So, in the event, it was as many had predicted: the Master is now a woman.
Let’s look at that sentence again. Steven Moffat has brought the Master back – as a woman. The man who regenerated the Doctor into Joanna Lumley in ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ has now done something similar for the Master, and, as series-changing twists go, it’s hard to think of anything bigger, apart from the obvious: that the Doctor, too, might become a woman one day.
For the most part, we have to say that we’re fine with this. There’s nothing canon-busting in the essential idea that a Time Lord might change gender. On the contrary, the character of the Corsair – referred to in 2011’s ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ – establishes that such a thing is possible. So you really have Neil Gaiman to blame if you’re unhappy with this.
On the subject of whether the Doctor himself might change gender, Moffat has always asserted that the idea will only ever be realised when there is a uniquely right actress in the frame to play the part. It’s a theory proven by the casting of Michelle Gomez: an actress who offers an electrifyingly bonkers and unpredictable take on the Master.
Savage and flirtatious, hers is a logical extension of John Simm’s lunatic portrayal, and yet the fires of Hell in her eyes seem to burn brighter and madder. She is a natural match for Capaldi’s Doctor, not only in her demented Scottishness, but also in the way her social provocativeness challenges and threatens his more socially oblivious Doctor.
The warning signs were there early on – even in this episode. The Doctor’s first line to Missy is ‘Come on! We’ve come a long way’ – as indeed the Doctor and Master have. Many of the characteristic features of the Master are in place, in both script and performance: the fetishisation of death, the appropriation of dodgy technology, the penchant for grandstanding, and the preoccupation with the Doctor.
But there are disturbing – and, as yet, unanswered – new questions too: the insinuation in ‘Deep Breath’ that Missy got to choose, or at least chose to keep, the Doctor’s new accent, or her assertion, in ‘Flatline’, that, where Clara was concerned, she chose well. The Master has always had delusions of godhead, but is it possible that she could wield such divinity over the Doctor? For that matter, given the fact that she has previously referred to the Doctor as her ‘boyfriend’, is her interest in him ultimately divine or profane?
Ah yes, the boyfriend issue.
Not content with breaking one taboo, in making the Master a woman, Moffat also breaks another in having the Master and an oblivious Doctor kiss. It’s a moment that feels, fleetingly, pure River Song – another occasion when the Doctor is undone by sudden female attention.
As kisses go, it’s fierce (and, frankly, tonguey). Missy certainly relishes the one-sided lasciviousness of the encounter. However, whether or not her intent is exclusively sexual is open to debate.
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