I completely fell for it.
When Missy stepped out from behind the text of the 3W infomercial, planted a wet one on the Doctor, and revealed that she is a multifunction, interactive welcome droid, I felt a twinge of disappointment, but found no reason to doubt that “MISSY” really did stand for “Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface.” Sounds like as much of a mouthful as “Time And Relative Dimension In Space,” which is the longhand for “TARDIS.” (Though I suppose that should have been my first clue.)
However, I was concerned when Missy announced that she is programmed for “self-repair” and maintained by her own heart—the latter of which brought me back to her chilling proclamation at the end of “Flatline”: “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” (The meaning of which has not yet become clear.) A droid that possesses freedom of choice? Now that’s alarming. The notion of self-repair raised a red flag as well: in the upcoming sci-fi flick Automata, AI beings are only kept in check by a law that expressly prevents robots from repairing themselves, the assumption being that only something with consciousness can be self-aware enough to engage in self-repair.
The ethics of robotics, kids. It’s a doozy.
Showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat is not one to shy away from breaking storytelling rules and conventions (we’ll get to that in a moment), so I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had created a droid with consciousness (do we have any Blade Runner/Phillip K. Dick fans in the house?). But like I said—red flag. This should have been my second clue.
The Doctor seems to have known deep down who Missy really was as soon as he felt her heart(s), but he played the role of Doctor Idiot flawlessly throughout the remainder of the episode in order to make Missy spell it out for us in the most dramatic way possible. Each beat between “You know who I am,” “Please try and keep up,” and “It’s short for Mistress” ratcheted up the tension even more, bit by bit, until: “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself The Master, now, could I?”
Those who have remained blissfully ignorant of this Missy = Master theory throughout the season no doubt received the shock of a lifetime at this big reveal. But those of us who have spent the past eleven weeks scouring Doctor Who comment boards and the like have been well aware of the most popular explanation of Missy’s mysterious identity since episode one, so the “big reveal” was exhilarating on a whole different level: in which the fandom enjoys a collective whoop of validation.
(And if you listen closely while Missy talks, you’ll hear an ominous drumbeat in the background. Good catch by kpower90!)
Since I spent the whole season assuming that the Master has, in fact, regenerated into a woman, I wasn’t blown away by the implications when it was finally confirmed. And I embody the precarious opinion that it shouldn’t be a big deal, but that it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that after releasing 40 superhero movies starring white males, Marvel finally optioned a movie starring a black man (Black Panther) and another starring a woman (Captain Marvel)—but it is. It shouldn’t be a big deal that a traditionally male character has been reimagined as a female character, like Joan Watson in Elementary, or that a traditionally white character has been reimagined as black, like Quvenzhané Wallis’s Annie—but it is. And it shouldn’t be a big deal that another traditionally male character who ostensibly has the ability to regenerate into a female body but for whatever reason never has, finally did—but it is. Gender norms still exist, and it’ll take a hell of a lot of time, effort, and complete cultural overhaul to cut out the implicitly patriarchal bias of the English language. We like to think we live in a post-racial and gender-neutral society, but the reality is still far from the ideal.
I am pointing this out in order to be realistic, not discouraging. In fact, I’m proud of our progress as a human race, and I tentatively believe in the continued ascendant progress of humanity. So while I envision a distant future in which a comic series about a Muslim woman of color won’t make headlines because it won’t be out of the ordinary, I accept the fact that at this point in time, it is a big deal, and I will honor and support it as such. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. And I will proudly celebrate every single one of humankind’s baby steps as we march forever upwards towards a land of rainbows and unicorns and Nutella and equality and acceptance for all.
One such baby step? Casting a regenerated Master as a woman. Full stop.
I’m seeing posts online of people viciously lambasting Steven Moffat for his particular choice of words in revealing Missy as a regenerated Master– “I couldn’t very well keep calling myself…The Master” (emphasis mine)– because it comes across as transphobic. I have two responses to that opinion: firstly, discrimination works both ways, and if Missy appears biologically female and identifies as female, who are we to judge? Plus, even if Moffat wrote the script, the character of Missy is the one who delivers the line; she is the subject of the sentence, not Steven Moffat. Maybe Missy is an anti-feminist megalomaniac like Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne…who knows.
Secondly—and more in tune with my original argument—this is a baby step, and should be viewed—and celebrated!—as such. It would have been glorious to witness the debut of a Hispanic, Buddhist, transgendered Time Gallifreyan, but for whatever reason, Moffat chose not to. And I don’t think that reason has to be “BECAUSE HE’S A SEXIST BLOODY HACK.” A couple years ago, when the internet was aflame with who would replace Matt Smith as the next Doctor, some female names were thrown into the mix: Helen Mirren, Lara Pulver, et al. But Moffat said he only ever had one person, male or female or other, in mind (spoiler alert: it was Peter Capaldi), and that casting a woman “didn’t feel right to me, right now.” Fair enough—since he had just implied that if the one actor he had in mind had been a female version of Peter Capaldi, he would have cast her. He explained that it was an “aesthetic” decision rather than a “political” one—meaning, he was set on “Peter Capaldi,” not “Peter Capaldi The Heterosexual Male.”
Think about the whole concept of a species that can regenerate into different bodies—it positively screams gender fluidity, and tacitly supports the idea of the mosaic brain (fyi, clicking on link will play video), which teaches that human brains are made up of a composite of “male” and “female” traits. Moffat, Whovian fanboy that he is, is certainly aware of this idea.
But it’s what he said next that interests me: “I didn’t feel enough people wanted it [i.e., a female Time Lord].” And later, at the Edinburgh Television Festival: “Who knows, the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen someday.” In light of this, I’m curious to see if recasting the Master as the Mistress was Moffat’s way of testing the waters, to see how the fandom would react to a gender-bent Time Lord. So, instead of hurling unproductive vitriol his way, let’s show Moffat how psyched we are to see a Time Lady. Instead of finding fault with the Moff’s every creative decision, let’s rally behind this exciting new development and revel in the narrative possibilities.
Only then will we get our Time Lady. And after that, Who knows?