Missy and the Monk (Big Finish Review)

Both as a character onscreen and as the lead of her own spinoff series on audio, Missy has been a runaway success. Michelle Gomez is an absolute riot in a role that one struggles to imagine anyone else inhabiting, and the situations in which Missy finds herself in the first two series have lent themselves nicely to black comedy and farce.

The episodes featuring Rufus Hound as the Monk were the best of the first two sets, and Big Finish have doubled down on that success in Missy Series 3: this time around, Missy and the Monk appear in each of the three stories, later joined by another incarnation of the Monk – or rather Nun – in the final story. The result is a glorious three-hour romp full of madness and mania.

Body and Soulless

Missy is a fantastic outlet for the creativity of all the writers, actors and script editors who have contributed to the series. Here, writer James Goss drops us into the story in medias res: Missy and the Monk are caught in the middle of a war zone, the latter merely a brain in the former’s handbag. Body and Soulless is all betrayal and double-crosses and switching allegiances as the pair initially fight together before being split up and finding themselves on opposite sides of a centuries-long conflict.

Goss does witty writing very well, and this script delivers abundantly on that front. Beyond being prime material for humour, the Monk’s being a brain in a bag is a neat way of having him and Missy be forced to cooperate, at least initially; he needs her help to get his body back, whereas she is using him an unwitting pawn in her (typically wicked) plan. It’s a farcical setup, yet there’s also a deeper pathos that comes to the fore in the back half of the episode, when the Monk ends up fighting alongside an incorporeal species. Reflecting on his own newfound incorporeality, he empathises with their plight of eternally shifting from host to host and the resultant trauma of never staying still for long.

It hardly needs saying, but Body and Soulless is quite the romp. Although both Missy and the Monk feature in sizeable roles, ultimately this is Missy’s series – making the Monk not so much Missy’s equal but her gormless sidekick to manipulate as she pleases. And Michelle Gomez is as sparkling as ever: you could have her doing silly voices for an hour and there’d be a market for it – although these stories aren’t far off that really, with Missy breaking out a range of delightful accents!

War Seed

Of the three stories, War Seed is probably the one to most closely resemble a conventional Doctor Who episode, with Missy landing on modern-day Earth with her sidekick in tow, supposedly intending to show the Monk that she can indeed help people sometimes, instead of only ever wreaking havoc – an arrangement which barely lasts, of course, before people start dying.

The War Seed of the title is Missy’s ‘son’, a powerful sentient weapon created at a time when the Mistress was still a Master, and one of the numerous legacies left behind from the War Master’s exploits during the Time War. (Listeners of Big Finish’s War Master saga will be familiar with those dastardly exploits.) After the War ended, this particular War Seed, played by Samuel Collings, found his way to Arkansas in 1985, where he was captured by entrepreneur Richard Temple (John Telfer). Temple proceeds to siphon off the War Seed’s regenerative energy for his own capitalist gain, creating body-augmenting beauty products and protein bars and baby lotions, oblivious to the consequences and convinced of the reliability of his business idea. Cue disaster.

Writer Johnny Candon also layers in some light satire of humanity’s vacuous obsession with social media to accompany the anti-capitalist themes. But his script is by no means lacking in absurdity or unashamedly farcical elements: the Monk attempts to hypnotise someone à la the Master but fails miserably, Missy continues to pull people up for not properly referring to her as a Mistress rather than a Master, and so on. In fact, almost every line out of Missy’s mouth is fuelled by either nonchalance or a desire for petty cruelty – and it’s superb.

In the extras, director Ken Bentley shares his gratitude that “at least it was a comedy”, and he’s exactly right: War Seed would be a dark, dark story if devoid of laughs and gags. As it is, the episode is another fun instalment with some great ideas at play, and although the third act becomes a simple runabout with monsters, War Seed is a solid Big Finish debut from Candon.

Two Monks, One Mistress

Gemma Whelan made a surprise debut as the Nun earlier this year in Dalek Universe 1 opposite the Tenth Doctor, but Two Monks, One Mistress is really where she gets to flesh out the characterisation of the first female iteration of a character originated onscreen by Peter Butterworth way back in The Time Meddler. A Tuscan villa in Renaissance Italy is the setting. 1506 is the year. Missy intends to steal a cache of plutonium from an alien Duke when the Nun arrives with a Duke imposter in tow. The result? A comedy of errors for Mistress, Monk and Nun alike.

“That’s Renaissance Italy in a nutshell, that is. They can come up with an idea for a helicopter, but no one’s got around to inventing good manners.”

James Kettle’s script pops with irreverent humour from each of the three leads. There are clear and wonderful parallels to a Shakespearean comedy: characters spontaneously break into soliloquy, a woman dresses up and improbably passes as a man, and there’s a marriage on the cards. Missy’s as flirtatious and naughty as ever, the Monk’s still the butt of the joke, and nothing seems to phase the Nun. There’s something in Whelan’s boisterous performance that echoes Hound, yet she somehow manages to push even further the character’s maniacal glee.

Two Monks, One Mistress is the absolute highlight of Missy and the Monk. From the meta references (“This is my adventure,” says Missy, “and I will not have supporting characters muttering behind my back!”) to supporting actors Sheena Bhattessa and James Smillie completely understanding the assignment and joining the farce with gusto, this episode had me smirking and smiling start to finish.

Why does the Missy series have such an appeal? The character’s irreverence is infectious and her apathy wholly engrossing, and the laughs come thick and fast. There are science fiction hijinks and also moments of pathos, but more than anything these three stories are hilarious. The three-part format, a change from the four-part format of the first two series, works in its favour by keeping things tight. Missy and the Monk is a superb instalment in the Doctor Who oeuvre and is also the funniest Big Finish release this year.

Missy Series 3 – Missy and the Monk was released in September 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 November 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Extras

Stick around after the end of each episode and be treated to a suite of interviews with the cast and crew. Everyone involved has only good things to say about Michelle Gomez’s comedic knack and her ability to take scripted lines and sending them off in unexpected directions. Gomez herself says she thoroughly enjoys playing the role, and Rufus Hound is clearly having a ball with a character he understands closely.

Ken Bentley shares details of the complexity of home recording and the process of choosing the right cast for each episode. The writers pitch in as well, with James Goss briefing us on why he intentionally didn’t bother with explaining the events leading to the beginning of his story, Johnny Candon explaining his take on what makes this incarnation of the Master so threatening yet joyous, and James Kettle outlining the influences on his script, namely the genre of commedia dell’arte and more specifically the play One Man, Two Guvnors.

Synopsis

Missy… no longer alone, unleashed and unfettered! She’s stuck with a Meddling Monk, in a TARDIS that won’t fly without both pilots.

It’s a partnership neither one wants – the Monk thinks Missy wants him dead. Whereas, Missy thinks the Monk is annoying. And wants him dead.

The two Time Lords must learn to live together, or die trying…

Body and Soulless by James Goss

Stuck with a co-pilot, Missy has taken extreme measures. After all, she only needs the Monk’s brain to fly his TARDIS. But when Missy and the bodiless Monk end up on different sides of a planetary war, they may need one another to survive…

War Seed by Johnny Candon

Missy takes the Monk to Earth to make a point – she can be nice if she wants. In fact, she can save the planet! While the Monk tries to charm the corporate sharks, Missy makes them a better offer. To supply the ultimate warrior, created in the ultimate war…

Two Monks, One Mistress by James Kettle

On the trail of some weapons-grade plutonium, Missy and the Monk visit Renaissance Italy and the house of an elderly Borgia. But someone else is en route to the Tuscan villa with designs on the old man’s treasures. Someone the Monk will soon know very well…

Cast

Michelle Gomez (Missy)
Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk)
Gemma Whelan (The Meddling Nun)
Sheena Bhattessa (Francesca)
Samuel Collings (The Seed)
Anjella MacKintosh (Soldier 2/VAD Soldier/Medic)
Glen McCready (Kalvor Commander/Aztec Priest)
Lynsey Murrell (Anastasia Temple)
Tania Rodrigues (Prime)
James Smillie (Alfredo)
John Telfer (Richard Temple)
Ashley Zhangazha (Gasher)

Credits

Cover Art by Tom Webster
Director Ken Bentley
Music by Joe Kraemer
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Sound Design by Joe Kraemer
Written by Johnny Candon, James Kettle & James Goss
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Producer David Richardson

Suggested Listening

Missy Series 2
Doctor Who – Dalek Universe 1
Doctor Who – The Black Hole

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