Word Count: 16865
Author's Summary: “How did the Doctor from Scream of the Shalka come to live with the Master?”
Characters: Shalka!Doctor, Shalka!Master
Warnings: BDSM, Explicit Sex, Explicit Violence, Swearing
If the last rec was somewhat inspired by the premise of Scream of the Shalka, then this fic is the origin story that enigmatic serial almost demands. It starts out grounded in a really good reworking of the BFA Charlie arc, which elegantly explains how we get from Eight to Shalka!Nine, and why he is the Doctor he is (the circumstances of his regeneration might even hint at an explanation for this off-sequence Doctor). (You don’t need to know BFA to get the gist, though.) This initial set-up is bleak, and this story gives us an unusual, compelling treatment of physical weakness, depression and dependency of various kinds—not in a decorative or purely romance-provoking hurt/comfort kind of way, these are things the author’s clearly interested in exploring in and of themselves.
The story’s spiked with wonderful little bits of meta, the type of insights that could easily lodge in you as personal canon: “Most Time Lords preferred to control what body they regenerated into, but the Doctor hated making that choice. How could his new personality ever be happy with an appearance chosen by the old one? If he wanted to make any progress in life at all, he had to open himself to change and chance. Of course it was by no means a comfortable way of regenerating. It left him raw and defenceless, far more exposed than he liked.”
Living Things features an engaging Shalka!Doctor voice, which is tough to pull off because there’s so little of that canon to work with. There are also moments of beautiful, lyrical writing and imagery: “Sometimes he dreamt of an iron forest, with trees like nails and railway spikes. The ground was covered in crunching gravel, bits of coral that looked like ground bone.” There’s great SFFnal stuff as the Doctor builds an android body, great flashes of TL worldbuilding and a great treatment of psychic abilities.
The actual slash plays out slowly and a bit subtly—this is about their relationship in a broad, thorough way. But when it gets to the shippy content, the fic goes hard, playing with a good knowledge of the whole canon of the characters’ relationship and pulling out some sharp character insights. It’s really engrossing relationship and sex writing generally. This author is very good at talking about the intersections of the body and emotional and intellectual desire, and at looking at different kinds of desire and vulnerability. Here are some particularly lovely points:
“By now the Master had been dead for years of the Doctor's personal timeline. Given such distance, the Doctor could admit to himself that he felt he could have made more of an effort to stop the Master from destroying himself back when the Master still had had some slivers of sanity left. The problem was that whenever he had met the Master, it had seemed that this time, the point of no return had finally been crossed. Only in hindsight he could tell that it could always get worse, and that maybe there was no point of no return.”
“There were moments when they got so close that they couldn't tell which of them it was who wanted their union to last forever, who wanted them to be one where they had been two, and which of them it was who was seized with terror whenever he couldn't tell where he ended. But they managed to maintain an equilibrium of fear and desire.”
“The Master wasn't immune to vanity. The Doctor was his most critical audience, and the only one whose opinion truly mattered. The Doctor's mere glance eviscerated, even when the Master was fully prepared to face him. There had been times when he had hated his disfigured, dying bodies so much that he wanted to kill the Doctor just to stop him looking at what the Master had become.”
“Who he was and who the Doctor wanted him to be were for once the same person. Since had hadn't had to change his ways to achieve that, the Master considered it a victory.”
One of the last paragraphs of the penultimate section is GORGEOUS, but too spoilery to share. Even if the warnings list puts you off, I would still have to rec this fic, because it’s using those things really purposively and well to do work.