DOCTOR WHO - The Possibility Matrix and the Fangasm Principle

Tony Fyler knows who Missy is. For real this time.

“She’s the Rani.”
“She’s a female incarnation of the Master.”
“She’s one of the Claras from the Doctor’s timeline, gone mad and bad, cos Missy is really Miss C.”
“She’s Madame Kovarian. Somehow. I don’t know how, she just is.”
“She’s a regenerated River.”
“She’s a rogue manifestation of the Tardis herself.”

The mystery of Missy will soon be either solved, or maddeningly deferred to some episode months in the future. All of the above are genuine theories people have about her, and at the very least all but one of them is nonsense. Irredeemable, spectacular nonsense. Possibly – even probably – all of them are. But then, just maybe…

The thing is, you’ve got to really love the smell of Whovians going stark raving bonkers in the morning if you’re going to make it long-term in this particular fandom. No really, you do, because it was stated as one of the Laws of Gallifrey in a Robert Holmes story thirty years ago. Go on, you check, we’ll wait.

There are relatively few shows in the 21st century that inspire not only devotion but also such demented invention in their fans. Sure, there’s fan fiction out there for a whole range of shows, but few series finales are awaited with such a level of mouth-frothing and history-mining, because after all, very few shows today have anything like as long a history as Doctor Who to mine. It’s…ahem…also possible that very few shows are watched with so much mouth-frothing, of course.

Why do we do this? Why do we drive ourselves nuts, turn ourselves inside out with theories, grabbing hold of the tattiest shreds of evidence and building incontrovertible truths out of them – the truth that we’ve solved the latest mystery, the latest story arc. We know something you don’t know!

Partly of course, it’s the way good drama works. It gets its curiosity-hooks under your skin and it drags you along, getting you invested and making you want to find out how it all plays out. Sadly, these days, reality shows do the same thing – they make you invest in the story, and you run scenarios in your head, trying to calculate the likeliest and/or most inventive way the thing could end.

Partly though there’s something akin to the conspiracy theory about the solution to a big Who mystery. This is an invention of New Who, and it’s a thing taken to heights of which any supervillain would be justly proud by Showrunner Steven Moffat. Rule one has become that Moffat lies. Why? Partly because it’s the part of the job of Doctor Who’s showrunner to generate buzz about the show, to worm it even deeper into the popular culture, into watercooler moments, into news reports – and to do it by spending as little PR money as possible. John Nathan-Turner, bless his little Hawaiian-shirted magnificence, would probably have killed a series of random strangers for the secret of getting the show’s PR to largely do itself back in the 80s. But Who in the 80s was still far more episodic TV than series TV – as indeed was pretty much all TV. Now, Moffat goes out of his way to tell us things that can be interpreted a thousand ways, and then, with a cheeky glint in his eye, reminds us that he lies. And we do the rest. What does this mean? What does that mean? Could it be an old villain coming back? Could it be something really weird and out of left field? What is it that they’re not telling us?!

And then of course there’s reason three.

Reason three, likewise, is a creation of New Who. It’s sprung up from necessity over the last nine years, and it is this: In this show, nowadays, anything is possible.

There’s a level on which Doctor Who makes us all children again for 45 minutes a week. It almost demands it as the entrance fee to a universe of wonders and dangers and really wild things. It taps in to when we were its core demographic – when we were children – and the imagination we had back then. Daleks rescuing Cybermen from an Axon time-loop instigated by the Master, yeah! Sontarans headbutting Zygons for control of the Dodecahedron – whatever it was, it was dead cool to say, and we’d want control of it if we were Sontarans or Zygons, or… or… Sea Devils, that’s right, the Sea Devils come up and nick it while the Sontarans and the Zygons are fighting…

And since the dawn of New Who, the Whovians are in control of the playroom. From the moment Doomsday aired in 2006, something deep in the Possibility Matrix (yes, technically, just made that up, but don’t tell me it couldn’t be in the show!) was unlocked. Daleks and Cybermen – on screen, together! Since then, we’ve had the Master – becoming Prime Minister! We’ve had ‘everything that ever hated [the Doctor]’ coming together in an alliance to put him away for good. We’ve had him reboot the entire universe, marry a sexy space vixen, who happened to be the daughter of his married travelling companions, and also a psychopath trained to kill him, and a little girl, and an Impossible Astronaut. We’ve had the return of the Time Lords, and the Master being everyone on Earth! All in all, we’ve had more improbable, twisted, massively unlikely stories written into canon than our eight-year-old selves could ever have dreamed of.

Which means literally anything is possible when it comes to series arcs.

Missy really could be any and or all of the things people think she is right now. Personally, I think she’s the abandoned love-child of the Rani and the Valeyard*, who met during the Time War, grew the child to an age where she could look after herself, then abandoned her on an asteroid with nothing but slugs to eat and her resentment of the Doctor to keep her warm at night.

The clock is ticking. Let’s see who she really is. But in the meantime, let’s have the most enormous fun being as inventive, as fannish, and as dependably, stunningly wrong as we possibly can.

*No of course not really. 

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
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