Story: Kept Man
Word Count: 30953 words
Author's Summary: In Scream of the Shalka, REG!Doctor (the ninth Doctor who almost was) was seen travelling round the universe with a robotic Master for no apparent reason. The ninth Doctor (who actually was) has a much better reason for travelling with a robotic Master, given that his entire race are dead. This fic assumes that he was and that the Master just kept out of sight so as not to alarm anyone.
Characters: Jack Harkness, Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Mickey Smith, Mickey Smith, Professor Yana, Rose Tyler, Rose Tyler, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (9th), The Master (Jacobi), The Master (Other), The Master (Simm)
Pairings: Shalka!Master/Nine, Shalka!Master/Ten, Doctor/Master generally implied
Warnings: Explicit sex, swearing (goodness, there’s a warning for that? Huh.)
Aralias's gen fic has been rec'd here a lot. This, of course, makes perfect sense. She’s a wonderful writer at a prose level, she handles ensemble casts well, and has an unerring natural sense of structure--farce comes very easily to her. Plus, her gen can be appreciated by a broad audience of the sort Calufrax attracts. It’s not that you can't appreciate her Doctor/Master stuff if you don't ship it, but the way you interact with a ship fic is different if you ship a pairing yourself. If you're thus inclined, you’ve probably read around and know, for example, the context of how people think and write about a pairing. You've probably given thought to it yourself and have your own ideas, and you cathect the fic differently along those lines--it acquires different resonances and priorities. Shipping fic has its own intended audience and may not be interested in staging conversion experiences.
The thing is, I think that while her gen fic deserves recognition, its comparative noteworthiness here is also sort of a shame, because for me Aralias' real triumphs in this canon come from her sensitive, definitive work as a ship writer. As much as anyone, Aralias made this pairing: how we think about it, the body of fic. So this week, among other things, I'm going to highlight some stuff I think is among her best work. You might say that D/M people already know she's where it's at, but she's currently off in a fandom that had big booms in the 80s and 90s, and she's really enjoyed going back and discovering gems from then. I like the idea of D/M shippers yet-to-come having the opportunity to similarly discover her some day. What seems obvious to us now may require a bit of archaeology to unearth, in a decade.
Kept Man is relatively early but essential work from an essential writer in Doctor/Master and, really, the fandom. This fic tracks the first three series of the reboot, imagining that all along, an android version of the Master, built by the Doctor, lives in the TARDIS, preferring not to interact with the Doctor’s various human companions (a plot device that pulls on Scream of the Shalka’s presentation of the Doctor and an android Master voiced by Jacobi living together). It slots neatly into the show as we know it, but not in a facile, consequence-free ‘episode coda’ kind of way. ‘The Doctor keeps the Master on the TARDIS after the events on the Valiant’ is a big subgenre of Doctor/Master fic (especially the fic that came right after s3) (Kept Man is also probably a little influenced by Ariastar’s generally well-regarded Ten/Simm!Master alternate series—alternate series 4 and 5 are another sort of sub genre.). Aralias is engaging with that here, but pulling the trend/trope in directions that chime with her overall interests and sensibilities.
Thus instead of Ten/Simm!Master, we get Nine and Ten and Jacobi!Master. Instead of BDSM (a standard treatment of the relationship dynamic in this subgenre), we get a more intimate, domestic power struggle that actually works a lot better for me at suggesting what’s at stake, at pushing the characters’ moral and emotional boundaries. All the whipping in the world won’t mean as much to me as Ten turning the Master off after losing Rose when the Master fails to be sympathetic either about his grief or to his plans for a grandiose farewell, and the devastating conversation they have to have about this decision afterwards. Rather than producing another example of the breed, Aralias ended up opening out the ways you could think about the characters and what it might mean for them to achieve any sort of sustainable configuration. It’s sweet and clean rather than sappy, and the confrontation she builds to, with this Master meeting his living counterpart, is all the more devastating for happening in a world that seemed to promise that problems could be resolved at a ‘domestic’ level, that seemed to allow for the possibility of happy endings. The story manages something really rare, in that it believably adds another layer of awful betrayal to the events of canon and allows for a great alternate reading in its light.
Rather than a world that narrows around our protagonists and their doomed cosmic lurve (though that can be intense and has its place), this is a universe in which the companions and their emotional lives and the work the Doctor does are all valuable and real, not set-pieces. It’s simultaneously so not Post-Valiant Trapped-on-the-TARDIS fic and, I think, perhaps the best example of same.