Sure, she was vaporized at the end of "Doctor Who"s eighth season, but that's not the last you'll see of Missy, the feisty new incarnation of the Master, and the Doctor's greatest frenemy.
Actress Michelle Gomez and showrunner Steven Moffat sat down with us in a roundtable interview at Comic-Con International in San Diego. She sparkled with a sharp wit and self-deprecating sense of humor, while Moffat radiated with enthusiasm for the new season, and occasionally lashed out at those who misunderstand him and his beloved legion of fans.
[To Gomez] So, you're coming back next season. I want to hear all about it.
Michelle Gomez: I am, and you can't hear a thing about it! [Laughs] Are you crazy? I am back, and with a slightly different dynamic, which is interesting. I hope. It was for me anyway; there was a surprise. I'm back hard on the heels of the last series.
Has being vaporized changed Missy's attitude at all?
Gomez: No. It's not that her attitude has changed but that's there's been a shift in dynamic -- I think that's fair to say -- between her and the Doctor and Clara. There's a shift there. Maybe the vaporizing had something to do with it. She's not big on sense.
In the episode where Missy and the Doctor finally come face to face ["Dark Water"], you kissed his nose three times. Did that come to you in the moment or was that a direction?
Gomez: I think it [his nose] was asking for it, because it does sit quite proud, as does mine. That's the thing about Peter [Capaldi] and I actually -- which is kind of shocking -- that we could have been separated at birth. There's something strangely familial about us. If you sort of put my hair on Peter, you might --
Steven Moffat: [interjecting] Oh let's no do that!
Gomez: But Peter and I have similar features, so there's some sort of sibling thing going on there. I don't whether it's because we're both from the same town [Glasgow] or if it's some sort of Scottish thing going on. We've both got dry and unmanageable hair. But to answer your question -- which you asked me twenty minutes ago -- kissing of the nose wasn't scripted.
Moffat: No it was not.
Gomez: But it did seem right in the moment.
Missy is such a funny character that it made me think of other great villains who use humor. I think you could both speak to what is it about using humor to a villain character that makes them even scarier.
Moffat: Insight. Understanding. It's terrifying if some one is clued up enough and aware enough to make a joke and kill you. That's a nightmare. When you see real killers in real life, they tend to be absolutely humorless bastards with no insight or compassion. To make a joke you've got to have logic and reason. It's a sophisticated, a joke. A villain that makes a joke and still wants to kill you, he's bloody frightening.
Gomez: Comedy is also a very powerful conduit to carry a message because it always leaves the audience a little unnerved. The thing about Missy is you never know quite where you are with her. And I've enjoyed playing that nuance, which is very human as well. We all wear these different masks out to the world every day. And she just gets to [makes a knocking sound with her mouth, miming removing the mask] -- at the drop of a hat really -- the way Steven writes it. She's sort of your lovable everyday psychotic schizophrenic with no heart!
Moffat: She's not mad though, that's the thing. She's not.
Gomez: There's something about me -- and maybe that means I need some help -- [I think] she's immersed in a kind of glorious denial and delusion maybe. Everything that she says and does makes perfect sense to her. There's nothing mad about it. The universe needs to be destroyed, must be destroyed. And the Doctor is just an irritant.
There's more nuance to her than the old Master.
Gomez: Well, I didn't want her, him, whatever you want to call me, to be two-dimensional. You know --
Moffat: To hell with gendered pronouns. It's exhausting! It takes a half and hour to say anything.
Gomez: That'll be the big reveal that I'm a man, and with this jaw I could be.
There was that hint in the old series that the Master was the Doctor's brother.
Moffat: Was there? Oh yeah, in "Planet of Fire." I forgot about that. Well don't assume anything about that then.
By making the Master a woman we went into this really interesting zone -- like with Clara -- where it's a very intoxicating relationship that doesn't seem romantic.
Moffat: There's no flirtation between the Doctor and Missy at all. The only time the Doctor and the Master have been flirting was probably actually David Tennant and John Simm. There isn't this time at all. In fact we're very specific in the new one that's absolutely not what's going on.
They're incredibly good friends. That's really interesting because they are incredibly good friends. And it goes back a long way and there's genuine affection and loyalty and compassion for each other and interest in each other. But they are completely opposed to each other. If there was no one else in the universe they'd be getting on fine. Missy is the Doctor by other means. That's what he'd be like if he didn't have this sentimental compulsion to save people. It's a hunter and a vegetarian having a friendship.
I wanted to ask you on the creative end, you brought a couple of women writers on this season, Catherine Tregenna and Sarah Dollard. How is it like working with them, and can we expect to see more from them? What are their stories like?
Moffat: You've grouped them together because they're women, but they don't belong in the same category at all. They're about as opposite as they could be. Catherine is the only person that I've ever had to persuade to write "Doctor Who," because she didn't want to do it. I've been asking her for years, actually. Because when I first did "Blink" all those years ago, Russell [T. Davies] sent me her script for "Torchwood." I got the Jack Harkness script, which was great and I said 'Look this is another message from the past story, you've got to not bump into it.' I remember saying to him, 'She's brilliant, when do we get to have her [write for us].' He said, 'She doesn't really watch "Doctor Who."' [The table erupts with laughter, and Moffat feigns a heart attack.] What!?
The only time we've ever had this -- and you'll see why when you see the story -- I said, 'Why don't we try Catherine again, get her to come in.' And I for the first time in my life in this job sat there and had to pitch the story. And I said, 'I want you to write this,' and she got into it! But what was interesting about Catherine -- quite different from Sarah -- is that she doesn't really know modern "Doctor Who" or old "Doctor Who." So you had things like the Doctor holds out his name badge thing [he yips with mock confusion]. But also -- and a lesson for me -- it took her no time at all to get the hang of who Doctor Who was. She wrote a great Doctor and she understood it perfectly. And then started watching it. It was quite funny, she was always coming in saying, 'He's pretty emotional isn't he?' Like it's a surprise. It's the most nakedly emotional show on television it has been for ten years! It's emotional porn! Of course he's emotional.
Sarah comes from a very, very different category. And a very interesting one because only she and Jamie Mathieson belong to this category, would both describe themselves as "Doctor Who" fans, would both describe themselves as long-time "Doctor Who" fans.[They] haven't seen the old show. They. Haven't. Seen it. Don't know anything about it. Now me, Russel and Mark [Gatiss] and Chris [Chibnall] and Toby [Whithouse], we're all fans of the old show. For us, "Doctor Who" in our hearts is the old show, 4 by 3 video, multi-cam. That’s what we "Doctor Who" is. They think this "Doctor Who" is that modern one [erupts into giggles] and I'm disappointed! And there's a part of me -- even though I am so steeped in it -- that says, 'You realize this isn't the real one!' [Laughs]
I remember saying to Sarah -- because it's a bit like that in "Brain of Morbius" -- 'You're a fan of the new show?' And in a weird collision of emotions, I was offended. I was offended that she was a fan of the new show, which I work on. It's a little bit, 'No, the old show! Tom Baker. Sit down. Watch this.' So both she and Jaime belong to that club, so it's very very different.
But you know also it's the first of a wave. I think because unlike if you're an old, very, very old "Doctor Who" fan like me, it used to be boys that watched "Doctor Who." But now it's girls that watch "Doctor Who" and it might even be a majority. So we're just at the stage of people about Sarah's age coming through saying, 'No. This is the show that I want to do, that I'm passionate about. What the fuck is the "Brain of Morbius?"' So that is going to be very, very interesting. Very interesting. [Jokingly] They're wrong, they should watch the old bloody show. I'm still offended. I'm going to phone her right now!
You manage to thread that needle a lot though, and get so many references into the old show.
Yeah, that’s because I'm a fucking walking tragedy, mate. Let's not pretend it's anything else. 'Hey, Russell, look what I mentioned in the most recent one!' This is the brilliant one. When I was doing the very, very first season with Chris, and Russell was running it. I sat with Julie Garner and [another producer] and Russell was sitting way behind them. And Jane and Julie told me very solemnly, 'You know, Russell’s put absolutely no continuity references to the old show in here.' And Russell’s going, [leans back and stage whispers] 'Don’t tell them!' “Because he’s fucking full of it.”
Do you get a thrill if you throw in references to the original series?
Moffat: You do get a thrill. I think it’s a legitimate thrill. I do worry sometimes that I've got to crush the inner fanboy at times. And who doesn’t want to crush a fanboy now and then? [Laughs] I also think even for the new audience -- even for Sarah and Jaime -- you’re alluding to a whole other part of the mythology that you don’t know and that’s quite exciting. 'Wow, he has a granddaughter, what the hell’s that about?' That’s quite exciting.
What in the hell actually is it about? I mean, what is that about? He has a granddaughter called "Susan." How did that fit in on Gallifrey? [Affects a deep majestic tone] 'Here’s Romana, here’s Andra… [switches to a soft higher register] this is Susan.' But you know, throwing in those things, I think alludes to a wider mythology that everyone is getting.
When I watched the first Spider-Man movies that came out, it was obvious that they were movies made by fans. I could sense that there was a whole other world there that I didn’t know about. I didn’t get any of the references but I got that they were there, and it was quite exciting. So that's what I think anyway.
Speaking of Gallifrey, there was that promise in the 50th, and then Missy—
Moffat: That wasn’t a promise. Nothing’s a promise, mate.
Ah, well, it seemed like we were on that track and then we got one mention of Gallifrey in Season 8 when Missy misdirected. Are we still --
Moffat: Do you ever worry that the Doctor, given the history that we know, goes, 'I found Gallifrey!' and then goes, 'Boring fucking place.'
So speaking of other women who were vaporized in the finale --
Moffat: Ha! It’s not a particular fetish.[All laugh.] Many women were not vaporized. No women were vaporized in the making of this show.
Well it would’ve made more sense if we were still talking about Missy coming back, but I liked my segue so much that I stuck by it.
Moffat: I see. It's a good segue.
It's rumored that Osgood is coming back.
Moffat: It’s not rumored; it’s a fact.
Okay. So how is that happening?
Moffat: I don’t know. I can’t wait to watch those episodes. [Laughs] What I will say is you’ll know when you see it, that this wasn’t a whim. There is a plan, that's it’s a plan that's been in place for a hell of a long time. So you’ll see it’s not a whim.
And she’s sort of an intentional fan proxy, right?
Moffat: Well, it’s a love letter, really. A love letter to cosplay, cause I love all that stuff. If you’re cosplaying as Osgood—
Moffat: Yes! You’re cosplaying someone who is cosplaying. It’s cosplay cubed. [Laughs]
How would you describe "Doctor Who"s relationship with fandom?
Moffat: It’s two things. The frustration I find with it is the way the outer world sees it, the non-fandom world. They tend to identify "Doctor Who" fans as ranting monomaniacs on the internet. And one can see how that comes about. But the absolute reality is that fandom is the most amazingly creative community you could see.
When people say these things to me, e-mails full of links, go and look at this title sequence that someone made up—we used one in the actual show—go and look at this trailer, go and look at these stories, go and look at this artwork, it’s like a hot house of talent for the future. It’s amazing. Trouble is, nobody pays any attention to me when I say that. Nobody. Literally. What I’ll get quoted as saying is, 'Steve Moffat says they’re all monomaniacs.' No! I said [dissolves into mock outrages gibberish].
We’ve already sent that headline to our publishers. It’s done.
Moffat: Well, don’t! Because it’s not me, actually! "Doctor Who" fandom is great, creative, vibrant, fun, exciting, affable, nice, lovely, and it is typified by nastiness. And it is not true. I know it's not true. If I can say that, if I can stand up and say that, then everyone else should say that.
We'll make sure it's in the article.
Moffat: Okay, under Steven Moffat hits back at monomaniacs. This morning I got "Steven Moffat Slams Twitter." I didn't slam Twitter!
To be fair, everyone has apparently slammed everything, according to most websites.
Moffat: Why did they say slam? I could slam something! I'm good at slamming! That's not a slam.
On the record, do you want to slam anything?
Moffat: I'd like to slam deceptive headlines that suggest that you said something that you never fucking said. [Smiles broadly] Cut it out.
"Doctor Who" season nine begins September 19th.