Saturday, 8 November 2014

Top Five Fictional Female Villains

Last week, there was a shocking reveal at the end of the penultimate episode of this year's run of Doctor Who. It turned out that - oh, it's been a whole week now, I can say it - the mad Marry Poppins-esque Missy who has been terrorising the Doctor is in fact... the Master!
So to coincide with the return of the Doctor's greatest adversary in a very different form, I thought it time to look at the most despicable women from the halls of fiction, an illustrious category that the Master now belongs to. In no particular order, I give you the most terrible, terrifying and iconic female villains.

Morgan Le Fay
Appeared in: The legends of King Arthur

I'm something of an enthusiast of the legend of King Arthur. I don't claim to be an out-and-out expert but I appreciate the tales as something like the founding fathers of British storytelling and always enjoy dipping into the wealth of interpretations of the stories (although I was never that fussed about the popular BBC series Merlin, oddly enough). The legends, of course, have brave heroes in King Arthur and Merlin but also have a great villain in Arthur's half-sister, Morgan Le Fey (sometimes called Morgana) who acts as the main antagonist in most modern versions. Lusting after the throne of Camelot, Morgana will stop at nothing to end Arthur's reign, including using her own son, Mordred, to kill his uncle (and sometimes father) in battle. She's been hounding King Arthur in various forms over roughly a thousand years - you don't get much more of a determined villain than that.

Irene Adler
Appeared in: 'A Scandal in Bohemia' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and numerous film and TV adaptations and literary pastiches.

Technically, Conan Doyle's original character from the Sherlock Holmes canon was not a true villain - Holmes was against her in the case but her only crime is a dalliance with a European royal in her youth. In most adaptations, however, her character is extrapolated to become a proper criminal. Much like Catwoman is to Batman, she and Holmes tend to work on opposite sides of the law but nevertheless harbour an affection for each other, sometimes this is unspoken, sometimes it is a fully-fledged love affair. This version of the character has been explored recently in both Sherlock and the Robert Downey Jr films but in Elementary, the character was taken further. The presumed dead ex-love of Sherlock, Irene turned out to be a female Moriarty in disguise. Changing a male master criminal into a woman - I'm sorry, Moffat, I think someone beat you to the punch.

The Other Mother
Appeared in: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman's Other Mother from his exquisitely creepy children's novel Coraline is less of a villain in the femme fatale mould of Morgana and Irene and more of a walking nightmare. A creature from a realm of her own devising, like a spider in its web, the Other Mother lures children into her lair to feast on their souls. To entice the children, rather than use a house made of sweets, she acts as a loving parent... just one with buttons for eyes. The Other Mother is an utterly terrifying creation, playing off the inherent childhood fear of adults you trust to look after you turning out to do the opposite. As well as the simply intrinsically scary image of people with buttons for eyes. something which resides firmly in the uncanny valley.

Miss Havisham
Appeared in: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

As a creation of Dickens, the claim that Miss Havisham is a cast-iron villain is a less clear one than with others on this list. The woman has a sympathetic backstory and eventually repents her wickedness, but she is still the greatest thorn in Pip's side as he tries to woo the love of his life, the icy Estella. Having been jilted at the altar, the ageing bride-to-never-be forever wears her ragged wedding dress and plans to use her adopted daughter, Estella, to break the hearts of men everywhere like her's was broken. Miss Havisham is someone whose own debilitating heartbreak and thirst for revenge has blinded her to how her actions affect others. Firstly, not only does she torment Pip merely to wallow in his pain but, more importantly, she raised Estella to be nothing more than her foot soldier, to go and act out her wish to destroy all men for her. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', indeed.

Dolores Umbridge 
Appeared in: the Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling and its film series, played by Imelda Staunton

The most despicable character in the Harry Potter series. Yes, Voldemort killed Harry's parents. Yes, Bellatrix Lestrange killed Sirius Black but neither of them wore such an alarming shade of pink.
Outwardly twee, Professor Umbridge harbours a deep lust for power and a sadistic streak as great as the Dark Lord's own, shown in the gruesome punishments she dishes out in detention and her placement at the head of the Ministry of Magic's witch-hunt (sorry, muggle-hunt). From her prissy, condescending nature to her more despotic tendencies, Umbridge is unlikeable to the core. In fact, Umbridge is so repulsive you can hardly stand to look at her photograph. That's why I've put her last, so you don't have to look at her for too long. And that's the truth because, as Umbridge herself likes to brand people with, I must not tell lies...

'Death in Heaven', the Doctor Who finale, is on tonight at 8.00 pm on BBC One.

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