TMS at Comic-Con: Doctor Who‘s Michelle Gomez and Steven Moffat Talk Missy,Female Writers, and Who Fandom
As part of The Mary Sue’s San Diego Comic Con coverage, former editor Sam Maggs spoke to Doctor Who‘s Michelle Gomez (Missy) and showrunner Steven Moffat earlier today about the return of Missy, her relationship with the Doctor, and new Who fandom.
Interviewer: So you’re coming back next season I want to hear all about it.
Michelle Gomez: I am back, but it’s with a slightly different dynamic, which is interesting, I hope. I’m back hot on the heels of the last series.
Interviewer: Has being vaporized changed Missy’s attitude at all? [Laughs]
Gomez: Ah, no. [Laughs] It’s not that her attitude has changed, it’s just that there’s been a shift in dynamic between Doctor and Clara and Missy. There’s just a little shift there. Maybe the vaporizing had something to do with it, I’m not sure. But she’s not big on sense.
Sam Maggs (TMS): In the episode where Missy and the Doctor finally come literally face to face, you kiss his nose three times. Did that come in the moment, or was that a direction… ?
Gomez: I think it was asking for it. It does sit quite right as just mine [?]. That’s the thing about Peter and I, which is so shocking, it’s that we could have been separated at birth. There’s something strangely familial about the two of us.
There’s a sort of sibling thing going on there. I don’t know whether if it’s because we’re both from the same town and there’s a sort of Scottish thing going on, we’ve both got dry, unmanageable hair, I don’t know. But no, to answer your question which you asked me 20 minutes ago, the kissing of the nose wasn’t scripted.
Steven Moffat: No, it was not.
Gomez: But it did seem “right” in the moment.
TMS: Speaking about Missy, what struck me is that she’s such a funny character. It made me think about all the other great villains that also had a lot of humor to them. I think you can both probably speak to this: what is it about adding humor to a villain character that makes them even scarier?
Moffat: Insight. Understanding. It’s terrifying if somebody is clued up enough and aware enough to make a joke AND kill you. That’s a sort of nightmare—when you see real killers in real life, they tend to be absolutely humorless bastards, really. They have no insight, compassion. To make a joke you have to understand logic and reason as good as a sophisticated [unintelligible].
A villain who makes a joke but still wants to kill you is bloody frightening.
Gomez: Comedy is also a very powerful conduit to carry a message, because it always leaves the audience a little unnerved. What I like about Missy is that you never quite know where you are with her. I’ve enjoyed playing that nuance, which is very human as well. We all wear these different masks out into the world every day, and she just gets to—at the drop of a hat really, with the way Steven writes these—well, she’s sort of your lovable everyday psychotic schizophrenic.
With no heart.
Moffat: But she’s not mad, though, is she? That’s the thing. She’s not.
Gomez: Maybe there’s something about me and maybe that means I need some help, but she’s immersed in a kind of glorious denial—and delusion maybe—that everything 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’s just an irritant.
Interviewer: Well there’s more nuance to it then, now, than the old Master back in the Tom Baker days.
Gomez: I just didn’t want her to be—her, him, whatever you want to call me—two-dimensional.
Moffat: To hell with gendered pronouns. It’s exhausting.
Gomez: Oh lord.
Gomez: That’d be the big reveal, that I’m actually a man.
Interviewer: Well, there was always a hint of that in the old days wasn’t there? That the Master was the Doctor’s brother. He said that at one time, “How could you do this to your… ?”
Moffat: Ah, yes, yes. Yeah.
TMS: In making the Master a woman, we went into this really interesting zone where, like with Clara, he has this very intoxicating relationship that doesn’t exactly seem romantic. Do you care to talk about how that kind of… ?
Moffat: If anything, there’s no flirtation between the Doctor and Missy at all. The only time the Doctor and the Master flirted was actually David Tennant and John Simm.
There isn’t any this time at all. In fact, we’re very specific in the new one, we absolutely know what’s going on. They’re incredibly good friends. That’s really interesting.
They’re 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. But 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.
TMS: I wanted to ask you on the creative end, you brought a couple of women writers on board this season [names], what was that like working with them, and can we expect to see more from them? What are their stories like?
Moffat: Well, you’ve grouped them together though they don’t belong in the same category at all. They’re about as opposite as they could be. Catherine is the only person I’ve ever had to persuade to write Doctor Who. Because she didn’t want to do it. I’d been asking her for years, actually. When I first did “Blink” all those years ago, Russell sent me her script for Torchwood, which was great. He said, “This is another message from the past story, you gotta not bump into it.” And I remember saying to him, “She’s brilliant, why don’t we get her?” He said, “She doesn’t really watch Doctor Who…”
We decided why don’t we try Catherine again, and for the first time in my life in this job, I sat and pitched a story and 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. It took her no time at all to get the hang of her Doctor Who work. She wrote a great Doctor, and she understood it perfectly.
And then started watching it, it’s quite funny, she’ll come in and say, “It’s very emotional, Doctor Who, isn’t it?” [Interviewers laugh] It’s the most nakedly emotional show on television, and it has been for ten years.
Sarah comes from a very, very different category, and a very interesting one, because only she and Jamie Matheson both belong to this category, would both describe themselves as Doctor Who fans, would both describe themselves as long-term Doctor Who fans… haven’t seen the old show. Haven’t seen it. Don’t know anything about it.
Now me, and Russell, and Mark, and Chris, and Toby, we’re all fans of the old show. For us, Doctor Who, in our hearts, is the old show. 4×3, very old. Multicam. That’s what we think Doctor Who is. They think Doctor Who is that modern one. [Chuckles] 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?”
I remember saying this to Sarah. It’s a bit like that, and she’s going, I’m 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 all about the old show. Tom Baker, here, sit down, watch this.
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. It might even be a majority. So we’re just at this stage where people that are just about Sarah’s age coming through saying, “No, this is the show that I want to do, that I’m passionate about, but what the fuck is a Morbius?” So that’s gonna be very, very interesting.
You should watch the old bloody show. I’m still offended. I’m gonna phone her right now.
Interviewer: You manage to thread that needle though, a lot. You get so many references in from the old show.
Moffat: That’s because I’m a walking fucking tragedy, mate. Let’s not pretend it’s anything else. “Hey, Russell, look what I’ve mentioned in this most recent…” This is the brilliant one: when I was doing the very, very first Who…and Russell was running it, I sat with Julie Gardner and Jane, 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, “Don’t tell Moffat.”
“Because he’s fucking full of it.”
Interviewer: Do you get a thrill if you throw in something, if you say, “we’re gonna do Zygons,” or something not even that obvious, just a line. There are things that get thrown in, like, “I have a granddaughter.” And boom, and what, and that’s it.
Moffat: You do get a thrill, I think it’s a legitimate thrill. I do worry sometimes that I gotta crush the inner fanboy at times. And who doesn’t want to crush a fanboy now and then? I also think even for the new audience, 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? Here’s Romana, here’s Andra… this is Susan. But you know, that’s the thing, 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.
Interviewer: Speaking of Gallifrey, there was that promise in the 50th, and then Missy—
Moffat: That wasn’t a promise. Nothing’s a promise, mate.
Interviewer: Ahh, 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, [sadly] “Oh. Gallifrey. Let’s not go to Gallifrey.”
TMS: So speaking of other women who were vaporized in the finale…
Interviewer: Wow, that’s an interesting segue…
Moffat: It’s not a particular fetish.
Moffat: No women were vaporized in the making of this show.
TMS: 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… but, it’s rumored that Osgood is coming back?
Moffat: It’s not rumored, it’s a fact.
TMS: Okay, that is a fact.
TMS: Okay. So how is that happening?
Moffat: I don’t know. I can’t wait to watch those episodes. [Laughs] Look, it’s… we’ll say, you’ll know when you see it, that this wasn’t a whim. There is a plan, it’s been the plan in place for a hell of a long time. So you’ll see it’s not a whim.
TMS: And she’s sort of an intentional fan proxy, right?
Moffat: Well, it’s a tough love letter, really. A love letter to cosplay, cause I love all that stuff. If you’re cosplaying as Osgood—
Interviewer: So meta.
Moffat: Yes! You’re cosplaying someone who is cosplaying. It’s cosplay cubed. [Laughs]
Interviewer: 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 send 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 this [unintelligible] 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.”
Interviewer: We’ve already sent that to our publishers.
Other Interviewer: It’s done. Yeah. Tweeted it, it happened.
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. If I can say that, if I can stand up and say that, then everyone else should say that.
—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]