Steven Moffat, current head writer for the BBC serial Doctor Who, has always had a certain tendency to confuse his audience beyond belief, and never quite un-confusing them. Many critics have determined this to be his fatal flaw. However, the Series 8 finale episodes, titled “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven,” actually answer more questions than they pose.
We know where the villain came from this time, unlike Moffat’s Silence in Series 6, who were only half-explained more than a series after they appeared. Missy (Michelle Gomez), short for Mistress, is the female incarnation of the Doctor’s arch nemesis, the Master. Like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, she’s Scottish, quick-witted, dark, and a little bit mad. Gomez gives a fantastic performance, with just enough lunacy to be frightening, enough cheekiness to be entertaining, and just enough Mary Poppins to be absolutely wacky and interesting. She turns the phrase, “Say something nice,” into a hair-raising threat. Gomez’s unabashed sass against Capaldi’s sharp replies is enough to make one giddy.
Though Gomez’s acting has its credit, her character arch has much less. We spend an entire series leading up to the discovery of who Missy is only to realize she simply wants to impress the Doctor. “I need you to know we’re not so different,” Missy declares, when asked why she’s raised an entire undead army for the sole purpose of handing it over to the Doctor. Would the Master, who formerly craved power more than anything, give up undeniable, universal dominance simply for the sake of being accepted by the Doctor? Perhaps it would be more believable if this choice between power and friendship hadn’t already been addressed in former episodes. The Master nearly always chooses power. So why should the Mistress be any different? The only thing that’s changed is the fact that she’s no longer male.
Unfortunate and repetitive as it may be, this change begs the question: Does Steven Moffat have any clue how women actually work? When Clara Oswald loses Danny in that ridiculous car crash, she becomes a completely different person. She changes so much in so little time that I actually thought Moffat had pulled some sort of doppelganger, alien body swap. The character that stole all the TARDIS keys and called Danny’s death “boring” was not the Clara I knew. (Though, to be honest, there wasn’t that much to know about Clara in the first place.)
Moffat had been hinting at a darker side of Clara’s character throughout the season. However, the culmination of these little hints didn’t quite add up to the drastic alterations of her personality. Also, after about fifteen minutes of distraught, plotting Clara, we go straight back to wide-eyed, caring Clara. Extreme mood swings are a symptom of bipolar disorder, not the result of possessing two X chromosomes.
Despite the ever-prickling, mild sexism, I still managed to enjoy this latest installment. Missy was unquestionably fun, despite her flaws. The plot was finally resolved, the Doctor decided who he truly was, and the search for Gallifrey is finally over. Moffat left just enough mystery for us to want to return, not quite explaining why the Doctor gave the TARDIS an angry pounding after finding Gallifrey, or why in the world Santa Claus shows up knocking on the TARDIS door after the credits start rolling. We’ll just have to find out when the Christmas Special airs this December.