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Credit: BBC

The wicked spells of Michelle Gomez

Contributed by
May 27, 2020

It takes a lot to steal my focus away from the Doctor. I was doing femme-swap cosplays of the Doctor long before Doctor Who did me a solid and cast a woman in the role. Friends of mine embraced the companions of the renegade Time Lord as their point of view, audience-surrogate avatars. Meanwhile, I always gravitated towards the strange lonely god character existing on the fringes of the world — watching it, loving it, but never fully being part of it. There was never a threat to the Doctor's role as my favorite character on Doctor Who — that is until Missy quite literally twirled onto the screen.

I've spilled gallons of ink on the Series 8 premiere episode, "Deep Breath," and the reason why I chose to memorialize it in a tattoo. But aside from all of the other things that I love about that episode, it will always also be the vessel by which Michelle Gomez began her invasion of my heart. While Gomez was already the devilish darling of such British TV classics as Green Wing and Bad Education, it took Cybermen and Time Lords to bring her to me.

Credit: BBC

At first glance, Missy — the first canon female incarnation of the iconic villain, the Master — might not seem all that remarkable. Missy's look, a sort of demented Mary Poppins (complete with umbrella), falls firmly in the line of Steven Moffat-era Who's most-favorite type of female villain: slightly anachronistic, impeccably dressed, and with the ever-present hint of governess meets dominatrix to her. But while this look had been a go-to for villains played by the likes of Celia Imrie, Keeley Hawes, and Diana Rigg, Gomez is the one who most felt like perhaps she had just brought her own stuff from home.

Credit: BBC 

That was the genius of Gomez's Missy. I know enough about the process of television production to know that shows have scripts and that Moffat was a particularly prolific showrunner. But this tiny Scottish woman with cheekbones you could slice vegetables on brought such chaotic fire to the role that made it feel like the show had just turned into a documentary, that Missy herself had just invaded the set of Doctor Who and the crew were forced to just turn the cameras on and react to whatever she did.

But it would be foolish to look at what Gomez did with Missy and write her off as a one-trick pony. For proof of that, I invite you to turn your gaze to her equally as notable heel-turn (turned face-turn, turned heel-turn again? I'm not sure, it gets confusing) as Lilith, aka Madam Satan, on Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. For as much as it might have seemed a natural fit to bring similar manic energy to the role of Lucifer's hatchet woman and eventual regent queen of Hell, Gomez chose a different path.

Where Missy is a raging firestorm, Lilith is a simmering boil. She is restrained, calculating, and smoldering. It's not that she's any less murderous than Missy, she simply takes her time with it. Savors it.

Credit: Diyah Pera/Netflix

Strangely, her style seems to make an equal about-face in the other direction. Missy's unstable demeanor felt in check by her impeccable, conservative attire — with ankle-length skirts, fully buttoned shirts and vests under a Victorian overcoat, and hair neatly pulled up under a tiny hat. Lilith, on the other hand, lets her hair out in gloriously full waves, the bigger the better. Her styles run from curvy read vintage numbers to full-on "queen of bones" gowns complete with demonic crowns. It's as if all that Missy energy had to go somewhere and exploded out into the wardrobe department.

And Sabrina's third season gives us yet a third version of Gomez's work, the somewhat lost and confused Mrs. Wardwell, Sabrina's mortal teacher turned surprised principal who struggles to find her place back in her own life after Lilith hijacked it for so long. It's telling though that even once she's given up her cover and returned to Hell, Lilith doesn't change her face. Why would anyone give up being Michelle Gomez if they didn't have to?

Whether she's raising her voice or raising Hell, letting her locks flow or pulling us in with her perfect eyeliner, Michelle Gomez makes bad feel like the most fun. The world and I are hers to burn.

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