NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Doctor Who season 8.
Even though Doctor Who rumors and official news have been relatively quiet since the 2014 Christmas Special aired, production on season 9 of the series has been steadily humming along behind closed doors. Showrunner Steven Moffat, along with stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, have wrapped work on block 1 of their filming schedule, and as of one week back, have already begun shooting block 2. Still, there’s a long wait between production and final airing, with the BBC aiming to launch the Doctor Who season 9 premiere this fall.
Fortunately, the network has already unveiled one of their biggest season 9 secrets, likely to stay ahead of leaks and set photos this round, outright revealing the fate of a principle series 8 character – Missy (aka The Master) played by Michelle Gomez. BBC has officially announced that the actress (and somewhat divisive) villainess will be back much sooner than many fans expected – with a key role in this season’s two part premiere episode. However, could such a quick return to the character actually indicate that Moffat intends to flesh-out underdeveloped (and divisive) ideas from the season 8 finale?
According to an official post over at BBC, Gomez will return along with guest star Jemma Redgrave who plays the Brigadier’s daughter, and UNIT commander, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. As a result, it isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that, despite a holiday season side-tangent (in “The Last Christmas”), the season 9 premiere could build directly from key storylines from the previous season finale but can Moffat make up for missteps that, for some, detracted from the overall success of the season 8 finale arc “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven”?
Fortunately, the upcoming two-part premiere arc, titled ‘The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” sees the re-teaming of Moffat (as writer) and Hettie MacDonald (as director) – who previously collaborated on the fan-favorite season 3 entry “Blink.” Together, Moffat and MacDonald created one of the modern series’ most interesting and creative episodes – often credited as the episode to entice non-Doctor Who fans into watching the series – meaning the pair have the talent and creative synergy to deliver an especially strong opening to season 9.
Don’t Blink: A Pedigree for Success
While Moffat injected some interesting ideas into the season 8 finale (e.g., dark water and the nether sphere) many viewers were put-off by a number of half-baked moments that undermined likable characters (Osgood) in service of an overstuffed two-part storyline that featured a new Master, a Cyberman invasion, the “Afterlife,” and downright bizarre implementation of a beloved classic Doctor Who character.
For all of its big ideas and surprises, the season 8 finale was riddled with plot holes and scenes that tripped back and forth over the line between impactful drama and eye-rolling melodrama: Danny Pink’s double-death and resurrection of the Middle-Eastern boy, among others – not to mention the implications of mass corpse-to-cyberman-conversion across the world (specifically, were Rory, Amy, as well as other companions converted and, if so, are we to believe that Danny’s cyber-defying love for Clara and the Brigadier’s cyber-defying love for Kate was stronger than all the other relationships the show has followed over 50 years?). Even for those who thoroughly enjoyed the episode, it’s hard to ignore that Moffat sacrificed the show’s normally tight storytelling for the sake of big reveals and spectacle – leaving a string of unanswered, muddled, and downright vague questions in the wake of season 8.
That said, what if the underdeveloped aspects of the finale were actually seeds that Moffat was actively planting – for further cultivation in the beginning of season 9? As indicated, the end of season 8 suggested that Missy had been outright disintegrated by the Cyber Brigadier (even if no one believed that was truly the last we’d see of her) but with Redgrave and Gomez returning so quickly to the show, it seems likely that ‘The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” will have very direct connections to the finale – and, given the months in between when Moffat wrote the series 8 ender and series 9 opener, there’s room for the showrunner to have fleshed out any missteps by exploring them in greater detail (and with stronger emotional payoff) in the coming episodes.
After all, Moffat has managed to tie-together long-running mysteries over the years with genuinely worthwhile payoff (River Song’s origins, the Impossible Girl, as well as injecting a never before discussed “War Doctor” in between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston’s iterations of the Time Lord). This isn’t to say that Moffat will (or should) have written an arc exploring Lethbridge-Stewart’s feelings after seeing her father resurrected as Cyber Brigadier; yet, there’s no doubt that fans who were less enthusiastic about key choices in the finale would benefit from seeing Moffat payoff the more controversial events and drama from season 8 – even if it takes several episodes in season 9.
A Mad Man With a Box (and a Plan)
To that end, a well-written scene between Redgrave and Gomez could go a long way in smoothing out conflicted feelings about Cyber Brigadier. Similarly, while Moffat has gone on record indicating that the death of Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) was necessary in establishing Missy as an outright crazy, and evil, version of the Master, the character’s fate remains a major point of contention among viewers. Given what Moffat and MacDonald accomplished in “Blink,” there’s reason to be hopeful that the pair could deliver on the showrunner’s clumsy season 8 finale storytelling by offering some intriguing twists – since many still hope that the unceremoniously vaporized Osgood was actually the character’s Zygon double (from “The Day of the Doctor”).
Of course, the biggest question that remains is: where did Missy go when the Cyber Brigadier “vaporized” her? No doubt, the question will be addressed in the premiere (with Moffat teasing that “what brings [Missy] back into [the Doctor and Clara’s] lives is the last thing they’d expect.” Gomez was equally coy in her reaction to the announcement, still relishing in bringing her wicked Mary Poppins-like iteration of The Doctor’s arch-nemesis to the modern series; though, the actress refrained from providing concrete hints regarding exactly how Missy will return for the series opener. Maybe a clearer understanding of The Master’s Nethersphere, and how exactly the Doctor was able to bring a boy back from the dead, will play a role in the Master’s return – helping to add insight into the mechanics of season 8 plot points, while also ensuring that Missy can cause more trouble for the Doctor and Clara down the line.
For over a year, many fans have begun to question whether, despite all of his successes, Moffat might be running out of ideas (or has too much on his plate) and has become incapable of delivering the same brain-bending time travel adventures that made him the right man to succeed Russell T. Davies. Hopefully, with smart collaborating between Moffat and MacDonald, the showrunner can prove that, with a little help, he’s still the right man for the job – and willing/able to rectify his missteps.
Doctor Who season 9 will air in fall of 2015.