy as a direct incarnation of Simm’s insane, attention-seeking Master, and the homoerotic tension that simmered as he tussled with Tennant in The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords reached it’s obvious apogee – for me at least – when Capaldi kissed Gomez in Death in Heaven, whether the fan boys like to acknowledge it or not. These characters – by the very nature of their Time Lord beings – defy gender boundaries.

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Written by Amy North

Amy North has been an entertainment writer in London and Los Angeles for 15 years. While she’d like to think this has broadened her horizons, her main interests remain Doctor Who and dogs. She wishes she’d never seen the word Kardashian.