Doctor Who: Steven Moffat’s mysterious female characters

Missy is only the latest in a series of enigmatic women characters that Steven Moffat has teased us with in Doctor Who…

This features contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 8 (but not for anything that’s not been broadcast!)

One of them carries an umbrella. One of them makes soufflés. One of them wears an eye patch. One of them – according to Strax – has a gigantic head. Most of them, at one point or another, have slapped the Doctor’s face. What else do they have in common? They are all Steven Moffat’s mysterious women, characters air-dropped into Doctor Who hanging off the end of a question mark, and whose elliptical appearances in the show were designed to stir up fan speculation.

By the time Missy, Michelle Gomez’s very Michelle Gomez-y “gatekeeper of the nethersphere”,  popped up at the end of the series eight opener, Who fans were familiar with the game afoot. Missy was this series’ affectionately set homework (once a teacher, always a teacher), something to mull over between episodes and keep us out of trouble. Admittedly, she’s been notable for her absence of late, but that’s likely to change in the coming weeks.

Air-biting, twirling, clearly unhinged and smitten with her “boyfriend” the Doctor, we first met Missy welcoming one of series eight’s first fatalities to a tidy walled garden she called Heaven. Into The Dalek saw her brief return, performing the same celestial meet ‘n’ greet with another deceased supporting player surrounded by a selection of exciting-looking cakes.

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What is Missy’s Heaven, we asked? Another planet? A TARDIS? A fantasy world peopled by consciousnesses saved to a central computer? A sort of posh green room for Doctor Who’s old extras?

As to who she was, it took roughly eight seconds after Deep Breath’s end credits rolled for comments sections the world over to belch out a familiar cloud of “She’s the Rani/the Master/the woman in the shop/Tasha Lem’s big sister/a manifestation of the Doctor’s guilt/your mum.” Because that’s how this game works. Between now and the series eight finale, it’s our job to gobble up every one of Missy’s new titbits and appearances, and use them to fuel an ongoing argument that will only conclude come the show’s series finale revelation – if then.

Considering we’re now on the fourth round of Steven Moffat’s ‘Mystery Woman’ game (or fifth, if you count Amy Pond’s universe crack-based amnesia, or sixth if you count The Time Of The Doctor’s Tasha Lem), we must have picked up a few tricks along the way to give us a competitive advantage. What then, did we learn from the mystery appearances of River Song, Madame Kovarian and Clara Oswin, that may help us solve the mystery of Steven Moffat’s latest enigmatic Who addition?

Names are important

It was in A Good Man Goes To War, the mid-series six finale, that River Song’s identity was finally revealed three years after we were first introduced to the Professor in series four’s The Silence In The Library. The revelation that River Song was in fact Melody Pond finally made sense of Idris’ message from The Doctor’s Wife that “the only water in the forest is the river”, which turned out to be a linguistic riddle. The language of the Gamma Forests is a tricky one to translate, it turns out. Not only does the word ‘Doctor’ mean ‘Great Warrior’ in honour of his knibs, but the only word the Gamma Forest has for a body of water is ‘River’, hence the name Melody Pond being transposed into that of River Song. It’s simple when you know the answer.

We could surmise then, as many have, that Missy’s name will be a clue to her identity. We would be the millionth to point out at this stage that it’s a shortened form of Mistress, which has the undeniable ring of the Master to it. However…

Except when they’re not

Karma Maiden Ova, A Mania Dark Move, A Diva Maker Moan, Mama Invade Okra… Try as we might, Madame Kovarian’s true identity as the head of a splinter chapter of the religious order of The Silence did not appear to be concealed within her name, anagram or otherwise, unless there was a clue to her baby-rustling ways with ‘ovarian’.

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The same goes for Clara Oswald, a name that either means “bright God’s power” or “bright German man from the south woods” according to our extensive research/cursory Google search. The anagrams don’t help much either, with “Alas Lard Cow” being particularly ill-fitted for our Clara (though you could possibly argue a case for “Arc Load Slaw”).

Clara was of course, the middle name of the much-missed actress who played Sarah-Jane Smith, Elisabeth Sladen, which is a lovely tribute.

These women are the Doctor’s best friend/worst enemy/both

From the get-go, River Song’s elliptical appearances positioned her as an ally to the Doctor, and someone to be trusted, as proved by the name-whispering she does in The Forest Of The Dead. That was turned on its head when her true status as a Doctor-killing machine was revealed. Clara, in a reversal of that, was introduced as someone the Doctor shouldn’t trust (remember the TARDIS’ dislike of her?), but was ultimately revealed to be the person who repeatedly saved his life. Of all Steven Moffat’s mysterious women, only Madame Kovarian has proved to be what she first appeared to be – an outright enemy of the Doctor’s.

So, on which side will Missy fall? Her reference to the Doctor being “her boyfriend” suggests amity between the two, which, taking the examples of Clara and River’s switcheroo status, could suggest an about-turn is on the cards, and Missy will ultimately be proved antagonist and not ally.

We’ll find out in the finale

The Big Bang. A Good Man Goes To War. The Name Of The Doctor. The solution to Moffat’s mysterious women has, in the past coincided with a finale. Series eight is due a two-parter, entitled Dark Water and Death In Heaven, written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay. All signs point towards Moffat’s explanation of who Missy really is and what her titular ‘heaven’ is taking place in those two episodes.

Unless we don’t

Despite A Good Man Goes To War explaining precisely who Frances Barber’s intriguing femme was, we still don’t know exactly what happened to her, or whether she’ll return. As Amy left her to die in an aborted timeline, technically Madame Kovarian is still at large in this one, though where she is, and whether she’s likely to repeat her attempts on the Doctor’s life or live out her days bejewelling her eye-patch on some distant planet is for Who’s writers to decide.

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Where does that leave us?

Where we began, in truth. As flies to wanton boys are we to Steven Moffat and his ongoing game of ‘Guess Who’…

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