Missy: Series One – Starring Michelle Gomez, Rufus Hound, Oliver Clement, Bonnie Kingston, Simon Slater, Dan Starkey, Beth Chalmers, Maggie Service, Leighton Pugh, Graham Seed, Kenneth Jay, Guy Paul, Ryan Forde Iosco, Daniel Goode, Rachel Verkuil, Abbie Andrews, John Scougall, Lucy Goldie, Jason Nwoga & Jamie Laird . Written by Roy Gill, John Dorney, Nev Fountain & Jonathan Morris & Directed by Ken Bentley – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Michelle Gomez’s Missy was one of the brightest and best innovations in villainy of the first ten years of New Who. That she would eventually make her way to audio was a conclusion that for many fans was foregone.
But Missy is not in any sense an easy proposition when she steps out of the light of the Doctor’s opposition and takes centre stage. Like the War Master before her (and for all we know, other Masters after), the trick with Missy is to make her as successful as she deserves to be without making everything a cake walk. She has to have her dramatic arc, but yet she has to triumph in her villainy.
This first collection of Missy adventures gives her plenty of gracenotes by which to distinguish herself in audio both from any other incarnation of the Master, and from the white knight syndrome of the Doctor, while sneeeeeeaking a story arc up on you quietly, just in time to go ‘Boo!’ and make you jump out of your skin.
A Spoonful of Mayhem, the series-opener from Roy Gill is a thing which must have seemed absolutely irresistible, given Missy’s trademark outfit and brolly – it’s Missy as Mary Poppins, taking two bored brats on whizzo jolly adventures, all the while with a design of her own. It’s an interesting design, in that Missy is trapped in 19th century Earth by temporal powers who take a dim view of anachronistic technology and killing people (honestly, what’s a girl to do for fun around such people?). She’s aiming to break free of their constraints, which involves breaking into the Crystal Palace, riddling a Sphinx, and Missy the steam engine driver, putting the Circle Line to possibly the best use it’s ever had. There’s a delicious denouement to the piece, and both Missy’s charges actually do learn positive life lessons on the road to mysteriously not being zapped or squished or generally thrown into pits for a thousand years. It’s a confident start to the set, with a good dose of energy and enthusiasm, for all it sometimes lags by being told for the most part through the narration of Master Oliver Davis – one of nature’s hellraisers and no mistake. And this is perhaps one of the most notable differences between, say, Missy and the other incarnation to have their own series, the War Master. Derek Jacobi’s incarnation is almost an evolution of Geoffrey Beevers’; he has a smiling face, a sweet nature when necessary, but he seems to seep corruption into everything and everyone who comes into his orbit. Missy on the other hand is actually capable of being a positive influence, more out of boredom than any particular altruism. A Spoonful of Mayhem might be a carousel of adventures and prison-breaking, but it feels as though Oliver and his sister Lucy will actually remember Missy with some fondness and take forward some of the lessons about self-determination and seizing the moment she instilled in them.
Or possibly they’ll be the sibling Bonnie and Clyde of the turn of the century. Might be rather good fun to pop back and find out in a future Missy set.
Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated, by John Dorney is…well, with the best will in the world and with appreciation to all the other writers in the set, it’s the best thing in the first series of Missy adventures by at least a couple of parsecs.
Because it’s hey nonny nonny Time Lord comedy with a Tudor twist, that’s why. Rufus Hound reprises his role as the Meddling Monk -or is he Henry VIII? – with a blistering, giggling energy that barely masks his meddling nature. And Missy stakes her claim to be the wife that wasn’t. There’s toing and froing and flirting and dungeons (which for both Henry and the Monk are pretty much the same thing), but there’s also, underneath all the rapid-fire banter, a coherent, somewhat subtle sub-plot which speaks impeccably to the different personalities of the Monk and Missy. How much meddling can you do before Anyone Important notices? Can Henry VIII have had seven wives? And when the weight of paradoxes is pressing on a critical point in history, who will blink first? Missy, or the Monk?
Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated is an action-packed hour of rollicking good fun, and there’s absolutely no doubt that a re-match between Michelle Gomez and Rufus Hound should be encouraged – they have a comic chemistry that’s like tennis with cannonballs, and they’re an absolute dream to listen to. More, more, more of the Missy-Monk axis, please, thank you and don’t kill me.
The Broken Clock, by Nev Fountain, is a story that plays with storytelling and delivery, in the style of a cheesy American crime re-enactment show, complete with actors playing people who are actually there, and an initially irritating but also subtly creepy Voiceover Guy who narrates, for instance, the approach of someone’s death, fully aware that the victim can hear them. There’s quite a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey in this one, and Missy Masters, a Scotland Yard Inspector, is on the case to find out who killed whom and why – and what it all has to do with a broken grandfather clock (Yes, that would be your Who-fan reference detector pinging into life). The truth is actually rather gorgeous and demented, but whether you think it gets revealed just in the nick of time or just after the point where all the crime show meta-structure gets a little ponderous (people breaking character to ask questions and direct the action, for instance) will depend on your tolerance for the kind of layer-folded storytelling the plot demands. For my money, I was jusssst getting to the point of demanding ‘No seriously, what the hell is going on?!’ when, mercifully, the plot unfolded. Stick with it though – when you find out what actually is going on, you’ll go ‘Ohhhh…’ and realise quite how elegant the story is.
Jonathan Morris’ The Belly Of The Beast continues the style to some extent – there are reset points and restart points and loop points in this tale too, dealing with the lives of a slave mining workforce which Missy has excavating a planet that may just possibly not be a planet, for a treasure that is most certainly a treasure – and one that makes audio Missy, when she gets it (Oops – spoiler – she gets the treasure. Sorry, but this is Missy – of course she gets it) more impressive and deadly than ever she was on TV, and bodes well for upcoming box sets. You get to very near the end of The Belly Of The Beast without realising the nature of the story arc you’ve been following arguably from the beginning, but certainly since Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated, and then everything clicks into place and sets Missy free from many of her past constraints, ready to terrorise the universe on a whole new scale in future sets. That’s the point about a Missy audio set – where on screen against the Doctor she has to ultimately lose, here, she gets to stand, and plot, and kill, and win.
The Diary of River Song Series Five, which was released first and so gets the credit of introducing Missy to the world of Big Finish, was a strong early contender for Release of the Year.
Missy Series One at least equals it.
Very Missy, if you think about it – fighting herself for the top spot on your Must-Get lists of Big Finish audio releases of 2019. Get ‘em both, you’re going to absolutely love them. This set though is Missy in full flow, beholden to no-one for her place in the spotlight, doing what’s necessary without sacrificing her fundamental mad-as-a-fruitbat personality. It’s practically perfect in every way, and it needs a place on your shelves, in your ears, and ultimately, messing with your mind. Tony Fyler