In which Davros is useful for the first time since 1985, Michelle Gomez has me double-checking my pronouns, and Clara's sexuality gives me pause...
(Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who's ninth series première The Magician's Apprentice.)
I still haven't finished watching the back half of series eight so this is the first time I've seen Michelle Gomez as Missy. I'm... conflicted. You see, I like Missy just fine, she works well as a villainous presence, but what has me raising an eyebrow is how hard it is to see her as the Master.
This isn't a gender thing. I've wanted to see a woman play the Doctor for years and I'd be willing to bet this is as close as we'll be getting any time soon. There are moments when I see the Master there: when she disintegrates two men to prove she hasn't “turned good” and, of course, the glorious moment towards the end of the episode where she realises where they've ended up and how bad things are. There really is nothing more “Master” than the whole plan collapsing around them. And that little scheme with the planes is as convoluted and pointless as anything Delgado or Ainley's incarnations ever pulled.
So what's the problem? Well, for a start, I want to admit that it is probably my problem and less to do with the writing, it might even be something utterly necessary to selling this character as the Master to a general audience who have never seen Delgado or Ainley.
You see, I just never liked the Simm version of the Master and Missy is very much written to match his zaniness. The Master to me swings between detached cool and homicidal rage, I can't quite buy comedy accents from the character.
Davros, meanwhile, is the best he's been since Revelation Of The Daleks in 1985. What this story has over The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (and Remembrance, for that matter) is that it remembers Davros is a scientist. He has a cool non-Dalek henchman who is clearly one of his genetic experiments and we get another in the long list of chatty confrontations between the Doctor and Davros. “Did you miss our conversations?” Davros asks and, in all honesty, I did. I also like that throughout this episode he's kept separate from the Daleks which is how he's always worked best. These two, polar opposites in morality but united by their profession as scientists act as great foils for one another, arguably better than the Doctor and the Master.
So, effusive praise for a good episode mired only by some personal issues with the series' ongoing use of the Master?
Well, no, there's one other issue. It's an issue that's been hanging over Clara in particular and the Moffat era in general for a while now and one that this episode probably imagines it's helping to solve.
You see, Clara has a line here pretty much confirming her bisexuality. Now, this isn't out of the blue and that's been a problem in some quarters. The first duplicate Clara, Oswin Oswald, was bi (or possibly just forgetful) and whether that was a trait inherited from the original has been an open question since Clara's introduction proper. Here she mentions how good a kisser Jane Austen was and, yes, we have a canon bisexual companion. Yay?
You see, something that has dogged Moffat's Doctor Who is that when he took over from Russell T. Davies there were suddenly a lot fewer queer characters in the series. I'm not personally inclined to interpret malice on Moffat's part since he and Davies have different creative obsessions and, yes, one of Davies' is sexuality. Once the problem was pointed out to Moffat we got Jenny and Vastra and now canon bisexual Clara.
Still, it is only a mention and part of me raises an eyebrow and wonders if I'm being queerbaited here. Now, I'm the last person to look at a bisexual character and say they're imperfect for not sleeping with anything in sight, truth be told that trope bugged me long before I had reason to find it personally offensive. Still, I wonder how much latitude there would be for Clara to be shown in a relationship with a woman. Would the BBC ever allow the series to show her making sloppy kisses with Jane Austen (get those fan fictions beta'd by Friday AO3!)? She kissed Danny Pink plenty of times but the idea of her with a woman has to remain an idea.
Perhaps I'm just being ornery but this tiny mention smacks of fanservice more than character development. When Clara's character is actively informed by her bisexuality then I'll be cheering it on. Not necessarily a relationship or anything sexual, just some evidence that this is more than a bit of sly titillation.