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.
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.