By Rachel Stewart
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” – Ophelia, “Hamlet,” Act 4, Scene 5
“You deserve my best.” – Missy, “The Doctor Falls”
She is torn. She is twisted. She is tragic. She is Missy.
Since her introduction in series 8 of “Doctor Who,” it’s been easy to dismiss Missy as pure evil, a hilarious foil for both the Twelfth Doctor and his companions as well as the fanboys who can’t stand the idea of time lords being in charge of selecting their own gender. (Shout out to Neil Gaiman for introducing the concept in “The Doctor’s Wife” many moons ago.)
But something changed in series 10. The Doctor saved Missy from sure death, but more importantly – he tried to save her from herself. Toward the end of the series, the Doctor tells Bill that Missy – or the Master as he was known in those days – was his man crush, his ultimate companion, the person he saw the most of himself in. The Doctor held this belief even though they ended walking different moral paths. Both were highly intelligent but longed for more than Gallifrey could give them. Both ran away from home in times of peace and war. And while there have been glimmers of both standing together – the Master standing up to Rassilon at “The End of Time” sticking out as a major aha moment – it’s never been for long. The Master would rather, as Missy so elegantly related, burn a planet just to watch the smoke unfurl.
Missy’s journey in series 10 is one for the ages, and in some ways mirrors the stages of grief – denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance. At first, she dismisses the fact that she could be good – or enjoy it. She tries to bully and agitate the Doctor, Nardole, and Bill. She begs for a piano and the Doctor acquiesces. But as the months go on, Missy’s solitary confinement gets to her – she gets inside her head and begins to see herself and what her lives have been – and it’s painful. She begins to doubt her purpose, she cries for people who she would have never as much as blinked at. And thus, the Doctor decides to take Missy on an adventure to see if she can finally be trusted.
And then the Master shows up. While her former self is relishing getting under the Doctor’s skin, Missy is conflicted. Throughout “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” she darts back and forth from the Doctor’s side to her own evil side, but there is something lurking in her heart – she is torn between helping herself or her oldest friend. She leaves both the Doctor and the viewers guessing until that fateful encounter in the forest. As the Master plans to run off to fix his broken TARDIS, Missy requests one last hug. As they embrace, she stares off into space, remembering everyone she’s been up to this point. It’s more than physical touch – Missy is honoring who she’s been and is literally killing off the evil in herself so she can stand next to the Doctor, with no more doubts or double crosses. She stabs the Master in the back and then attempts to send him on his way, knowing he’ll regenerate into her, and that the cycle of evil will eventually tick slightly towards kindness. She turns around, telling him that it’s time to stand with the Doctor – and then he shoots her in the back. The Master tells her that their perfect ending was to do the other in. Missy laughs at the ridiculousness of it all, at once relishing the evil she had missed and mourning the fact that she’ll not return to the Doctor – and he’ll always be filled with that nagging doubt of whether he can trust her or not. She falls back, like an Ophelia of the leaves, her blue eyes turning glassy as she breathes her last. She passed the test – she chose to be good “without hope, without witness, without reward.” She was fell where she stood – and yet the Doctor will never know.
Time lords interacting with themselves is a tricky business – and memories fade or are blocked, but on some level, I think the Master – and newly regenerated Missy – remember their struggle to leave evil behind. Why else would Missy build a Cyberman army out of people who didn’t survive traveling with the Doctor in series 8? Why else would she plead “I need my friend back” so achingly and on her knees? Because on a subconscious level, she remembers what the Doctor himself pleaded for – for them to be on the same side. But in the regeneration, she got it twisted and instead tried to bring him over to her side. The Moffat-penned series 10 finale now lends all sorts of emotional layers and depth to Missy and Twelve’s initial encounter in series 8.
After stabbing herself in the back, Missy nobly quips “You deserve my best.” Missy – and Michelle Gomez – certainly gave the viewers that and it will be a long time before I forget her struggle and tragic triumph against herself. Out of all the people and creatures the Doctor has saved across the universe, the most important was his best friend. In that last flicker of Missy’s blue eyes, the Doctor was no longer alone.