Doctor Who surprised fans three seasons ago by revealing that Master — another one of the Doctor’s lifelong foes — had regenerated into a woman.
Since then, Michelle Gomez has been playing Missy with all the off-kilter verve fans have come to expect from an errant Time Lady: She’s both guarded the Doctor’s secret and orchestrated events around him and his companions for her own ends.
With Missy soon making an appearance on the show, and Gomez preparing to bid the role goodbye, EW caught up with the Scottish actress to discuss the intricacies of playing a Time Lady, and what this season might have in store.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You recently announced that this is your last season. What made you decide that it’s time to say goodbye?
GOMEZ: I’m not sure it was an official announcement, but never say never. You never know what’s going to happen with the show. Basically where I was coming from was if Peter’s going and Steven’s going then I’ll probably be going to. But you just never know. Especially with Missy.
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You’ve played her for three seasons now. What do you think you might miss about her most?
Just the freedom that we mortals don’t really get to exercise in our day-to-day lives. She can do or say or be any way she wants to be. There’s a kind of discombobulating energy around her that is strangely attractive in a way. The strength of that is the fact that she’s very uncensored.
Have you had many chances to improvise with your performance?
There’s a thing that we call topping and tailing in most scenes that happen. Obviously, as it suggests, it tops and tails the actual script. So most of the time that ends up on the cutting room floor. But some of it does make its way to the final cut. Steven Moffat knows me well and I’ve never had somebody write for me so strongly, so beautifully, so effortlessly before. It’s like he has my voice in his head. There’s not much improvising going on because it’s all kind of there on the page for me from the get-go… He’s able to create a script for who I am and where I’m coming from. Especially tonally.
Considering Missy is a reincarnation, what do you think is different about her compared to previous incarnations of the Master?
Well, she’s a woman! But she’s a woman who’s definitely wearing the pants. From a female point of view, I describe her as having a fragile hostility. There’s a vulnerability in her that is all tied up in a spiky aggression…. Actually, I’m going to take that back because aggression would take up far too much energy, which she can’t be bothered spending much on. She’s just like a bored cat.
Had you watched previous performances of people who had played the Master as you were prepping for the role? Or did you feel like you knew what you were doing?
If I’m honest, there wasn’t that much prep involved on account of me being incredibly lazy. [Laughs] But also, [I didn’t want] to get overwhelmed or intimidated by what others had done before me. I really wanted to turn up completely fresh. I didn’t want to start competing or imitating anything that had gone before. So my blind ignorance, in that sense, worked for me. Because being a fan I could have been really overwhelmed with the task of playing the first female Master… So my M.O. was just that I could say my lines and go.
How does Missy see this version of the Doctor? Is he more of a friend? More of an enemy?
It’s very ambiguous what that dynamic is. If you go back to the [Roger] Delgado days, there was a real ease between the Doctor and the Master where they would kind of enjoy each other’s company. They definitely had different opinions about certain things — one was good, one was evil. I think this version of the Doctor, with Missy and the Doctor, has been compared often to that dynamic, the Delgado years. It does feel like a friendship that’s gone wrong. They’re still kind of pleased to see each other. But they remember why they deleted their memories after 10 minutes in each other’s company.
Is there anything you wish you would have done on the show as Missy?
No. I have to say, it’s been such a dream role. I got to tick so many boxes… My imagination is only human, with Steven Moffat working on a whole different plane. To be standing on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral was just a phenomenal day. There was just something magical in that script. In each [season] I’ve done — 8, 9, and 10 — my expectation of what was available to me has always been surpassed by Steven’s incredible imagination. So I feel like I’ve ticked most of my wishlist.
Do you have a favorite episode? Either of something that’s aired or coming up?
What’s coming up is really exciting. There’s stuff that I would describe as altogether “extremely odd” or “unnerving” even for me. Let’s just say it was a massive acting challenge, that I’ve hoped we’ve managed to pull off. In terms of what’s gone before, it has to be standing at St. Paul’s Cathedral, with a backdrop of an army of cyberman. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Not for a regular old jobbing actor.
Anything else you want to tease about what’s coming up?
I arrived at the read-through not having read the script, my usual move, so that I can be really present in it. What jumped out of the page on that day, I did not see coming. What’s about to happen is really kind of wrong as well. It’s very strange.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.