With all due respect to those who have brought Doctor Who’s The Master to life before (including current portrayer Sacha Dhawan), the best of The Doctor’s longtime enemy was the first female Master, aka Missy – – that demented Mary Poppins brought to life by Michelle Gomez. So it’s no surprise that Missy gets the starring role in her own comic series. But can the comic capture the magic Gomez made on TV?
Written by Jody Houser
Illustrated by Roberta Ingranata
Colored by Enrica Eren Angiolini
Lettered by Comicraft’s Richard Starkings
On the 50 anniversary of the debut of the Doctor’s deadliest adversary, Missy wages war on the Third and Twelfth Doctors! Can they stop her from executing her lethal plot?
This year marks five decades since The Master first graced our TV screens with the face of the late Roger Delgado in “Terror of the Autons.” And throughout those years and many faces, The Master’s goal has remained the same: rule the universe and defeat The Doctor. These two powerful Time Lords butted heads and ideas time and again over the years, with The Master staying just one step ahead of their fellow Time Lord.
When this series opens in the 52nd century, there is a Master behind bars, one that the Third Doctor checks in on regularly, but at a safe distance knowing The Master’s desire for power and bloodlust. But there’s another visitor to this Master today, one in a fancy hat, skirt and bustle. Tricking this Master (who has the face of Delgado) into believing she’s The Doctor, Missy breaks the prisoner free, clearly as part of her master plan against The Doctor. And so begins a battle of control, not just of the universe, but of past and current selves.
Bringing together past and present Doctor Who history introduces readers to Delgado’s version of The Master, through the context of another that left quite the impression on TV viewers. Any worries I had about translating Michelle Gomez’s witty repartee to page disappeared the minute she debuted, smirking, doing a clever interpretation of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” to trick her way into the prison. The jokes flowed like honey from that point forward, covering everything from Disney films to wifi at a sharp, biting pace. And while Sacha Dhawan brings a level of mystery to The Master that has its own unique tone, reading this debut makes you realize just how much you long to see Michelle Gomez stalking the TARDIS’s every move once more. Throughout the time I’ve read Jody Houser’s tenure on Doctor Who comics, I notice the great love and care she has for the franchise, honoring it and letting her own fandom shine through without being too overly reverent of it.
The meeting of past and present faces does leave open the large question of the paradox that the previous Doctor Who series tackled. If Ten and Thirteen could not be in the same timeline without causing temporal crisis, shouldn’t it be the same for Missy and The Master, since they are the same face? They are both Time Lords, after all. This is a question I do hope gets addressed as the series progresses.
Just as Houser grows with her experience in the franchise, so does the art team. It’s always tough to translate faces from screen to page, three dimensions to two – – and over the years, Doctor Who comics (including the most recent run) struggled with getting the look right without making it too much of a caricature. Whether it’s experience or the subjects she’s drawing (who themselves have rather angular faces and pointed chins), Roberta Ingranata nails the look of her starring foes. A bleak prison setting may not lend itself to much innovation in design, but Ingranata plays with exaggerated straight lines and angles to give that right sense of size and scale: a bleak, remote place in the farthest reaches of space, leaps, bounds, light years away from civilization. Like Ingranata, Enrica Eren Angiolini finds ways to have fun with color, making Missy’s wardrobe pop off every page of prison greys, and using color for movement in the final action scene with Master versus Master.Continued below
There’s also subtle tributes to Doctor Who history in her artwork. Missy’s skirt features the classic question mark that was a hallmark of the Sixth and Seventh Doctor costumes. Her open umbrella in her stroll through the prison is a pastiche of series villains, themselves prisoners in this deep space penitentiary. The same hallmark of Houser’s script – – reverence for series canon without dwelling too much upon it – – carries into artwork. It would be very easy to make this series a pure tribute issue, using page after page as a history lesson, or cameo appearances for the sake of having them. But in script and art, there’s a modern story that stands on its own merits, but takes influence from what came before and crafts something new.
And while we should never judge a book by its cover, the covers for this debut issue do well to lend to the mystery of who will win this battle of wits and control. David Buisan’s main cover shows a Missy in full control, while Roberta Ingranata and Bryan Valenza’s variant does well to suggest just the opposite.
From Zemo to Agatha to Loki, the scofflaw can be richer, more complex, and entertaining than the hero. Missy showed just that on TV when she battled wits with Peter Capaldi, and in her sequential art debut, she shows no signs of slowing down.
Final Verdict: 8.4 – Missy’s comic book debut will make you wish for her back on your TV screens.