Well, we now know who Missy was… just like the episode “Kill the Moon” and the idea that Clara will be leaving us, I am so disappointed in the reveal it’s hard to quantify it.
So, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up, Missy is short for Mistress, which is what the Master calls himself if he regenerates as a female. If you’re not ready to head-desk with me after that sentence, allow me to talk about why this is problematic in more ways than one.
But before I start, please know that I say this despite loving Michelle Gomez’s take on the Master more than I have ever liked any other Master (sorry Anthony Ainley, but it’s true). Gomez made an excellent Master, and there were a great deal of aspects her rendition of the iconic character that I really enjoyed. I liked that she was a bit “bananas,” and went with the flow of events. I liked how she kidded, and was menacing yet sweet. I liked almost everything about her. But I also believe in being critical of the things you love, and there are more than a few problems with Missy being the Master.
The first thing that comes to mind is Steven Moffat’s reticence to cast a female in the role of the Doctor. He caused quite a stir when he suggested if a woman was cast Doctor, than the Queen should be played by a man… you know, because that totally isn’t a false dichotomy, or comparing a historical figure to an alien that changes physical form every hundred years. That’s like comparing apples to shapeshifters. It’s also replacing a rare historical phenomenon of a woman being in power with yet another man, and I think we know that we have a lot of kings in our history on this planet. A whole lot more than queens.
Thus, the fact that Moffat is willing to genderswap easily the most evil characters in the series and not the main protagonist is questionable to say the least. This is not to mention how quickly the Mistress gets killed. Though, that being said, I will admit to the Master getting killed a lot, so this is not really beyond the norm.
But really, that’s just a nitpick. The most problematic aspect is that there is absolutely no reason for the Master to go by the Mistress just because the gender changed. Last time I checked, women could be masters as well. And sure, it was all a clever writing ploy to hide the fact that the Missy was the Master, but I do not believe that the Gallifreyans would police gender to the point that the name the Master had chosen for himself/herself would have to be changed.
It is one thing if the Master was a name given to him, and he decided that he wanted to be a woman and change his name and identity. Then absolutely, he should change it to what fits him best. But he chose the name the Master, and there are honestly zero connotations in the word “master” which would suggest that a woman cannot be one. The whole switch just feels… well… sexist.
And lastly, there is the kiss. If this is the way the Master felt like treating the Doctor, why is it the only time we see a kiss when the two participants are for all intents and purposes fit a heterosexual norm? While, yes, I understand the context of the late 20th century would probably not allow for any sort of relationship that could be deemed queer on TV, there has not been a whole lot of men kissing the Doctor during Moffat’s run. Though, that could be because Jack Harkness isn’t here anymore, so maybe that’s why.
While it is true that I have never been a fan of the whole kissing the Doctor thing that has become so popular in NUWho, none of them have irked me the way this kiss has, and I think it’s largely because they only did it because the gender had swapped. I would think that if the kiss never happened at all, I’d be perfectly happy to just point out there is not reason for her to change her name to the Mistress.
So, while I love Missy, I would rather call her the Master, and I would have liked at least some consideration for the Doctor regenerating as a woman instead of being laughed off as a radical feminist’s crazy idea and then doing it with a character that is killed off in two episodes. Missy’s great, and I love that it establishes that Timelords are not constrained by gender norms, but she is still problematic in some ways.