syncopath: (fyi)
[personal profile] syncopath

1. He is not evil.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not a chance. Nada. En Oh. Seriously, this has to be one of my biggest pet peeves with any analysis of any character-- simply labeling a villain as 'evil' and having done with it. First off, I refuse to believe in the existence of pure good and pure evil; these are mere constructs we use as humans to separate us from other people, to pawn off others' embarrassing or horrific actions as stuff we could not possibly ever be capable of because we're somehow inherently 'different'. If you subscribe at all to psychology or, more bluntly, common sense, you'll know this as complete and utter bullshit. It's a tool to make us feel better about ourselves.

Secondly, a deeper analysis reveals interesting stuff about popular 'bad guys' in the media. You'll note that they often exhibit signs of serious mental illness. Nobody could claim that the Master, or Lex Luthor, or whoever are sane. And as Kit Whitfield so skillfully points out using the examples of Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort and Avatar: The Last Airbender's Zuko and Azula, depression often can explain or describe a number of interesting mannerisms in classic villain dialogue and actions. As I struggle with similar issues, and as I see others neglected or vilified due to manifestations of their mental illness (most noticeably homeless people), it is important to me that these symptoms be recognized for what they are. It's an important topic, personally and politically. As Jennifer Geddes, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, says, using the term 'evil' to describe actions is one thing but should not be used to describe the person:

"[Mental illness is] why we can talk about behavior as evil. That doesn't muddy the water at all. To murder people is an evil thing to do. Now, what brings someone to do evil can be a whole range of factors: psychological problems, biochemical problems, past abuse that that person has suffered. When something this tragic and horrifying happens, we need that word to name it. So many people, when they are interviewed about this event or other events we could compare it to, there's this sense, 'We just don’t understand how this could happen.' There's a real desire to make sense of it. The word gives us at least a way to name what happened. But if we stop there, we're not doing the thinking this event calls for us to do."


Lastly, my job as an rper has many different facets. One of them is to play a role convincingly. And part of that aspect is to have a believable reason in mind for everything the Master does. That includes every evil thing. It is not enough for me to say "Oh he just a bad bad man" and sit back. I have to consider his motivation, and what his motivation stems from, and in a way I have to struggle to make him sympathetic, however slightly. Characters that are completely inhuman give their audience no way to relate to them; even on Doctor Who you can witness the Master having extreme moments of weakness that can be incredibly moving. So when I give him complex emotions and someone pawns him off as evil or unfeeling, it negates all the work I've just done as a writer. And that's a sucky feeling.


2. His thoughts and feelings are patterned at least partially after my own bouts with depression.

John Simm suggested "tinnitus." I say "depression." I've always known intuitively on some level that there was a link; after all, I'm drawn to the character for a reason. It took Kit Whitfield's analysis (yes, I am linking it twice-- read it) to really get the whole thing to make sense to me though. And although Rusty has since written in a concrete reason for the drums, I've thought for a while that they make a marvelous symbol for depression. As Kit notes:

"Depression can act almost like a parasite personality, setting up a voice in the sufferer's head that, ever so convincingly, talks them into taking the worse course of action, acting the worse way to those around them, forming the worse view of themselves, and gradually getting them to sever all their ties to life until suicide looks like the only sensible option. When a sufferer faces the chance to do something that'll help them improve, sometimes their first response is fear: not the healthy fear of a self-preserving organism, but the depression itself screaming, because if the better course is taken, the depression will take a body-blow. Like a real creature, depression fights for its life, which means fighting to keep the sufferer down. It's you or the depression, and your interests are directly opposed; depression will talk a sufferer into anything that'll keep its hold strong."


Like depression, the drums are always present for the Master. He's mentioned this quite a few times in canon. There is no getting rid of them; although they may become more bearable at certain times and overwhelming at others, they're present with "every beat of my hearts." He blames the drums for his behavior, saying that they're "calling (him) to war" and implying that if he can just figure out what they want, they will stop. It's clear, then, that the drums in a sense goad him to do terrible things and make bad decisions, much as depression taints one's perception and seems to perpetuate endless cycles of self-destruction.

Most significantly, even though he several times complains that the drums hurt, and are too loud and distracting, and even though he appears to be looking for a way to stop them, the Master also seems reluctant to follow through on this. He consistently refuses the Doctor's help. We finally find out why, at least partially, when he admits in End of Time that he "(doesn't) know what (he'd) be without them." When I heard this line I literally punched the air, because this is exactly the sort of thing I have gone through in the past struggling with the thought of anti-depressants. If you live with depression or any mental illness long enough, there's a strong possibility you will end up identifying strongly with it and seeing it as an intrinsic part of your personality. Take away that depression and you are in essence obliterating a chunk of yourself you've come to know intimately, feed regularly, and depend on. And that's scary.

So when I write the Master, I use the drums to symbolize his moments of weakness, and his loss of self-control, when he is allowing this parasitic force to dictate his actions and even his feelings. They get worse when he feels angry or frustrated, or is faced with a decision that could result in some truly heinous results (e.g. "Should I murder this planet?"). Rather than allow himself to feel remorse or hesitation, he relies on the drums to take away any sense of agency or responsibility he might have to truly examine his motivations or the consequences. If he's special-- if he's chosen-- then everything is justified.


3. He does not always say what he means.

Because he is such a special fucked-up flower the Master has a very skewed sense of perception. Half the things I write him as saying, or even privately thinking, are totally not true, or true only to a certain point. He sees what he wants to see, and how he wants to see it. And he's exceptionally good at fooling himself. This is not your cue to assume I do not know what I'm talking about, or that I'm intentionally being a stubborn boor. It is not your cue to OOCly correct or negate what I said. If it comes up ICly, of course I can't stop your character from protesting. But I write from his perception alone, wrong wrong wrongity wrong as it is. And I totally know he's an idiot.


4. It is always complicated with the Master.

The Doctor has, almost in the same breath, described the Master as both "stone cold brilliant" and "bonehead stupid." This is not the most brilliant analysis of the character ever, but it does illustrate fairly well the dichotomy inherent.

The thing is, the Master is smart. The Master's a Time Lord, first of all, with some very impressive technical and scientific skills, and knowledge far beyond a human's. He tends to plot several steps ahead, coming up with complex plans that only seem to get more watertight even as he becomes more unhinged (if you don't believe me, just consider this: it took the Doctor an entire year to stop him in the Utopia arc. When has it ever taken that long?). Yet he's also got the spark of improvisation. Even when the Master was a human the Doctor was suitably impressed by his "genius"-- rigging up a rocket's controls using primarily foodstuffs is nothing to cough at.

But the other thing is, the Master tends to overlook what might be very obvious. One notable thing he never seems to account for is being beaten by an 'inferior being' (aka not the Doctor). Looking at the Utopia arc again, you have to wonder why it took him an entire year to find Martha Jones. Was he seriously just not looking hard enough? Or did he just figure she couldn't do much from the ground anyway? He actually underestimates all of humanity in that arc too-- why didn't he foresee they'd be able to turn the satellites back on him? Why didn't he see the Doctor's plan long before it was hatched? I really believe he just was not looking for it. It never occurred to him.

And that's why, no matter how smart he is, the Master loses every time (and the only reason an inferior being like myself could ever play him adequately, really). His plots are self-aggrandizing and full of holes. When he gets going, he really believes that nobody and nothing can stop him, and that it is his destiny to win.


5. He is the Doctor's bitter ex.

This is pretty much canon now. Once the Time Lords start referring to your interactions as "The Enmity of Ages" it's just time to admit it. Yes, I am a Doctor/Master shipper. However, because I stubbornly cling to my belief that Time Lords are just not that sexual, I think it goes far beyond what anyone would term a "ship". Call it a failed bromance. These guys are bonded, forever, and it has colored every standoff they've had. Of course the Doctor loves the Master. And the Master loves him right back. Thing is, he'll never admit it. Because the Doctor's done something that in his eyes can't be taken back, not ever.

And who even knows what? I would argue ultimately it doesn't matter-- even the smallest of slights would have been magnified in the Master's mind and twisted into something far more injurious than ever intended. Plus, over the course of the series the dynamic of their relationship has been reinforced with every conflict. In the end the Doctor always defeats the Master, often killing him or leaving him to die. Before the Time War he'd even stoop to ridiculing him (I mean, seriously, who steals a man's sandwich in the middle of a swordfight?). By the time this incarnation has come around there seems to be no repairing the relationship; in the Master's eyes, the Doctor seeks to change and control him, and the Master is very resistant to change and flat-out refuses to be controlled (at least in any serious way).

At the same time, I wouldn't even begin to suggest that the Master just goes quietly about his business and is consistently shut down by the Doctor. I believe he craves the attention he receives, and goes out of his way to flaunt his genius and whatever amount of power he manages to grasp before the Doctor. There is much gloating to be had in pretty much every Doctor/Master episode, and it usually rises to an unnecessary level fairly quickly. Even in the middle of one of his schemes, it's interesting to note that he always makes time for restraining the Doctor and keeping him close so that he can watch. His actions remind me of a bitter ex who shows up at a party their former lover is attending, and is sure to flaunt some wild success (a makeover, a new lover, or wealth) just so they can hit home the fact that they're surviving just fine without them. The Master holds what the Doctor thinks of him in the highest esteem, even if he pretends otherwise.


6. It is all about control...

The Master's entire purpose is to be in control. It's inherent in his title, his bearing, his interactions with the Doctor, and of course his often ridiculous and heavy-handed plans.

[livejournal.com profile] stirring_still wrote a ridiculously perceptive essay about control and power in Doctor Who, particularly as it plays out between the Master and the Doctor (although there is lots of good stuff in there about the Master's thought process in general as it pertains to control, and what he's willing to relinquish and with whom). Much of it you can pretty much guess: the Master is a sadist, misogynist, and kind of a kink, and he likes to dominate.

Why, then, would the Master ever behave as he does in Sound of Drums, when he acts like an incompetent brat in front of President Winters, making jokes and seemingly not reacting negatively to the other's brusque and condescending responses? Why would he ever let Naismith put him in a straitjacket, collar and leash? Doesn't this undermine his title? As [livejournal.com profile] stirring_still explains:

"As Mr Saxon, he doesn't always stand on his dignity around humans. When talking to the American president, he's outright ridiculous in his apparent incompetence, in his eager offer of assistance: "I could make tea. Or isn't that American enough? I don't know, I could make grits. What are grits, anyway?" When Martha's family appears at the airport, he runs over to them, waves his hands excitedly, laughs and shouts "Hi guys! Hi guys!", and his behaviour while interacting with the Cabinet is borderline absurd – right up to and including the moment when he kills them. And that, of course, is why he doesn't stand on his dignity: he's entirely aware that he's significantly more powerful than any of them, so he doesn't need to take them seriously."


Note how differently he treats the Doctor, however. The Doctor needs to know how awesome the Master is, and needs to understand how the Master's done everything. Why? Because despite all his nay-saying the Master sees the Doctor as the most important figure in his universe: an equal or thereabouts. As previously noted, he craves the Doctor's respect and attention. And therefore, he must maintain control over the Doctor to prove he deserves that respect:

"...(the Master) doesn't take the "threat" that being restrained by Mr Naismith represents at all seriously, and wears an indulgent smile as he's being strapped in.

"The minute the Doctor bursts in through the door, however, all that changes. We're treated to one more bondage shot, but then the Master rips off his restraints, as spectacularly and extravagantly as possible. It's of course impossible to assign him a set of motivations with any degree of certainty, but I would argue that since he has consistently wanted respect from the Doctor before – respect that he doesn't always bother demanding from humans – his disinclination to remain in bondage when the Doctor is present could be because he really doesn't want him to see him in a position of submission or powerlessness; he desires to always seem competent, strong, and in control when the Doctor is there to observe him."


So while the Master does indeed wish and work to control everyone, he only really bothers to strive for respect from those who could threaten his sense of control. Otherwise, being the snotty Time Lord that he is, he just sort of assumes that he's already in control of any beings he considers lesser to himself. If you find that the Master doesn't appear overly concerned with defying or controlling your character, it means he doesn't really perceive them as a threat or important enough to earn his attention. If the Master begins to act perturbed, overly angry, or increasingly domineering toward your character, however, congratulations! Your character officially "matters". And now he will try to destroy them. :D


7. ...which he'll never really have.

I named the journal 'controlparadox' after, well, something in free will theory called the Control Paradox, which is that until we cease to control ourselves we can never truly have free will. Although this is a bit of froofy stuff I basically found buried in a Wikipedia page and which when Googled only comes up on various reference sites that seem to copy each other... I don't really care if it's a true theory or not, because it fits the Master so well. On the one hand, he is so intent on controlling everything that he loses that control. It's like that .38 Special song: "Just hold on loosely / but don't let go / if you cling too tight babe, / you're gonna lose control."

Even beyond that, though, the Master often loses control of himself. As [livejournal.com profile] savagestime so eloquently puts it:

"The Master’s great problem, which grows and grows over the years, is that despite his need for self-control, he is not able to have it... He succumbs to impulse, to flashes of emotion. He is certainly a meticulous planner, but his lack of self-restraint destroys him as much as his hubris does. Thus he holds a paradoxical freedom and imprisonment in his mentality: he is the Master, so he is free to do whatever he wants whenever he wants whyever he wants, but as the Master, he is imprisoned by his willingness to follow through on his freedom without thinking."


Put in layman's terms, you know when you're on a diet (or denying yourself anything you crave, really, for some "greater goal") and it's that point where you're just "Screw it, I'm having that donut, I deserve it!" That's the Master in a nutshell.

It's the Master's constant yearning for both free will and absolute control, two things that certainly contradict each other, that ensures he'll never come close to possessing either. But the bastard will just keep trying, and chances are he'll never learn from any of his many, many, many failures.


8. The Master is not Bucky Katt.

So we know the Master is ruthless, with extremely flexible morals nearly to the point of amorality. We know he enslaves and destroys entire planets with little more than a shrug. So why is it every so often a writer tones him down-- or is asked to tone him down-- to the point where he's basically just a sarcastic yet harmless git who plays pranks rather than engage in any real gritty, mastermind plotting and destruction? I like to call this phenomenon "Bucky Katt Master", because his mannerisms and ultimate egregious failures to follow through on threats reminds me so much of the narcissistic and unhinged Siamese from the Get Fuzzy comics.

Not that there aren't indeed times that the Master will act like this. But such a character is only one small aspect of the Master; if you are going to go that route, in my opinion, you should probably be playing House. My Master is a bit more extreme than that.

"But Master-mun," you are surely asking yourselves, "You're playing in a cooperative game where you must be good and considerate, respect others' wishes, and certainly not godmode and powergame over everyone else in the roleplay!" And it's true. Even if something is IC, you have to consider the OOC fallout from a character's desired actions. Things have to be agreed upon by both parties. But here's the thing, people-- I'll tone the Master down in a situation, but we'd better have a damn good reason for doing so. Either he's weakened, or he has special considerations where he can't allow himself to let loose as much as he'd probably like, or the other player stops him, or whatever. But I'm not just going to water the Master's reactions down with no thought as to why. He's a naturally extreme and impulsive personality, and no matter how thoughtful and careful he tries to be at first, he's a bona fide nutjob by the end.

Be warned: if you engage with my Master in a negative context, chances are he's going to eventually try to hurt or kill you. And of course you are more than welcome to have your character do the same.


9. He is, however, a trickster.

The Master's a skilled hypnotist, and although it's been shown that not everyone falls prey to it, it can be assumed he can muster up a fair amount of charisma when he feels like it. In perhaps his biggest feat, he managed to hypnotize most of the United Kingdom in order to win the election for Prime Minister. And even barring the hypnosis, ladies swooned over "Mr. Saxon". He's used countless pseudonyms and disguises, at times even fooling the Doctor for a long while (TimeFlight, anyone?).

Most RP games these days, in order to level the playing field, don't allow the use of excessive powers. In those cases I assume the Master's hypnosis, while blunted, is not entirely gone. This is because hypnosis is usually a learned skill. He most likely used his Time Lord mental powers to amplify that skill.

Part of the Master's character is the ability to deceive. Without it he wouldn't be very successful, because he can't really overpower anyone physically. Mental prowess is really all he has, and that includes the ability to manipulate situations. So really, barring the first point in this post, nothing disappoints me more than to have a character trig the Master out almost from the start. Again, this just communicates to me that as a writer I'm not doing my job. I've had the pleasure of rping with players who understand this and are willing to have their characters manipulated, but I've also run into a great many whose characters dislike the Master on sight, consider him evil after a single conversation, and never let the Master get the better of them.

The worst is probably when muns decide their characters must then warn everyone else about the Master. This level of upfront knowledge for everyone the Master runs into leaves me with little to do, other than use brute force. And while that's not entirely OOC for the Master, it gets very repetitive. Sometimes for the sake of a good story your character has to be deceived. Your character has to be dumb. They can't win all the time. Look at what I put my poor guy through!


10. The Master and the Doctor are two ways to deal with the same problem.

Any Whovian who's really studied would likely agree that the Master is meant to be the Doctor's dark foil. That's what the character was brought in for in the first place, really-- so we could have a glimpse of what the Doctor could have been, or might become if you think about the Valeyard. The thing is, all Time Lords have the potential to go mad with the childhood and history and power they've been given. The Doctor references this himself several times, particularly when he uses the Untempered Schism as an analogy. All Time Lords must look into it as children, as a sort of initiation. What determines who will go mad, who will run away, and who will become inspired?

It occurred to me when I was thinking over who the Master is and why he is that he and the Doctor represent two ways of dealing with a problem, be it a broken childhood or a significant loss or even just disillusionment with the way the universe really is.

The Doctor, as we know, is always running. It's the one characteristic which is consistently called upon by those who observe him-- the Council, Jenny, Donna-- even ultimately his own reflection on his character in Sound of Drums ("Oh! The one who ran. And I never stopped!"). Running is a good analogy for denial. The Doctor does not want to deal with his loss, which is basically compounded over the years: first he loses his home through rebellion and disillusionment. Over time he loses his companions, including his own granddaughter. Eventually he loses any chance of returning to Gallifrey at all. And sometimes, often actually, he loses battles to win the war. Things get screwed up. He can't save everyone. Sometimes his presence alone is enough to bungle things. And he continues to run from this, and he's often criticized for it.

The Master, on the other hand, can indeed run, and does-- but compared to the Doctor he's more a creature firmly rooted in the past. I believe that if you took away the memories he stews in, you'd probably have a pretty decent psyche left over. Think of this ridiculous vendetta he's had with the Doctor for centuries! While the Doctor is perfectly willing to let it go by the time SOD/LOTTL rolls out, the Master still isn't budging. That's some stubborn streak. Even when they are literally the last two Time Lords alive, he still can't let go of the past enough to move forward.

I believe the Master is also antithetic to change. Compared to the Doctor's colorful variety of incarnations, including wardrobe as well as personalities, how much has the Master really changed over the course of the series? We've seen him in 6 bodies, and each time he chooses to dress in dark colors, prefer the finer things in life, consider himself utterly superior, and work alone. It's almost as if the Master is afraid of change, afraid of letting even that much control slip away. I wouldn't be surprised if he carefully engineered most of his regenerations when possible; we've seen from Romana I's regeneration into Romana II (which resembles more a dressing room try-on session than the painful accidents that the Doctor's regenerations tend to seem) that Time Lords have this capability. In Utopia the Master fervently wishes to be "young and strong" like the Doctor, and poof! out comes Simm as his next regeneration. If he didn't have a hand in that, it was a pretty sweet guess, neh?

So unlike the Doctor, who remains cheerful on the surface and simply denies his problems, happy to trot on through a broken universe, the Master tends to epitomize the problem. We see someone who is truly, each minute, grappling with mental illness, and even beyond that, with the dissonance between his ideals and reality. He wants to rule the universe, I believe, to fix it to his liking just as much as to have that power. He can't let things go, in other words; he has to best his troubles, master the obstacles in his past, and destroy what makes him unhappy. He'll never succeed, but I find it an interesting dichotomy between the two characters. If you let the loss overcome you and consume your life, you're the Master. If you keep one step ahead of it, you're the Doctor.

Date: 2010-04-26 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stopwatchdabble.livejournal.com
Wow. This was brilliant. I loved it. It went way more into the character of the Master than I've ever thought about. Kudos.

Date: 2010-04-26 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stopwatchdabble.livejournal.com
Yeah...I think far too much about Torchwood and Doctor Who than I probably should...::Glances at back:: >_>

That's what makes you a good player though. Being able to get inside the head of a character and really think about his or her motivations. Because simply boiling it down to "he's evil" would make him pretty damn boring.

Date: 2010-04-27 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lastgallifreyan.livejournal.com
So much love. I found myself nodding along as I read it.

Date: 2010-11-09 04:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ergaleomancer.livejournal.com
You already know that I know squat about your fandom. But just from a psychological standpoint, that's absolutely brilliant. o.o ♥

And as I've said before, Theta's been totally taken in by the Master. Feel free to keep on as long as he finds her useful. Bonus points, if anyone tries to do the whole "whee warning people away"...Theta will defend him every inch of the way. ♥♥♥

Date: 2012-01-28 02:19 am (UTC)
tildeathdouspart: (And I'm lost in my own skin)
From: [personal profile] tildeathdouspart
That was a very interesting read even if it was unsettling to realize something about myself along the way but ANYWAY I'm quite glad I checked it out. It's particularly interesting to me because I like the Master as a character, and I would play him except I find his intelligence a bit daunting and haven't found a place to go yet, and I just think that a lot in RP depends on how much thought is or isn't put into the interpretation of any character. So, yes, much love for this entry. And you, for writing it and for writing him this way and for putting this much effort.

...now I'll take my creepy stalking and surprise textwalling elsewhere. ^^;

Date: 2012-01-29 09:50 am (UTC)
tildeathdouspart: (And so frightened)
From: [personal profile] tildeathdouspart
You are very welcome, and no need to be sorry for that. I figure I'm better off knowing. ^^

I admit I'm a sucker for their interactions, no less because I like throwing my muses at past trauma. Thus far threading with you has been pretty awesome, so ♥ right back at you.

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