Review by Jacob Licklider
With the first two series of Missy, Rufus Hound’s portrayal of the Meddling Monk appearing in one story for each set already becoming a standout, for Series Three the subtitle Missy and the Monk was given. Hound is featured as Missy’s own companion in each of the three stories, all travelling the universe together. Except because it’s Missy piloting the Monk’s TARDIS, the Monk is much more a hostage than say an active participant which is an excellent dynamic, making Rufus Hound the butt of the joke which is just a perfect dynamic throughout. Missy and the Monk is also notable for being from mostly new writers meaning that it’s a set with its own distinct flavour from the previous two with less emphasis on Missy as an evil ‘Mary Poppins’ (there aren’t any stories here with the Davis siblings) and more of her as the crazy version of the Master with the hair-brained yet genius schemes. Some complaints I have seen of this set are that ‘Miss’y and ‘the Monk’ are perhaps parodies of themselves, but I can’t really see that as Missy is already a character who doesn’t take the Monk seriously and is just keeping him around for her own amusement. That’s just their dynamic and it has been in the previous sets with Michelle Gomez and Rufus Hound playing off each other brilliantly. Though one slight issue with the set as a whole is that the incidental music, while always great, relies a bit too much on reusing the tracks from the first two sets.
The set opens with the Monk’s brain in a jar for what the listener eventually learns are reasons. Body and Soulless is a script from James Goss, opening the set with the one story from a seasoned writer which is the perfect decision to set the tone of this set. The set is a farce, though steeped in the Time War. The story deals with two waring factions which have been at war and Missy is determined to stop the war, though for her own selfish and evil reasons. She doesn’t actually care who wins, but is trying to get something off the planet and has put the Monk’s brain into a jar so it can masquerade as a computer building technology to end the war before the VAD can destroy the planet. The Monk, being a brain in a jar and very unhappy with his situation, finds a way to switch sides and be with the VAD. Remember dear reader he is a brain in a jar and Goss clearly enjoys this imagery, with the Monk not being able to keep up with the whole idea of being a computer act and thinking he’s so incredibly clever. He is not. He is again a brain in a jar. While that has been repeated in this section it’s an image that is burned into your head, though is perhaps the one issue I have with the story that it becomes a bit old by the end. It isn’t a problem that this is the plot, but the wacky comedy doesn’t always work with the war setting, until the very end. The story ends with this great final line that is peak dark comedy making the listener understand why Missy would really want to save these people. It caps the episode of brilliantly opening the set with a bang. 9/10.
Soap opera writer Johnny Candon provides War Seed which is the one story in this set that deviates from the more comical nature, without falling to the possible tonal whiplash. Candon’s script is the story where Gomez shines the best as on Earth where a corporation has been selling regeneration to make people live longer and be stronger. Now this is already a great premise as Missy is trying to make a point that she could save the world if she wanted to, leading to some great send-ups of the Doctor from both Missy and the Monk, but the story gains an emotional weight when it is revealed that the regeneration is being siphoned off Missy’s son. This isn’t a literal son, but a scientific experiment from the Time War called the War Seed. Played wonderfully as this naïve and loving creature by Samuel Collings, the War Seed is a being which is a weapon, forced to regenerate every time it time travels and is in constant pain, but is still loyal to Missy. This is an incredibly dark idea as Collings doesn’t play it like some abomination, but this genuine person who understands its point with Missy essentially being the Creator God to this thing. While Gomez on the surface is quite petty, berating the Monk for running away in the Time War and only saving the War Seed because it’s her and she doesn’t like people touching her things, this pettiness is almost a thin veneer to an actual protective instinct. She sends the seed away at the end to not be used for something so petty as consumerism, humans should stay normal according to Missy. It is really a standout from a brand new writer and such a pleasant surprise to explore a new aspect of the Master. 10/10.
Two Monks, One Mistress rounds out the set from James Kettle (who only begun writing for Big Finish in 2020), and gives Missy and the Monk a finale in a setting which is quite surprising considering it hasn’t been used before. The tone is squarely back in farcical territory with the Monk and Missy back in history pretending to be members of the Borgia family and the incarnation of the Monk introduced in Dalek Universe, played by Gemma Whelan is also causing trouble. Shenanigans ensue. Despite the brilliant premise, this is oddly the weakest story from the set mainly because the plot is a touch too thin for a farce (comparing it to Body and Soulless), yet Kettle still gives listeners a delight with the two Monks running circles around each other. Whelan continues to essentially be the intelligent version of the Monk which means she is always one step ahead of the Hound Monk. Missy is essentially there to provide comedy and that’s really where the big problem with this episode is, Missy doesn’t seem to do as much here, though Gomez is great and Kettle understands her. It almost seems like if this was given more time there could have been more implementation of Missy, though as it stands it’s still a great conclusion to the set and of course the capstone giving Whelan a chance to shine as the Monk without being as jaded in her brilliant Dalek Universe portrayal. 8/10.
Missy and the Monk while not doing all the staples and having the big issue of not having enough distinct music outside of leitmotifs, is still an utterly enjoyable farce of a box set bringing together three brilliant comic performers and three writers at the top of their game. Bring on Series Four. 9/10.
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