Big Finish Review: Missy Series One
The ridiculous and anarchic Missy returns in a highly enjoyable and consistently unpredictable series of four solo adventures. After debuting on audio and meeting River Song last month in The Diary of River Song Series Five, Missy’s madness and volatility get the chance to breathe across four very fun stories. Read on for a deeper analysis of each tale.
Missy Series One stars Michelle Gomez and Rufus Hound, was directed by Ken Bentley and was produced by David Richardson. The boxset is available exclusively on the Big Finish website before general release on April 30th 2019.
Read the synopsis below...
Missy... alone, unleashed and unfettered. What does she get up to when the Doctor isn’t around?
Well, Missy has a plan. And to carry it out, she’s going to have to break some rules. And people. And planets. Look out universe, Missy is on a mission. And nobody is going to stop her…
A Spoonful of Mayhem by Roy Gill
In a spot of bother in Victorian London, Missy is forced to take on governess duties.
But she has another scheme in mind, and her charges are simply in the way. She’s going to have to teach the children some rather harsh lessons about getting what you want.
And there will be tears before bedtime.
Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated by John Dorney
Missy arrives in Tudor England, throwing the plans of another renegade Time Lord into chaos.
King Henry VIII is on the throne, and aliens are stomping through the countryside. Missy just wants to be Queen.
And the Monk? Once he knows who else is on the scene, he’ll be glad just to stay alive…
The Broken Clock by Nev Fountain
Tonight, on Dick Zodiac’s America’s Most Impossible Killers, Detective Joe Lynwood hunts the most impossible killer of his career.
There’s a trail of bodies. Impossible bodies. And Joe has one long night to solve the case.
Luckily, DI Missy Masters from Scotland Yard in England, London, England is here to help…
The Belly of the Beast by Jonathan Morris
Missy’s scheme nears completion. All she must do is subjugate one little planet and bend the inhabitants to her will. Not too much to ask…
But slaves will keep rebelling. It’s almost as if they don’t want to unearth an ancient artefact to fulfil Missy’s plans for universal domination.
She’ll have to do something about that.
Firstly, the theme tune from Hollywood film composer (that’s right!) Joe Kraemer is full of tipsy-topsy swagger, with a bit of swashbuckling thrown in and a bit of rock to boot. It resembles the Doctor Who theme crossed with Pirates of the Caribbean. One can imagine it playing over the opening titles of a TV show, complete with snippets of Missy doing crazy and dastardly deeds. The conclusion? Get Joe Kraemer to write the theme songs to all your spinoffs!
A Spoonful of Mayhem
Who cares about the old master? Hasn’t Missy been the most tremendous fun?
Well, it was inevitable we would be getting this story… and it was worth the wait to hear the Mary Poppins-inspired Missy masquerading as a governess in Victorian London, looking after two young children and letting chaos ensue! The parallels were clear from her earliest appearances, but of course, when Missy is involved, everything gets a little crazier – even more so than a Mary Poppins level of ludicrousness.
The Time Lord has been exiled to 19th century Earth by the ultra-pedantic, rule-following, bat-like race called the Wardens. She’s been pinned down without her sonic umbrella or TARDIS at hand, and delights, as always, in killing people and bragging about it to everyone else. Being riled by the fact that she is forced to get a job, Missy immediately begins stirring up trouble with the children, preferring sudden escapades to the park over tutoring lessons.
Bonnie Kingston and Oliver Clement play Lucy and Oliver Davis, an innocent sister and brother pairing who espouse many a Victorian value and ignorance to advanced technology. Yet they both exhibit a spy intelligence and enthusiasm for cavorting across the city with Missy and breaking the rules. Bonnie and Oliver themselves are commendable, enigmatic, and show significant acting promise, and Oliver also provides an engaging narrator voice sprinkled throughout the drama.
Missy, as usual, has a bonkers agenda and unexplained plan she is working to bring to fruition, but what really makes this episode work is her back-and-forth with the two children, and the way she takes on a quasi-maternal, favourite-aunt role with them. Another highlight was the fact that not ten minutes into the drama, Missy breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience – although unfortunately, this did not happen often enough, and hopefully more awaits in the next three episodes.
Elsewhere, Dan Starkey is one of the go-to people to cover multiple, often accented, characters, and is multiple appearances in A Spoonful of Mayhem is no exception. Ultimately, Roy Gill’s script is full of fun and fantasy, with more than a few double meanings. The first of ‘Missy’s Marvellous Adventures’, to quote Missy herself, is a strong start to her solo adventures, and the remaining line-up of stories hopefully will not disappoint.
Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated
It’s back on! It’s more than back on, it’s Francis Bacon!
In Tudor England, King Henry XIII is seeking his sixth wife, and eyes off Lady Beatrice Foxtrot as a suitable candidate. Yet it could never be so simple when Missy and the Meddling Monk are involved, as it turns out that the latter is impersonating King Henry and the latter the fine Lady Beatrice. So the stage is set for what clearly will turn out to be a raucous and naughty ride for all involved.
John Dorney’s script does not disappoint. The story is meta and subversive, and particularly hits the mark when it places Missy and the Monk in a room together to trade barbs back and forth. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny and highly quotable. The whole episode essentially consists of the two characters trying to one up the other, setting them up for failure and always trying to gain the upper hand. This is the episode’s strength, and makes for a witty, banter-filled romp of a tale with a lot of light betrayal and subterfuge.
The Monk himself, played riotously by Rufus Hound, is taking great delight in his assumed role and exploits all the privileges royalty brings. His embrace of the era’s illustrious language (and patriarchal attitudes) effectively place the tale in its historical context, setting the scene for the science fiction elements that emerge later. Unexpectedly, the reasons for his being in Tudor England take a dive into a certain part of Doctor Who mythology and not insignificantly flesh out the Monk’s own backstory.
This being Missy’s set of adventures, it would not by a spoiler to say she comes out on top, leaving the Monk in an appropriately worse off position. Despite all the fun times being had across these four episodes, it is good to see she is still as ruthless and heartless as ever when it matters. Two stories in, the set is yet to put a foot wrong – a momentum that hopefully continues into the second half of the set.
The Broken Clock
Hell in a purple peacoat.
Nev Fountain does something brilliant with this story, telling a murder mystery in the style of an American true crime documentary, full of re-enactments with actors and dramatic narration – but with the added chaos of Missy being involved. Nev Fountain fully embraces the metafictional element that was hinted at in the previous two episodes, ripping apart the normal order of the true crime documentary genre.
Dick Zodiac’s America’s Most Impossible Killers is full of the melodrama, noir tone and bad similes that are typical of a show of this kind. The protagonist detective is idiosyncratic and has a photographic memory (of course) and is accompanied by a female associate with a dry tongue and deprecating attitude (of course). The dialogue is cheesy and the narrations overly repetitive, and the characters are initially unaware of the cliché nature of the story – until they metafictionally begin to question their identity as actors playing roles, or as real people thinking they are actors playing roles.
When Missy arrives on the scene as DI Missy Masters from Scotland Yard, all conventional notions of storytelling and chronology go out the window. She cuts into the narration with her own stuff to say, undermines the expectations of other detectives and even tells one of them in advance that they will die (and not of her hand). Her flippant disregard for storytelling conventions is the story’s real highlight.
This is not Nev Fountain’s first script that deals with aberrant chronology and a plot that deals with time – having written stories like Peri and Piscon Paradox (with the Fifth and Sixth Doctors) and The Lady in the Lake (with River Song). He is well-equipped to blow normal ideas about storytelling out of the water, which he certainly does here in a way well-suited to the unpredictability and volatility of Missy.
After such a bonkers episode, one might expect a similarly non-reverential conclusion to the tale, yet the climactic revelation becomes suddenly solemn and heartfelt. Like the previous episode, The Broken Clock delves into the mythos very suddenly and provide a nice continuity between these stories and the parent show.
The Belly of the Beast
Obviously I don’t need to kill you. But the things is, I want to.
Jonathan Morris rounds off the set with a story about slave labour, identity and self-determination. The forest-dwelling village folk of a foreign planet are visited by ‘sky machines’ and swiftly enslaved by the soldiers within. Made to dig for minerals in a mine, they face deadly gas leaks and attacks from indigenous creatures. This sounds like a story synopsis straight out of a Dalek tale, but The Belly of the Beast ends up very different, if only due to Missy’s involvement.
Missy gets the chance to embrace her more ruthless and deadly side in addition to flippant unpredictability. Skirmishes between mine guards and rebel forces contribute to a disheartening atmosphere of slave labour, and Missy pushes her slave force harder and further, with depressing results.
Yet for all the high stakes and serious themes, there are many parts of the episode that are cause for joy. Announcements over the PA system inside the mine use part of the boxset theme as the jingle at start and end of every message. Michelle Gomez again gets the chance to break out ridiculous accents – this time, Spanish (apparently). And continuity between the television series and the audios is enhanced when Missy is heard playing a piano at multiple points, as per The Lie of the Land.
As the culmination of four episodes, The Belly of the Beast brings bigger stakes, a more ruthless Missy, and a big payoff for her character. She continues to sound exactly like she did on television, and with four individual episodes focused on her escapades, this has been a great opportunity to hear her develop further.
Sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian is adept and immersive across a variety of locations in space and time. Kraemer seems to be the perfect choice for composer of a Missy-themed boxset, with its many flourishes, orchestral highs and snarky, evil-laden lows that befit the character.
Each episode is accompanied by 10 to 15 minutes of Kraemer’s delightful music suite, which is worthy enough of being listened to alone. The score for A Spoonful of Mayhem swings back and forth between whimsical and fairytale-like with a full orchestra to quasi-Harry Potter mystery with its off-centre strings. The musical cues in Divorced, Beheaded and Regenerated set the story confidently in the Tudor Era, helping to distinguish the period episode from the one immediately before it (set in the Victorian Era).
The score for The Broken Clock is just like from a real crime documentary, full of spiky keyboards and thrumming guitar that set the tone for a mystery to be solved and a murderer to be uncovered. Finally, The Belly of the Beast’s music suite in equal parts dances (with high-energy strings and loud drums) and ponders (with softer flutes and quieter piano) to reflect the story’s variety in tone.
Cast and crew interviews reveal how Michelle Gomez recorded her lines separately as she was in Vancouver for filming for most of 2018. In a fascinating insight into the recording process, producer David Richardson recalls how Beth Chalmers played all remaining parts down the line and read in for Michelle Gomez when the rest of the cast recorded together in London.
The cast, as always, share in much merriment. Fellow actors in A Spoonful of Mayhem only have good words to say about Bonnie Kingston and Oliver Clement. It is also genuinely pleasing to hear of how Rufus Hound finds meaningful joy from knowing audience members listen to and enjoy his role as the Monk in these stories. Finally, that Michelle Gomez keeps copies of the scripts is a testament not only to the quality of the writing but also her enjoyment of and enthusiasm for the role.
Some Final Thoughts...
Missy is a true tour de force from Michelle Gomez. This set is probably the most unexpected fun this reviewer has had listening to a Big Finish release since last year’s Jenny – The Doctor’s Daughter. Unlike the War Master in Big Finish’s other Master-led series, Missy puts the character front and centre as the full focus of attention in all four stories. This works to Michelle Gomez’s strengths as a supremely adaptable and dynamic actress, and shows high promise for Missy’s continuing future at Big Finish.