And Doctor Who’s Missy is… one more of Steven Moffat’s interchangeable women

Doctor Who Series 8

If like me you watch Doctor Who, you may have seen last night’s episode ‘Dark Water’, which revealed who series eight’s villain Missy (above) is. Actually, it revealed her back story – it was clear who she was the moment photos of Michelle Gomez in character emerged.

Missy, as fans have guessed all series, is River Song: a feisty, morally ambiguous adventuress and femme fatale with a murky past who flirts with everything and controls men through sexuality, boasting a hands-on relationship with the Doctor.


In this sense, of course, Missy and River are both Tasha Lem.

Doctor Who

And Tasha Lem – with the Doctor in lieu of Sherlock Holmes – is Irene Adler.


As of her most recent appearance, transformed into a pistol-toting, sex-on-the-brain siren since Steven Moffat can’t write actual women, Mary Morstan is the same character.


You might think to include Madame Kovarian here, who’s a close cousin of River and especially Missy, but in fact she’s a slightly different Moffat trope: the executive, a middle aged woman with no first name whose villainy is tied to her professional veneer.


Particularly in Kovarian’s guise, the executive still often appears dominatrix-like due to her seniority – lipstick, nail varnish, formfitting black business suit and (usually) skirt – but has no sexual relationship with the male hero, being a powerful woman in the workplace, thus colder and ‘bitchier’ than the adventuress: in other words, a ‘ball-breaker’. Generally she’s also less action-oriented, commanding soldiers rather than aiming a gun.

The executive’s earliest incarnation in Moffat’s work is probably Ms Utterson, leader of shady company Klein & Utterson in Jekyll (2007):


Ms Utterson; Madame Kovarian. If you’re sensing a theme, it continues with Miss Kizlet in ‘The Bells of Saint John’.


Miss Kizlet, for her part, regenerated into Ms Delphox for recent episode ‘Time Heist’.


Though her episode ‘The Great Game’ wasn’t Moffat-scripted, it’s notable another such woman – gallery owner Miss Wenceslas – appears in the first series of Sherlock.


Ms Utterson, Miss Wenceslas, Madame Kovarian, Miss Kizlet, Ms Delphox – Missy. An argument could be made Gomez’s character is more executive than adventuress (her sinister organisation 3W certainly supports this), but her flirting with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and willingness to murder in person leave her closer overall to River than anyone else.

River Song starts life, of course, as Melody Pond – a girl who encounters the Doctor as a prepubescent child, becomes obsessed with him, develops adult romantic feelings for him and ends up part companion, part love interest to the detriment of her own life.


She shares all this with Reinette Poisson, also known as Madame de Pompadour…


…with her mother Amelia Pond…


…and with Amy’s successor in the TARDIS Clara Oswald, as established in the prequel webisode to ‘The Bells of Saint John’.


Moving swiftly on because the less said the better…

Another of Jekyll‘s women, psychiatrist Kathryn Reimer, is a lab coat wearing scientific assistant to the series’ hero whose competence and knowledge are undermined by her fangirl crush on him.






To be fair, Jekyll does feature Meera Syal and Fenella Woolgar as a crimefighting interracial lesbian detective couple.




And Doctor Who’s Missy is… one more of Steven Moffat’s interchangeable women

28 thoughts on “And Doctor Who’s Missy is… one more of Steven Moffat’s interchangeable women

  1. 1

    Exactly! I mean, I thought it was cool that they brought back the Master as a woman. But does the Mistress have to be just like every Moffat mysterious woman/villain? Gimme some originality here, Moffat!

  2. 5

    [ **** Beware actual really for reals SPOILERS ****]


    One thing I do like about the Missy=Mistress=Master reveal is that now it is canon that a Time Lord can regenerate with a different sex. This should open up some interesting casting opportunities when Capaldi steps down.

    Now, if only we could have a female showrunner…

  3. 6

    There are a lot of writers who can only write a short list of stock characters. Frankly, Moffat doesn’t do much better with the male characters either. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is of course Moffat’s Sherlock. Ugh. And Danny Pink is Rory. Captain Jack, as written by Moffat, is… um… River Song again. Who is also, pretty much, Jane from Coupling. Clara is a better and different character, but *only when someone other than Moffat is writing her* — Moffat blatantly gets her *wrong*, in one of the clearest cases of “the actor knows better than the writer” that I’ve ever seen (and also a case of “the other writers know better than the showrunner”).

    Dammit, I bet we could find every single one of Moffat’s stock characters in Press Gang. 🙁

    The thing is, most of the “stock character” writers stick to writing potboiler novels. (Think Joe Francis, with his endless horse-racing mysteries, all alike.) Such writers do not generally step into a shared universe for long: maybe they do their tropes once or twice in it, and then move on.

    Moffat, unfortunately, is *still* showrunner after 5 years. This is far too long for a showrunner of Doctor Who — it is tied for second-longest, and the longest tried to quit after 4 years and wasn’t permitted due to weird BBC politics. When Moffat did all his tropes first time round, they were tolerably entertaining enough. 3 years later, I just don’t want to watch them again. Though Jenna Coleman continues to be brilliant (even while working against cynical and sloppy scripts).

  4. 9

    *sits back to watch if further commenters are caught in Alex’s trap*

    I can’t disagree with anything Nathanaelnerode said above. Moffat’s cookie cutter technique doesn’t stop with women, and he is overdue to relinquish the show-runner job. If (unlike Russell T Davies) he were to continue writing for Doctor Who after passing on the Exec. Producer baton to a successor, I think the quality of his output might also improve.

  5. 11

    Good, I’m glad I didn’t bother watching it. I got fed up with this series, with the waste of Peter Capaldi playing a one-note rude jerk, with Clara’s reflexive lying to Danny and the ridiculous stories and lousy writing general. I didn’t like the latest version of the Master anyway, and having him brought back like this is just eye-rolling (give me Roger Delgado any day, thanks).

  6. 12

 Missy isn’t River Song.”
    Yeah. The point was that she is effectively River Song, because she and River (and most of Moffat’s villainous women) are interchangeable. It was just awkwardly stated.

  7. 13

    As an aside — aside from the interchangeable women, I’m curious what watchers of the show have thought about the season so far? IMO, it’s been unusually all over the place.

    Here’s my ranking, in descending order of my fondness for them:


    Flatline: Excellent monster, and really showcased Clara on her own. The solution she came up with at the end also really worked for me. I like clever “use the bad guys’ powers against them” solutions.

    Time Heist: The setup was engaging, with the memory-erasing worm creating suspense. And who doesn’t like a good heist flick? The identity of the Architect was a bit predictable, but was set up well. The payoff at the end with rescuing the creature being the Doctor’s motivation was satisfying. Certainly some plot holes to it, though.

    Mummy on the Orient Express: One of the stories where the title alone should be enough. The monster seemed effectively creepy to me, and great setting and costumes.


    Robot of Sherwood: This one was redeemed for me by the charisma and enthusiasm of the actor playing Robin, and the speech at the end about the similarities between the two characters. Also, visiting earth history seems pretty rare in the last few seasons. Boring villains, though.

    Into the Dalek: It’s getting to be harder and harder to come up with an original Dalek story, since as villains they’re pretty one-dimensional. This one succeeded fairly well, I thought.

    Deep Breath: I always like the Victorian episodes. I thought the combination of the unstable Doctor and rather creepy bad guy worked, as well as the suspense in the scene where Clara is captured.

    The Caretaker: We don’t care that much about Danny Pink, so too much about him; the monster was also forgettable. The current Doctor’s irrational dislike of soldiers (remember UNIT?) is a little interesting, but only a tiny bit. The episode was rescued from the bottom category by the pre-credits bit of alternating dates and Tardis trips for Clara, though.


    Listen: The ending bit on Gallifrey and the speech about fear were ok, I guess. But a whole episode of Doctor Who that’s based around whether or not the creature even exists? And at the end of the episode, we don’t know any better than we did when we started? Ug.

    In the Forest of the Night: Talk about endings making no sense. This one made my head hurt. What, oxygen provides protection from flame? Everyone in the world just forgets this happened? Owww. Make it stop.

    Kill the Moon: Everything about this one felt bad, from the gravity increasing (ok, I realize it’s easier to throw in a line about this than it is to actually film the thing properly, but still) to the ridiculous monsters, to the groaner ending, this one felt most like the waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.

    I’ll leave off discussing Dark Water for now — we’ll see how it plays out. Missy’s plot seems a bit insanely overcomplicated, even for a Doctor villain, though.

    Let the flaming commence!

  8. 14

    We’ve only seen the last three – Flatliners was pretty good, Forest of the night was probably the worst episode I have seen, certainly of Doctor Who and possibly of any Sci fi series. Not only did it not make sense – why didn’t the trees destroy more than just Nelson’s column, where did they get the energy to grow overnight in the dark, where did the carbon dioxide to produce the extra oxygen come from, why would oxygen even have helped anyway, where did they all vanish to and probably others, but such a blatant deux ex machina removes ant sense of threat from the series – the enemy is about to destroy the planet and all life? Never mind, a bunch of trees might appear out of nowhere and defeat him

  9. 15

    Seriously, don’t state positively that it’s the worst until you’ve seen Kill the Moon. Not that I should really advise that — I don’t want to be responsible for any damages to heads and/or desks. Takes the “science” right out of “science fiction.”

  10. 16

    @13. I agree with most of that assessment, although I thought the Gallifrean ending for Listen was possibly the worst aspect of that episode. I liked dark water, and while Missy was a bit of a Moffat stock character, Gomez did act really well, ver reminscient of Sue White in Green Wing. All in all I think this series has been roughly on a par with series five, a big improvement on the past two years, but not up to the same standards as the RTD era. There hasn’t been a truly great episode since Vincent and the Doctor though.

    What do people here think would improve the show? Here’s a few ideas of my own:

    The stories of the classic series were nearly always at least four 25 minute episodes long, longer than a double bill now. Most of the best stories of the revived series have been two or three parters, something moffatt seems to be phasing out altogether. Hows about experimenting with a lineup of five two part episodes, and a three parter finale’?

    Bring back Romana. She was a great concept, It would be good to have an intellectual equal of the Doctor working alongside him. I don’t think she should come back as a companion though, perhaps she could be reintroduced, then star in a spinoff series working for UNIT, a sort of cross between Torchwood and the third doctor’s adventures.

    a master/missy-Davros alliance. The ultimate challenge for the Doctor! The interaction between those two could be fantastic, depending on who played them of course.

    Lastly, Gomez is the thirds Green Wing actor to star in Doctor who, is this an omen that my favourite choice for Capaldi’s successor, Julian Rhind-Tutt will be taking the reins?

  11. 17

    I was hoping for a bit there that Missy might be the Rani. That would have been a bit more surprising.

    I’m guessing they don’t want other Timelords other than the two adversaries running around to keep up the whole “Last of the Time Lords” deal.

  12. 18

    “To keep up the whole “Last of the Time Lords” deal.”… Well, I can’t understand why Moffat wants to keep that deal if he has already uncanoned it in “The day of the Doctor”…

  13. 22

    Might be wandering a bit from the subject, but I also felt disappointed that the Rani was ditched, forgotten …. so that Moffat ges his BIG REVEAL!!! Who needs the classic series, aye?

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