Missy: Behind the Madness
Guest contributor Oliver Wilde explores what makes the Master tick.
I recently wrote an article entitled ‘Davros: Monster or Hero?’ that was intended to explore the dubious morality of the Dalek’s creator and inspire some debate among readers. Since its publication I’ve been compelled to write a follow-up, this time exploring the complex psychology of the Doctor’s other arch nemesis: The Master. More specifically, the current incarnation, who prefers to go abbreviate her name to ‘Missy’, and (presumably) the Master’s first female form.
Just like my previous article, I was inspired to write this based on a quote from ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, this time uttered by Missy during the café scene in Tenerife. After Clara enquires into the possibility of their being any love shared between the Doctor and the Master, Missy’s response greatly intrigued me…
“Oh, don’t be disgusting! We’re Time Lords, not animals. Try, nano-brain, to rise above the reproductive frenzy of your noisy little food chain and contemplate friendship. Friendship far older than your cilivisation and…infinitely more complex.”
As you can probably tell, I have a thing for villain psychology. Villains have always fascinated me, specifically their motivations and moral stances, and so I wanted to apply that same fascination to the current version of the Master. I should begin by clarifying that Derek Jacobi and John Simm were my first proper introductions to the Master, but what really interested me about this character wasn’t the madness, but the Time Lord behind the madness. There was a deep bond between David Tennant’s Doctor and John Simm’s Master, something that bore similarity to love, as both were the last of their kind and seemed to rely on each other’s very existence.
With Missy, Steven Moffat has decided to expand on Russell Davies’ brilliant reinvention, and explore the centuries old ‘friendship’ shared between the Doctor and his nemesis. Missy was evidently inspired by Simm’s portrayal (just as much of Moffat’s current work is RTD- inspired), and there is a similarly deep bond between Capaldi and Gomez’s portrayals, which I wanted to discuss.
From my perspective, everything about Missy’s behaviour (literally everything) can be linked to her obsession with the Doctor. More so than any other incarnation of the Master, Missy is seriously Doctor-obsessed, and the more I think about it the more obvious it becomes. The first time we meet Missy is at the end of Peter Capaldi’s debut episode, ‘Deep Breath’, and her very first few lines of dialogue involve complimenting the Doctor’s new Scottish accent, and to refer to him as ‘my boyfriend.’ She then changes her accent from the cut-glass English accent she initially uses to match the Doctor’s Scottish brogue, an obvious sign of an obsessive personality. Missy’s behavior might even be described by some as fangirl-ish. I have a personal theory that after the Master (presumably) regenerated into his female form, she created the idea of an evil Mary Poppins, the kind of character who would fascinate and intrigue the Doctor, and decided to embody that idea. To me, Missy is just an invention of the Master’s, just as the Doctor is an invention of our titular hero. They’re both ideas that these two Time Lords have created, and both are now living out their childhood fantasies.
When Missy described their friendship as ‘infinitely more complex’, I started to ponder the nature of the Doctor and the Master’s relationship in more detail, and came to the conclusion that they’re friendship might best be likened to a game of chess. Except their chessboard happens to be the whole of time and space, and rather than being mortal enemies, the Doctor and Missy are more like opponents. The Doctor vs. Missy is a game of ideologies, much like Batman and the Joker. Both of these ideologies, as far as I can tell, revolve around the human race. Both the Doctor and the Master were raised to believe that they are superior to other races, as befitting of a society that is arrogant enough to actually call themselves ‘Time Lords.’ Let us not forget, President Rassilon’s first message to the human race in ‘The End of Time’ was “On your knees, mankind!” That same arrogance prevails in the Doctor (one of the reasons I am so fond of both the Third and the Tenth Doctor’s, two of my favourites, is that they actually display that Time Lord authority) to some degree, but much more so in the Master. Missy continues to embody that Time Lord sense of superiority, and regularly expresses her disgust at our very existence, effectively comparing us to nothing more than animals. In the Series 3 finale, the Master tortures the entire human race for a whole year just to enact personal vengeance against the Doctor. Humanity always seems to gets in the path of the Doctor and Missy’s bickering, and I find it interesting how all of the Master’s plans involve the suffering of humanity just to spite the Doctor.
Another line that is quite revealing is when Missy compares the role of the Doctor’s companion to a puppy dog. To Missy (and quite possibly to the Doctor as well) Clara is a very loyal pet. To kill the Doctor’s pet, as enjoyable as that would be, would probably upset the Doctor for a while. So I imagine in Missy’s mind, it would better serve her interests to let Clara live…for now. Kill her off when the time is right, or something along those lines. Once again, Clara’s very survival is a product of Missy’s obsession with the Doctor (not forgetting that Missy ‘chose’ Clara just to manipulate the Doctor’s actions.) “I’ve bought you a new cocker spaniel, Doctor. We’ll have to euthanise it eventually, but for the time being you can keep it.” She wasn’t kidding when she said their friendship was complex. The Missy/Doctor/Clara dynamic is basically a very, very strange family, like an old married couple (who aren’t really married or in love) and a self-righteous pet in the form of Clara, with both Missy and Clara competing for the Doctor’s attentions and affections.
But what about the more affectionate side to Missy? The one that wants to stop bickering and just be friends again? That side of the Master was first hinted at in ‘The End of Time Part Two’, and expanded on in ‘Death in Heaven.’ When the Tenth Doctor said, “You could be so much more. You could be beautiful”, he was clearly telling the truth, and there was a look in the Master’s eye that verified that there was more to this man than just the murderous lunatic we see on the outside. After sacrificing himself to save the Doctor’s life (a very noble action, it must be said) and being sucked back into the Time War, the Master later returned as Missy, and more Doctor-obsessed than ever. Consider the fact that Missy’s entire plan in Series 8 culminated in giving the Doctor a present. The Nethersphere, 3W, the Cybermen, all of it was created for the sole intention of giving the Doctor an army, just so Missy could prove that they were similar people deep down. In effect, the Cyber-army was a ‘getting back together’ gift, but only in Missy’s twisted mind would such an action make any sense.
By proving that the two of them were both murderous lunatics, Missy hoped to regain a more traditional friendship with the Doctor, and she even expressed a desire to accompany the Doctor back home to Gallifrey when she said, “We could go together.” Not romantic, but Missy undeniably needs to be close to the Doctor, which continues to reveal more and more about this incarnation’s mindset. She even gets down on her knees at once point, practically begging, “I need my friend back!” The Doctor responds with a kiss, not sexually charged in any way, but an act of pure affection, which Missy accepts, almost submissively. There’s a sense of equality to these two, and their relationship is totally unlike any other hero/villain rivalry I’ve seen. They’re both bonded by the desire to be close to one another, with the Doctor desperate to rehabilitate and ‘heal’ the Master (very much in-character), and the Master desperate to corrupt the Doctor and put aside their differences once and for all.
One thing that cannot be ignored is Missy’s desire to either take charge of the universe or watch it burn (probably both at the same time), such as her request to team up with the Daleks: “You could burn it all forever!” Is her obsession with the Doctor the only sign of an actual soul that Missy possesses? Is she just a remorseless sadist whose only need in life is her childhood friend? Is Missy just an act that the Master manages to maintain just for fun? It’s not easy to understand a mentality that doesn’t conform to any reasonable or rational thought process, and so applying traditional logic doesn’t really work in this instance, but it’s very interesting to contemplate. As Alfred said in ‘The Dark Knight’, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Whether or not Missy is just one of those people, or if there is something more to her motivations, we’ll never know for certain. Nonetheless, Missy’s obsession (or possible infatuation) with the Doctor tells us a lot about the Master in general, and it’ll be interesting to see where this obsession will lead our beloved and bonkers Missy.
Thank you for reading.