I’ve had my necessary 48 hour cooling period after watching a Doctor Who episode, by which time I am able to give a calmer reflection on proceedings! Rather predictably, fandom has split right down the middle on The Magician’s Apprentice – many fans euphoric after that opening bombshell and so many different references and plot twists; others despairing of what Steve Moffat has done with their show (lest we be lulled into forgetting that there is an eternal Doctor Who audience to be appeased).
I’m reserving judgement on the story until I see the 2nd part … or to be more exact, I will allow for the possibility that my initially harsh judgement might soften in light of The Witch’s Familiar. But I will briefly extemporise on fandom’s latest love-affair – the inestimable Michelle Gomez as Missy. A lot of fans love her, and she certainly carries a commanding presence. Pitched as a new character, I would probably admire her. Pitched as the Master …
Ay, there’s the rub …
Tying words that I never thought I’d find myself typing, I’m getting over the gender-change regeneration aspect (while not at all feeling happy with the socio-liberal agenda being pushed in the background … I might be in a minority on that one). I’m still not persuaded that gender changes can work and maintain character continuity, simply because gender is such a big part of character, personality and identity – but put someone like Dame Maggie Smith as the Doctor and I’d be willing to be proven wrong.
So why isn’t Missy working? I suspect it isn’t actually Gomez herself, or the way she realises the Character … I suspect it’s the material she’s been given to work with. The crazy ‘killing people for the fun of it’ psycho-lady just doesn’t work for me. There was a pertinent remark by Geoffrey Beevers (derelict of former companion Caroline John, and one of the lesser known actors to portray the Master) in the extras for the Keeper of Traken DVD. When he portrayed the decayed Master, he noticed that he and the former actor to portray this version of the Master, Peter Pratt, where much more nakedly evil and malicious in their realisation of the character. In contrast, Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley with their suave looks were able to use charm and guile, and only needed to resort to brute force where necessary.
So arguably the problem isn’t Missy – the radical change with Master becoming Mistress has highlighted a change that had already occured with John Simm – the conscious choice to portray the Master as an insane psychopath. While this may be true of his character, I think it misses the fundamental point that his psychotic insanity was very much an iron fist in a velvet glove – witness Delgado’s Master in Terror of the Autons ALMOST allowing his temper to snap when Farrell Sr resists his hypnosis – you see in that instant the supressed fury that is now displayed open, but it is hidden at once beneath the iron self-control of the Master.
So my plea … please give Michelle Gomez a chance! Allow her to be the cold, calculating, controlling Master that Derek Jakobi surely would have been, and that John Simm never got the chance to be.