Big Finish Review: Missy Series 02
The brilliant Michelle Gomez is back for series 02 of Missy at Big Finish, with four more stories charting her maniacal, hilarious path of destruction through time and space. Check out our review of last year's series 01 here.
Written by Lisa McMullin, Gemma Arrowsmith, Roy Gill and John Dorney and directed by Samuel Clemens and Ken Bentley, Missy Series 02 is available to purchase exclusive at the Big Finish site here. Check out the synopses below...
Missy… alone, unleashed and unfettered. What does she get up to when the Doctor isn’t around?
Now she has what she wants, Missy needs someone to show off to. But her temporal mischief attracts the wrong kind of attention.
Infuriating children, a vacationing Sontaran and her own worst intentions will get in her way. And a Meddling Monk, out for revenge…
2.1 The Lumiat by Lisa McMullin
Missy is glorying in the chaos, hoping that a certain someone might turn up.
What she doesn’t expect is an entirely different do-gooder spoiling her plans and teaching her life lessons.
Because, whoever she is, the Lumiat knows far more about Missy than anyone should…
2.2 Brimstone and Terror by Roy Gill
Missy wants an army, a brigade of willing youngsters, trained to serve. So she takes a teaching post at a remote Scottish boarding school.
But one of these boys knows Missy of old. And when Oliver Davis summons his sister for help, Lucy brings an ally from London. One Mr Strax…
2.3 Treason and Plot by Gemma Arrowsmith
The Gunpowder Plot. It’s a favourite of time travellers. If Missy’s going to hitch a ride, that’s the place to cause trouble. Especially if trouble makes a really big bang.
The only person in her way, trying to keep history on track, is a rookie Time Agent. But Rita Cooper wanted excitement…
2.4 Too Many Masters by John Dorney
The Monk has captured Missy. And he will have his revenge…
But the Ogrons are also looking to settle an old debt. And when they call it in, they find themselves with too many Time Lords on their hands.
The Master owes them big – and the Ogrons know who the Master is. Don’t they?
I'll be joined by my 14-year old son Ben, regular co-reviewer of Big Finish for The Digital Fix and the world's biggest Doctor Who fan...
Missy series 01 was one of the Big Finish highlights of last year and it's an absolute delight to have Michelle Gomez back for four more stories. There is a wonderful black humour running throughout - you can't help but laugh at her unhinged psychopathy and Gomez is as much a joy to listen to today as she was onscreen in the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who.
While four stories of Missy causing mayhem and murder would make for incredibly fun listening, there are far more interesting ideas at play in the first story The Lumiat. Events start off in delightfully dark, twisted fashion, with Missy turning an argument over scotch eggs on a sunny picnic into a bloody battle Zulu-style. This also brings with it a hapless companion in the form of Matthew Jacobs-Morgan's Bertram, who finds himself dragged into Missy's crazy adventures. It's also an act the seems to attract the attention of a new version of the Doctor, played by Gina McKee...or so it seems.
Lisa McMullin's script introduces a fascinating concept in the Lumiat - the Master-take on the Valeyard - a future version of Missy that represents all the good in her. McKee does a fantastic job of not making the Lumiat just a 'nice' character; against the Gomez's mesmerising performance as Missy, it would easy for McKee's character to come across as lacklustre, but both performers hold their own against each other. The concept might also offer hints as to why the (presumably) future Master played by Sacha Dahawan might still be so twisted and evil; The Lumiat is a story that sees to offer a get out clause and still compliment the fascinating journey Missy took over Doctor Who series eight to ten.
Gomez is clearly continuing to have the time of her life playing Missy. Backed by a fabulous script from McMullin, Missy's evil nature is thoroughly entertaining; whether its threating to skin an endangered baby bear to make a hat (can we get Missy playing a version of Cruella De'Vil?) to pretending to hard boil an egg that is the only thing standing between two races and global Armageddon. There is a lot to love about this story, which continues the high standard established with series 01 and sets a high mark for the rest of the stories that follow.
It's always a joy to have Missy back, and from the first moments of The Lumiat (Where she turns a picnic into a war) it's clear she's just as crazy as ever, helped in no small measure by Michelle Gomez's performance. The fun extends when it turns out Missy picked up a companion who very clearly does not want to be with her (Probably for the best, considering what happened to a previous companion of the Master's in The Heavenly Paradigm). However, things get interesting when a mysterious woman turns up to stop the fighting, which leads Missy on a hunt to discover whether she is the Doctor.
Sadly the companion (Bertram) is dismissed quite early on (In typical Missy fashion of course), which leaves most of the story a two hander between Missy and the Lumiat, but it soon becomes clear that just the two of them is enough to create a fun and engaging narrative. Once the identity of the Lumiat is revealed, it's interesting to see a side of Missy where she's in denial and tries not to do good wherever she can, but her crazy self fully manifests once again later on, even driving the Lumiat to pick up her old twisted ways again before killing her and forcing a regeneration. It seems the Master killing themselves is a common practice around Missy...
The two highlights of this story are not actually plot details at all. First there's the Lumiat's identity which very evidently gives the impression Big Finish may have unintentionally solved the continuity gap where the new TV Master, played by Sacha Dawhan, fits into the Master's timeline, but there's also the fact that Missy is very clearly just longing to see the Doctor again (It's a fun moment when the Lumiat acknowledges the Doctor as a she, clearly referencing the Thirteenth Doctor). When she's not facing off against the Doctor, Missy in this incarnation seems lost, and possibly bored, wanting to see her friend again, for reasons which she claims are for torturing, but deep down we can see the gradual build up to Missy becoming good and friends with the Doctor once more which we saw on screen. In fact, the whole backbone of this story is the first hints of Missy's redemption coming into play, an intriguing note. Ultimately, this story is a fun, welcome return for Missy, that adds a bit more to the Master than you may have been expecting...
Brimstone and Terror
Brimstone and Terror reunites Missy with Oliver and Lucy Davis (Oliver Clement and Bonnie Kingston) as Missy positions herself as a cruel headmistress in a Scottish boarding school full of wayward sons of prominent British gentlemen. While she plots her nefarious schemes, Dan Starkey pops up as loveable Sontaran Strax and one member of the brilliant The Paternoster Gang.
It's another fun adventure, with Oliver playing the part of put upon student who needs to be rescued by his sister and Strax. Clement and Kingston both delight as the Victorian school children determined to foil the plans of their former governess, while Gomez is as fabulous as ever, playing a manipulative, cruel headmistress as she attempts to recruit the school children for her own insidious army. Her 'assembly' speech is deliciously twisted. Starkey is fun as Strax - particularly his undercover role as a PE teacher and when he finally faces off against Missy, there's plenty of electric banter between the two.
However, Brimstone and Terror never quite feels like it goes far enough. Starkey's Strax is somewhat subdued, compared to his other TV and Big Finish performances and Missy's plan doesn't quite feel as nefarious as it should have been. Perhaps it's because expectations of a story featuring Missy and Strax are so high, that expectations can't quite be met. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had once more and it's great to revisit Oliver and Emily once more. Now for pudding!
Brimstone and Terror feels like it falls short of expectations. However, there are good moments. The idea of Missy reuniting with Oliver and Lucy Davis is a welcome one, and the children act as recurring foes (or victims) for Missy to play off against. The idea of Missy running a boarding school is also perfect for her character, as was playing governess to the children in the previous volume, but I will admit I would have liked to see the moment where Oliver knew Missy was in charge.
A slight problem is the fact that Missy is undeniably more fun than a duo of children and yet they act as the main characters through this story. While they're not bad, and we do get a decent amount of Missy, it feels like they're lightly lacklustre especially as Lucy is kept out of the story for a decent chunk. However, their interactions with Missy are a great joy, but the scenes with Missy being full on headmistress is a hoot, notably her assembly speech.
The other selling point of this story was the meeting of Missy and Strax but even that wasn't great, most probably due to the fact Strax barely interacts with Missy at all. He's great undercover as a geography teacher ('Yes that is my profession as I know where things are'), teaching the children about strategic military tactics for each country and even as a brief PE teacher. Once he's back in full on Strax mode he's as delightful as ever (Thinking of pudding as torture and making me gain even more respect for him when he reveals he hates Custard), even without the presence of Madame Vastra and Jenny, although they do play a role in the story's resolution albeit off ear. Also the clever weaving in of the main Paternoster Gang tune sprinkled throughout the story is great until it comes out full on and brings a smile to my face.
Missy's plan itself though is quite lacklustre, trying to awaken an old alien who fell to Earth so she can essentially become Elsa from Frozen, just very evil, and even the ending of the story falls short and is rushed, as midway through her plan she is forced to just up and leave as her jailer from the first box set, which Lucy and Oliver knew about, turns up to give her a life sentence. Ultimately this story has good moments, Michelle Gomez and Dan Starkey are as delightful as ever, but it isn't the best...
Treason and Plot
Treason and Plot is another strong entry in the Missy range, with the titular villain stranded in 1605 and manipulating events to her own ends. The idea that Missy is willing to blow up half of southern England just to attract the attention of another Time Lord and gain a new TARDIS is delightfully twisted - particularly her 'willingness' to rule the throne for a few hundred years in order to wait. The opening scene is particularly funny, with Missy playing out her coronation to the masses.
Once again, Michelle Gomez steals the show, playing off a superb supporting cast. Ben Fox and Christopher Hatherall are a brilliant double act in Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes, Missy's unwilling pawns as the angel sent to help them deliver their plan. The manipulation of the infamous plotters makes for plenty of entertaining banter and cheeky winks to the future and their legacy (penny of a guy) from Missy herself, which borders on breaking the fourth wall at times. This is all balanced by Ony Uhiara's desperate junior time agent Rita Cooper, a very ordinary and inexperienced agent who soon finds herself out of depth and unsupported by her arrogant boss played by Phillip Pope.
Gemma Arrowsmith's script is another one packed with puns, quips and lots of hilarious opportunities for Michelle Gomez to shine. Missy's many sick children makes for a great running gag, while there are plenty of intriguing twists and turns that makes this far more than just a straightforward telling of the famous gunpowder plot event. And with a final twist that leads into the finale, the pace never lets up - thanks to a strong cast, great one liners and another fantastic delivery from Michelle Gomez.
For the third story of the set we get to see Missy actually trying to disrupt a real life historic event, something we have not seen her do on screen or off. The Gunpowder Plot is irresistible for some meddling, as time agent Rita Cooper was told at the start of the tale, so to see Missy's wild take on disrupting it is a hoot.
The opening sequence of people hailing queen Missy is a delight, while when we get to Missy intruding on the meeting of the gang of plotters the story really picks up its stride. While Guy Fawkes in particular is highly suspicious of Missy, the others completely believe in her, providing some interesting conflict to play out for the guest cast. However, words must be said for Rita Cooper, a probationary time agent, who struggles through everything but is a wonderfully enjoyable character trying to put things right. The element of the time agency is a great addition, if not a little sidelined, and it's interesting to see them outside of their appearances with Captain Jack, and taking on an enemy of the Doctor's. Odd to note that they don't seem particularly fussed about Missy considering they know who she is though.
Missy herself gets to have a lot of fun here, pretending to be a peasant with an ever changing number of sick children being a highlight, and just outright telling Robert and the gang that they're stupid idiots that she's going to kill, and not taking any notice of Robert's hurt confusion. However, the twist ending which may not actually come of as much a surprise if you know what the next story is, was still unexpected, with the outside interference just ruining Missy's plan outright and directly leading into the final story of the set...
Too Many Masters
The interplay between Rufus Hound's The Meddling Monk and Michelle Gomez's Missy was one of the highlights of the first set and their reunion here certainly doesn't disappoint. Despite the fact that the actors have never recorded together, their banter is electric, making the most of John Dorney's fabulous script. The opening sequence is a particular highlight, with Missy's fourth wall-breaking 'previously on Missy' as she finds herself captured by her rival and then manages to outstep every dastardly deed and comment in the Monk's repertoire.
The trip to the planet of the Ogrons serves as a fun sequel to the Third Doctor story Frontier in Space with mistaken identities as they seek revenge on Roger Delgado's Master. There are some fun knowing winks to the audience ("the Master couldn't possibly be a woman"), with the Monk prime suspect number one and Missy a slave. Naturally, she's soon organising an insurrection and outwitting - and killing - everyone in her path. This is Missy and her most mischievous and it's a fun ride to the incredibly violent conclusion.
Dorney fleshes out the Orgron race; the naked art is a particularly comic highlight and the library full of picture books is a nice riff on the Orgron's lack of intelligence. Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm Helen Goldwyn brings to the role of Empress Maule, the Orgron leader quickly becomes tiresome. Fortunately there are plenty of characters to entertain, most notably the time travelling hare that becomes the but of many of Missy's jokes. The story also nicely sets up more adventures with Missy and Monk together and given how great Gomez and Hound are together, I'm sure the fun will keep coming when Missy inevitably returns for series 03.
Possibly the most anticipated story of this box set, Too Many Masters rounds of this second series to Missy in high fashion with the return of the Meddling Monk, out for revenge on Missy. The story starts where Treason and Plot left off, with Missy captured by the Monk and it seems for once the Monk may have the upper hand, and the glee he has is wonderfully shown by Rufus Hound.
However, this story isn't quite what it's set up to be. Before long we have the Ogrons bursting in and arresting Missy and the Monk, and the story quickly does a 180 and moves to the Ogron home world. A highlight of this story is the deeper exploring of Ogron society, with their gods, slaves, female Ogrons and even a librarian. The connection this story has to Frontier in Space is a nice touch and also references the slightly confused ending the story had.
The best parts inevitably are the banter between Missy and the Monk. From the Monk being framed as the Master and sacrificed to a crab god (Ultimately, you do have to feel sorry for the Monk after all he's been through), to Missy pretending to be the Monk's ex and being sent to work in the kitchens, this story gets the dialogue just right and the humour on point. However, when the tables are turned, Missy is a hoot, poisoning Ogrons and destroying buildings all the while being very comedic. In fact, the comedy in this is spot on, to the opening of the story having Missy pretending to do a previously of her last meeting of the Monk, to her portrayal of the Monk's ex and the insults hurled at the Ogrons' intelligence.
The story also ends in a way that very clearly sets up an entrance for a third box set, something that would be very welcome. In the end, this set has been masses of fun, though perhaps not quite as good as volume 01, and is a welcome return for Michelle Gomez, clearly having maybe more fun than she did on TV.
There are lots of behind the scenes interviews accompanying each story. Producer David Richardson starts things off with a recap of how much fun it was to work on Missy Series 01 and how Michelle Gomez was eager to return to Big Finish. Lisa McMullin delights in being able to write for Missy and the concept for the Lumiat, which came out during the planning for series 02. Actor Matthew Jacobs-Morgan also talks the hopeless journey of quasi companion Bertram.
In the behind the scenes interviews for Brimstone and Terror, David Richardson and writer Roy Gill discuss the plans to bring back Oliver and Lucy and the surrealist nature of boarding school life that inspired the story. Oliver Clement reflects the on the maturity of Oliver's character since series 01 and how those changes impact the story. Gill had previously written for Strax in The Paternoster Gang and the fun of making him a PE teacher in this hellish school landscape and there's a lot of enthusiasm from all involved for the addition of the Sontaran to the story. He also talks about the ambiguity and danger of Missy and how appealing she is to audiences and the folk horror of her story and her willingness to do terrible things to get what she wants.
The interviews for Treason and Plot are the best on the set. Ben Fox (Robert Catesby) and Christopher Hatherall (Guy Fawkes) delight in their attempts to play up the west country accents that were popular in the time period, while the discussion on comedy versus drama is a insightful look into the acting world - as a writer and performer. Finally the interviews for Too Many Masters are led my Michelle Gomez and Rufus Hound as they talk about the dynamic of the Meddling Monk and Missy, with the added surprise that the two actors have never actually met each other!
Some Final Thoughts...
Missy Series 02 is another fun expansion of the Doctor Who universe as Big Finish. Michelle Gomez is a superb as ever, a playful, psychotic, fourth wall-breaking, whirlwind of a lead character; without the Doctor to tie her down, she's a crazy as ever and like series 01 last year, this set is arguably the most entertaining Big Finish set of 2020.
The Lumiat is the highlight of the set, with Missy as dastardly as ever as she faces off against the terrific concept of Gina McKee's 'good Missy', while Brimstone and Terror offers a welcome return for Oliver and Lucy - and Strax as an evil PE teacher - even if it perhaps doesn't quite live up to the expectations of Missy and Strax in the same story. Treason and Plot is a great historical romp, with Gomez once again stealing the show, while Too Many Masters is at its best when it has Gomez's Missy bouncing off Rufus Hound's Meddling Monk.
It might not be quite as fresh and laugh out loud as series 01, but Missy Series 02 is still a hugely entertaining romp that will bring a smile to your face with every listen.