I think over the course of his six years running the show; Steven Moffat began to grow some dislike from fans towards the end of his tenure. In part due to his impenetrable series arcs and open writing that made his fetishes very apparent, in fact I am certain that the saying ‘Control yourself Moffat’ became popular whenever his episodes were aired on TV. However one of the main topics of his era which you can either see as polarising or popular, depending on your opinion of his era, is the character of Missy. One part capable villain, one part ruined beloved character.
When his era ended however the BBC didn’t just throw her onto the pile of old merchandising that lost their popularity like the weeping angels’ or the paradigm Daleks instead handing her over to competent writers that could strike a good balance between a new anti-hero and a genuinely insane, capable villain. Some of the writers who were brought on have worked on some highly successful Doctor Who products in the past and are amongst some of my favourites when it comes to spin off media including James Goss who wrote the fantastic Big Finish audio Death and the Queen which I highly recommend. So when the book was announced I was very excited as I felt that the character of Missy had been done a massive disservice on screen.
by James Goss
The first story is called Dismemberment which is supposedly set after John Simm’s regeneration following a confrontation with the Time Lords at the End of Time. Its small pieces like that that make me wonder when this story was written as Simm supposedly survived the end of time and returned to Gallifrey. But even if this is set after the Doctor Falls this is still an exceptional story which is on par with the next story for the best in the collection. It’s a very small scale story which takes advantage of time travel in a way I’m surprised doesn’t happen more often. The basic plot is that Missy, having just regenerated, goes to her regular pub which she has visited after every one of her regenerations in which she would share her plans of universal domination before being stopped by the Doctor soon after. The only issue with this is that the pub is white male’s only, rich business men who revel in diabolical schemes which mean that they naturally love the Master. But following her first gender change regeneration; the Master, which she continues to be called until the end of this story, is swiftly thrown out by the members due to her drastic change causing her to plot revenge almost immediately. The brilliance of this story is that you know the Master is going to win and the villains are going to get their comeuppance but you don’t know how and it is genuinely interesting to see the cogs turn and lead towards the final act where she kills off each member of the club before pulling out all the stops to do the clubs owner. And what the Master does to each of the pubs owners is diabolical even by a psychotic Time Lords’ standards. Each time you turn the page you keep expecting this to be the final thing she does in which they will slowly die but then she reveals something even more after you turn the page again leading towards a fantastic final image. Missy is sat resting her feet on a paralysed man’s face which she plans to use as a new rug and enjoys the moment in front of a crackling fire and wonders about the afterlife. If I were to have one criticism of this story it’s that the final note is just making sure you know that this was meant to be a prequel to the highly disappointing series 8 finale. But I can get past that as this story shows without fail that Missy is a terrifying and capable villain who is so much more than the boring story obstacle that Moffat made her.
Lords and Masters
by Cavan Scott
The second story plays out like a typical Doctor Who story with the Master at the helm. We get a good look at the Master’s TARDIS which up until Spyfall was the only time this was seen in a new who product. The Master even gets a one-time companion reminding me of some of some of the companions that David Tennant was lumbered with in 2009. The character works for the Time Lords in a similar way to the way to the second Doctor did in the season 6b stories. Although this is due to her lacking any form of regeneration as she has a neurological disorder. My criticism with this is that I thought regeneration was bestowed to Time Lords rather than something they were born with, although to be fair this would make more sense and was really just a one off to get the story to the conclusion which again just like the last story shows how evil Missy can be when she is not in the grasp of Moffat’s poisonous series arcs. The story sees Missy investigate the dangerous time experiments being conducted by an alien scientist. As it is the only way she can get hold of her TARDIS again. Missy reluctantly agrees to stop the experiments on behalf of the Time Lords who stopped her TARDIS from being able to fly. The plot itself is interesting yet the backdrop to some really great character work. It has such great moments like the two of them coming to a locked door which could easily be opened by Missy’s sonic umbrella only for her to think that this is too easy; setting off alarms instead and severing off one of the guards hands. The story is also really good at making its final twist more surprising as it slowly develops Missy as a character and her relationship to this one time companion. The story is also not afraid to hold back, having some genuinely dark ideas and concepts which would and should never be seen on the main TV series. My biggest criticism with this story is that it puts things in place in order to make it work like the Time Lords having escaped the bubble universe or certain Time Lords not being able to regenerate. These things don’t anger me and could be entirely possible but the way that they are so sporadically placed makes me able to see what the writer is trying to do. The story is still fantastic overall with some fantastic ideas, characters and themes.
Teddy Sparkles Must Die
by Paul Magrs
That title should tell you everything about this story really. Basically this story sees Missy become a nanny in Victorian London going back to her Mary Poppins roots. I was really looking forward to this story the first time as I loved Missy’s scary Victorian nanny look and seeing her in a setting which is the basis for some of my favourite Doctor Who stories. But this story just failed to deliver for me. In fact before I wrote this review this was the only story I skipped when reading the book the first time and the only reason I went back was for this review. The story isn’t completely bad there are some nice characters moments with Missy and the children she is looking after as well as some darkly comedic moments that come with the conclusion of the story. But my biggest problem isn’t even the talking bear it’s the fact that the story isn’t properly thought out. The basic plot is Missy raising three children in Victorian London making sure that they come across her wish granting talking bear so she can manipulate them into asking for wishes that mean they will grow up to have jobs that control the worlds source of chemicals and nuclear weapons meaning she can return years later and use their power to take over the Earth. That idea sounds good in a similar way to how the first story meddled with time but it is just not subtle in any way shape or form with this idea. First off there is no reason that Missy would choose these children and if she did wouldn’t she want to get on their good side so when she returns in forty years they may actually consider giving her the thing she wants. The story is also glaringly unsubtle with that as it is so determined to make sure that you know what is actually happening in the story meaning that when Missy returns to claim what she wants from the children she outright says she has come to take over the world. It’s just a shame because when I returned to read this story I expected something dreadful but for the most part this is a fun story with a vivid and whimsical atmosphere. But I couldn’t enjoy that as much as I could because of the writer’s blatant paranoia that I was going to misunderstand the story.
The Liar, the Glitch and the Warzone
by Peter Anghelides
This story was a mixed bag for me. I love the idea of Missy going on the run but crash landing on Earth, creating a hole in time that she has to seal up. However unlike the last story this one is completely unwilling to explain what is happening instead trying to get everything done at once shoving in as many darkly comedic moments and references to previous ideas like obscure lore such as the Master’s daughter or even a brief cameo of the thirteenth Doctor which is well played yes but doesn’t add or change anything about the story. Unlike the previous one I have very few good things to say about this as instead of relying on atmosphere and character it tries it’s very hardest to detail the visuals on paper while also navigating a complex time travel plot. It’s similar to the series 6 Moffat arc in which the attempt and ambition is highly respectable and interesting but there was just too much reliance on people paying attention to the smallest and most unimportant of details. Other than its ambition and thirteenth Doctor cameo and the obvious great moments with Missy this story is a dud. I would elaborate but all the story is is running around shouting exposition or being deliberately cruel just to show that Missy isn’t the Doctor. It doesn’t fall into the hole that most Missy stories in the TV series do where it is genuinely difficult to pin down why she is so different to the Doctor I find this would happen a few times and this story out of all six is the one that came the closest as her plan is something that has very little opportunity for some darker moments. I don’t hate this story but it is the weakest in the collection.
by Jaqueline Rayner
After the story by James Goss this was the story I was most excited for. It was written by Jacqueline Rayner who has written countless Doctor Who books; several of which are some of the ones I read growing up when even David Tennant was the Doctor. And to be completely fair this is a very solid story. It’s nice to see some of the great chemistry between the twelfth Doctor, who makes a few appearances in this story, and Missy while he was guarding her in the vault. Nardole also appears a few times throughout the story mainly just for what he did in the Christmas specials in which he would make funny quips but I’m still glad he’s here. The story doesn’t have a plot other than Missy assembling an army of women throughout history but even then that’s just a set up for comedic interactions. Everything is done through texts and emails meaning that it is entirely driven by dialogue with no overly written imagery or settings. And it was nostalgic for me to revisit an era now completely finished which I had grown to heavily dislike over the course of it but I still really enjoyed going back and after around 5 pages I forgot I ever didn’t like this era. The story isn’t perfect however; I’m not a massive fan of the text format but Jacqueline Rayner does a great job writing this dialogue and these characters and you can just tell how much fun she is having doing so. My only major criticism is that the plot does get a bit too silly. The idea of Missy gathering a group of women across history sounds good but after a while becomes somewhat tedious making the story a slog to get through until the final pages which deliver a fun, warm and brilliantly humorous twist.
Alit In Underland
by Richard Dinnick
The final story in this collection attempts to bring the set of stories to a series finale style conclusion acting as a showcase for Missy’s development from psychotic Mary Poppins to a morally ambiguous grandmotherly figure. And it does a good job of doing this as it tells the story from the eyes of a young child joining Missy and John Simm’s Master on a descent down to the bottom of a ship, the narration of the girl who gives each character or monster they meet a playful name really lends this story a dark fairy tale vibe which defined the early Moffat era. The use of both narrative devices really does show how much Missy has changed, for better or for worse and the mixture of body horror cybermen and Missy and Alit’s grandmother/granddaughter relationship. The entire narrative is set during the events of the Doctor Falls in which the Doctor and Bill were still unconscious but manages to be a story in its own right. Another thing I like is the relationship between the Master and Missy which in this is given so much more of an opportunity to develop and have fun instead of just fancying each other. In fact they are so fun that the way they speak to each other reminds me of some of the double acts that Robert Holmes, still the best Doctor Who writer of all time, would often write into his scripts. My only criticism is that the story just names the made up sci-fi areas of the ship that they go to and the writer just expects you to be able to know what he is talking about. This leads to some moments where I struggle to picture what the characters are doing as there are different bits of description that mean what I originally thought was wrong and had to go back and read again to see how it really played out. But other than that this story is a great bit of writing that delivers a more satisfying conclusion to Missy’s arc than three years of double entendres did on the TV series.
Overall this is a really interesting read. From what I have heard not every story is highly praised but it does reward people who commit to reading the entire thing and to be honest returning to the book after nearly two years made me really appreciate the character of Missy more. I was harsh with some of these stories but that’s only because I know how great some of these writers can be and their mistakes were often easily avoidable. It isn’t the best Doctor Who book nor does it contain the best Master stories but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t up there with the best of them.