BBC Books
To The Slaughter

Author Stephen Cole Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48525 2
Published 2005

Synopsis: The solar system is being spring-cleaned. Jupiter's moons are to be drastically reduced in number to improve its feng shui. But with eco-terrorists taking an active and deadly interest in the work, corrupt officials lining their own pockets, and incompetence leading to the demolition of the wrong moon, the Doctor, Fitz and Trix realise that not everything is as aesthetic or as innocent as it seems...


Welcome to the Nadir by Mike Morris 23/3/05

Oh for the love of god. Oh for the love of Jesus and Mary and the donkey. Make the pain stop, please make it stop.

It's difficult to express the depths of crapness which this book plumbs; the sheer levels of stupid, tongue-in-cheek incompetence which leap from every page like diarrhoea jumping from the toilet and splattering all over your face. Given the recent resurgence of the EDA's, just as the line nears its end, it's infuriating that a book like this should appear now. Particularly from Steve Cole, who - while he's yet to produce a really great book - has always impressed as a serious writer, mostly. This book doesn't just beg to be thrown against the wall, jumped on, torn into pieces and maybe gathered together with every other copy and sent into the sun on a rocket; it undermines what Cole has achieved before now as a writer (and, to a more uneven extent, as an editor). It magnifies all his weaknesses and makes you wonder if what he's done so wrong in the past is what he thinks he's great at.

So, Steve Cole the writer is: a serious writer who deals with big ideas, who treats his concepts seriously and who does his best to structure them into an accessible story. His sneaking little problems: a compulsion to insert laddish humour. A pathological need to introduce a few jokes to show he's not taking it too seriously. The use of Doctor Who cliches as shorthand. An irritating addiction to pop culture references. A need to give his book action climaxes. Nothing too serious really, except for probably the latter; just the odd line here or there and something he'll probably eradicate over time.

Or he might stick them all together and call it a book.

I have a feeling that if I rant about how bloody self-indulgent and stupid this book is (which let's face it, I'm about to do), I'll be accused of missing the point. Because, you know, it's just a bit of fun, c'mon, don't be so uptight. I'm reminded of a while ago when Joe Ford made the rather sweeping statement that people who don't like Verdigris are those "who don't know how to laugh at themselves."

Now, this isn't an excuse for me to point out that's a pretty glib dismissal of other people's opinions (except that I just did), and rather as if I were to say that people who like Verdigris are shallow morons who think camp is inherently clever. Besides, I've no real moral high ground here - an implication that people who don't like Kinda are idiots springs painfully to mind. But that comment highlights a common enough view that I think is deeply, deeply, wrong.

Thing is, I laugh at myself all the time. I just paid for my mum to install BBC so I can watch Rose over Easter, and then spent a happy drunken Friday chortling at the depths of my obsession. It's not that I take it too seriously; it's not that I don't like jokes; it's not that all stories have to be serious; it's not that I didn't enjoy The Tomorrow Windows. Funny is good. Light-hearted is good.

It's not that the stories have to be serious; just that the writers have to treat them seriously. Because telling a funny story is still a serious task. Telling a light-hearted bit of fluff is a serious task. Do it; do it well. That's the job. What drives me mad is a ho-ho tell-a-quick-story it's-only-Doctor-Who it-doesn't-really-matter. Because, as Rob Matthews pointed out in his articulate SynthespiansTM slating (a review which make a lot of points that apply to this book), we pay for these bloody things. If I shell out nine euro for a book and it's no good, I won't get angry. I don't expect genius. But I do expect the author to give a shit about it. C'mon, we post reviews on this site for nothing, I we take them seriously. We don't expect people to read indulgent bullshit.

So let's remind ourselves of this book's premise; the moons of Jupiter are being demolished to improve the Solar System's Feng Shui. Now that is bad, that is really pathetic. It's not a light-hearted fun-poke and it's not satirical. It's just bloody crap. It's something stoners giggle it for a couple of minutes. It's worthy of a throwaway joke in the middle of a story. But something to hang a novel on? Good god.

And what's really maddening is that this is all this book has by way of ideas (and it isn't a million miles away from The Tomorrow Windows either). It's so lifeless, so featureless, so full of cliched characters, so utterly uninteresting. Cole pokes fun at interior design as being pretentious and indulgent, but doesn't seem conscious of how recycled and derivative the rest of his book is. It may be a decent premise to have a go at interior design - but this is so obviously from a point of view of total ignorance (objections: his understanding of "minimalism" is incorrect. No matter what technobabble you use, it takes years to learn design principles and it can't be blagged. Feng Shui's basis in energies may be rubbish but the design rules are generally sound. Designers don't tend to court mass celebrity - how many people even know what Daniel Libeskind looks like? Design that deviates from the norm tends to be treated sceptically by the public, not venerated. And the rest) that it's simply crass. It's like someone visited the Barcelona Pavilion and said it was a load of shit, then drank five cans of cider, pissed in the corner and demanded to watch Big Brother.

So here's some quotes from this book that purports to mock shallowness; "I'm not wearing knickers." "Wait for me here... naked." "Bounding over the crates with Tigger-like abandon." "It has ceased to be... it is an ex-moon." "The lights started flickering like something out of a David Lynch movie." "Crawled along like Spider-Man scaling a building." "A Michelin Man gone to seed." "Seriously weirded out." "A turkey's arse came into view." "She'd hoped they were Nurofen or something." "T.J. Hooker, you ain't." By golly, that's real metaphysical depth. And that's just Trix, largely because I couldn't face skimming through Fitz's sub-Bondian hormonal crap again. It's so dripping with stupid, boring pop-culture references that it's as if Cole drafted in Stuart bloody Maconie to help. By the time Hong Kong Phooey got a namecheck, I thought my brain would melt.

And what else have we got? A ruthless capitalist and corrupt corporations; cor, that's groundbreaking. Is it just me, or would it be interesting if the Doctor met an ethical multimillionaire who gave all his profits to charity? Just a thought. Anyway, Falsh is so utterly robotic that I kept expecting a twist where he wasn't human at all. Nope.

There's a few other male characters, but they're so interchangeable that they might all have been the same bloody person and I wouldn't have noticed. And the women... good god. The first passage in this book is some horrible Bridget Jones moment where a corporate floozie starts playing footsie with her boss. It may well be the most emancipated scene any of them get, as various women come and go with adolescent wish-fulfilled abandon. Except for one of them who's fat, and therefore just hangs around with a more talented boyfriend.

The plot itself should take up about a hundred pages, but is spun out by the Doctor and Trix creeping around all sorts of deserted corridors full of dead people. It's so utterly featureless that I couldn't even be bothered keeping track of where they were. The author makes great feature of his chiggocks, presumably thinking we'll think of them as an endearingly wacky yet disturbing piece of invention. Hmm, well some people, who haven't read Oryx and Crake and don't know where he stole the idea from, might fall for it.

Thing is, although it seems labyrinthine, the plot's actually very simple. Cole cleverly disguises this by making his characters so interchangeable that it's almost impossible to remember who they are. To aid this clever subterfuge, he brings in pages of dialogue in which characters carefully explain completely uninteresting and irrelevant events in mind-boggling detail, crap jokes which require a page-long contrived build-up, and POV so overdone that - at one stage - we actually get to hear Trix's opinions on someone's knickers. The result is that it's almost impossible not to skim through this drivel and hence miss the odd plot point or scene-change, resulting in reader confusion every five minutes.

It gets better at the end, insofar as it turns into an insanely confusing action sequence in which characters get split up every two seconds to pad out the page count, locations become almost indistinguishable, actions are impossible to keep track of and big plot revelations are thrown about at random. Okay, so it's not exactly good - dammit, it's not exactly competent - but at least it's not actively attacking my insides; a bit like someone removed a ferret from my anal cavity and replaced it with a hedgehog. The fact that I reacted to the typical Steve Cole action extravaganza as a welcome relief rather than a crippling disappointment says it all.

And as for the ultimate weapon; there are times when words fail me, and this is one of those times. Without talking about what a colossally stupid idea this is, which would be something of a spoiler, here's a question; why do the mobs go on rampages together? Why don't they kill each other? And surely, by simple mathematics, someone would be left alive afterwards!

But it was the afterword that infuriated me beyond all else. Steve Cole reveals that the reason this book exists is to correct a mistake in Revenge of the Cybermen about the number of moons Jupiter has. No, honestly. Well, I never thought Old King Cole would top his foreword to More Short Trips, but he's gone and proved me wrong. "Yes, I know," he chortles, "I should get out more." He also apologises "for having no loftier motive in writing this story". Well sorry doesn't cut it for peddling me this garbage. Because ultimately, even though it's Doctor Who, it's art, or it's storytelling, or it's whatever you want to call it. But it's not indulgence, it's not hiding a loveless story behind a veneer of kitsch, it's not excusing the paucity of your tale with silliness, it's not bashing out crap while you work on a 9DA you actually give a toss about and it's not fucking around. If you can't think of a story, don't write one and don't waste my time.

You know, I heard a comment once that time was the most precious thing of all, because it's the only thing you can't get back, and that to waste time is the saddest and most futile thing anyone could do. And while that's a bit of corporate-speak, there's some truth in it. It's not just that Cole has wasted my time, which is bad enough, but that he's wasted his own. Time he could have spent using his talent to do something worthwhile.

And sorry for getting so damn angry, but that's all this is. It isn't funny; it isn't wacky; it isn't quirky; it isn't satirical; it isn't clever or subversive or a really great joke.

It's just a tedious, meaningless, waste of time.

Mindless vandalism... by Joe Ford 9/4/05

The penultimate eighth Doctor adventure is an entertaining mixture of the very cool and the bloody weird. It is one of those books that is hard to pin down because it switches genre with alarming frequency... is it a comedy, science fiction, a political thriller, a horror... at times To The Slaughter is all of these and the shift in mood is one of things that will keep you on your toes. Which other Doctor Who book could present you with a Changing Rooms style spring clean for the solar system and evolve into a 28 Days Later massacre?

What impressed me most (besides the number of gosh wow moments) was the amount of intimacy between the regulars. When either of the eighth Doctor editors dips into the range their books seem to capture the Doctor and his companions better than any other writer and To The Slaughter offers some real development for the regulars. It was especially noticeable because of the heavy tension between the three of them in recent tales but to see Trix cuddle up to Fitz, the Doctor kiss his hand and the three of them snuggle up together at the end is far from being as unbearably sugary as it sounds. It is a natural progression of their relationship that strikes a chord because we all want the Doctor and his companions to get on in the end, don't we?

When the Doctor comments that Trix is coming on nicely he mirrored my thoughts precisely. Admittedly we still don't know what her dark and disturbing past is (although the blurb from The Gallifrey Chronicles suggests we soon will) but I have really warmed to her devious, manipulative and somewhat heartless approach to their adventures because (and it is made abundantly clear here) that underneath that cold exterior she is a warm, caring person who really wants to help. What I will say though is that this book should have come far sooner in her short run and people might have warmed to her a lot quicker.

Trix actually gets to do most of the best stuff in To The Slaughter, dealing with all the exciting action (she seems to spend the whole book almost being killed... Finn Clark will be in his element... except she survives!) whilst the Doctor confronts the main players in the conspiracy. It's hard to know which set piece to praise more; almost being burnt alive by rocket fuel, almost having a roof crush her to death, almost being slaughtered by rampaging animals or almost being roasted alive in a centifuge... it's that she manages to survive the damn book that is so impressive!

It is at this point that I should mention that Stephen Cole is never better than when he is writing scenes from Trix or Fitz's point of view. This is where he can plant himself in the book and make some hilarious observations using some ingenious pop culture references. He seems totally relaxed with these two characters, swearing, laughing at the action and using the most jarring remarks during stressful moments (I'm talking about big knickers, Cathy Gale, the Incredible Hulk and Stars in their Eyes here!).

The first thirty pages of the book are hugely misleading, coming across as a comedy silent movie from the days of black and white. The Doctor, Fitz and Trix spend ages running about chasing each other's tails and I was wondering when all the Doctor Who stereotypes would end and the plot would begin but don't be taken in by Cole's deception... the plot hinges on information in those first thirty pages. He's just a sneaky bugger, that's all.

The plot is much more complicated than it might appear at first but stick with it, despite some confusing moments (around the middle of the book when everybody seems to have an agenda at odds with everyone else) the book polishes up very nicely, exploding with some nice twists, good motivations for everyone involved and a climax that will impress those who like a good spectacle. The web of intrigue that this book spins is worthy of the great Robert Holmes with so many characters who aren't quite what they appear to be but their plans all meet about 200 pages in with horrific consequences.

What does confuse is why Cole chooses to deliberately include elements that are quite humorous to construct his very serious tale, almost as if he really wants the audience to feel uncomfortable. The chiggocks (headless, genetically engineered creatures that walk into the oven for you), sentient paint and indestructible slugs are all fairly absurd but Cole marches on with their functions as if to say screw you, this is my book and I'll have indestructible slugs if I want to! At least he points out how silly they are in some of the funniest scenes in the book ("It's a Trojan Slug!").

I agree whole-heartedly with Rob Matthews in his excellent Timeless review that Steve Cole has an excellent grasp on dialogue and one of the reasons To The Slaughter breezes past so smoothly is because he gets this near perfect. The book is packed full of terrific one liners ("You think we came in here defenceless? We have much more than a chair, a woman and a shoe in our arsenal!", "Tell me or I'll blow you left leg off. And then your arm. And your right leg!" "'Why don't you start with my fingers?' said Trix, waving two of them in her direction") and remains laced with a thread of icy humour right into the murderous climax.

The secondary characters probably aren't as well defined as those from Timeless but they all have clear reasons for what they are doing and for such a cast-heavy book I never once lost track of who was who and what they were up to. Falsh pales when compared to that slime ball Basalt but I did like they way this book plays about with its villains, pushing a new one into the limelight every now and again. What was made abundantly clear was how far Falsh was willing to go in order to make sure the demolition of the solar system takes place and why it was so important to him. For my money the egotist Klimt was the better baddie, his motives as selfish as we Doctor Who fans have come to expect from our villains. And at least we know it won't all be Sabbath's fault in the end! The eco-terrorists were pretty forgettable but I really liked egomaniac (oh yeah, everyone if this book suffers from a bloated image) Aristotle Halcyon and his assistant Sook who enter the book as if they are going to be minor characters but end up being rather important and command our sympathies, especially Sook. Tinya was a super bitch from the first page to her last and her brainwashed period was hilariously apt.

The last eighty pages could have come from a different book altogether being rather more violent and dangerous than the preceeding pages. I love a bit of senseless violence as much as the next guy (I cannot be the only person who watches Resurrection of the Daleks for the body count?) and Cole captures the violent animal instincts we have inside rather too well, almost uncomfortably so in places. Scenes of crowds tearing each other to pieces, guards shooting in a murderous frenzy and Fitz getting to grips with quite a few necks belong on in horror Who. The book's sudden descent into darkness is disturbing at first after the lightness of the first half but the pace continues to accelerate to a wonderful climax. Who would have thought the Doctor could cause such destruction?

I very much enjoyed the views of the planets in the solar system, it was a relief from all the politics to have a character stare out of a window and take in the stunning vistas of the Earth's solar system. I'll never look at Jupiter in the same light again.

For myself this the sixth very good EDA in a row and whilst I would place To The Slaughter underneath The Tomorrow Windows, The Sleep of Reason and Sometime Never... it tops Halflife and The Deadstone Memorial. Were the EDAs to continue this sort of entertaining mix of horror and comedy could have been a good template for further adventures. I find myself looking forward to Stephen Cole's upcoming NDA because he sure has improved in leaps and bounds since Parallel 59, his plotting and characterisation are damn good and his dialogue kicks ass.

But no indestructible slugs next time! Enjoy this wacky and different novel, you won't be seeing anymore for a few months.

Supplement, 8/3/06:

Things to love about To the Slaughter:

Things to hate about To the Slaughter: A bizarre book which is extremely popular (except for a couple of reviews on this site) for its lighthearted nature and fun spin on the eighth Doctor's last days. I would not recommend it as one of the best the range can offer (or even the best that Stephen Cole can offer) simply because it feels too inconsequential and there are a few errors in judgement that make it quite rough in spots. However, it is still well-written, has some good jokes and a great atmosphere of action and excitement... it isn't a stinker by any stretch.

A seven out of ten.

A Review by John Seavey 21/4/05

If you can imagine a story, any story, as a car, then you can imagine writers as auto mechanics. (I know this is a weird place to start, but work with me on this one.) The writer's job is to customize the story, trick it out with new features, improve its performance, streamline it, and give it a nice look.

If you can see To the Slaughter as a car, it's like it's one of those weird bullet cars they design just to see if they can break the world landspeed record. It might not always be pretty, it might not necessarily be elegant, and you probably wouldn't just cruise around in it to admire the way it handles, but man, that mother can move.

Cole starts the book with the Doctor, Fitz, and Trix hiding under a board-room table mid-meeting, and before you can say "interplanetary conspiracy" they're split up, on the run, in hiding, escaping explosions, racing against time, and cross-cutting from one thread to another at break-neck speed. The plot actually does hold together reasonably well under these stresses, and while characterization does suffer a bit, it's just because you're moving too fast to get to know anyone. (Trix, astonishingly enough, shows some signs of a personality shyly coming out to greet us, one book before she's written out of the series, but you'd still have a hard time caring if she wandered out of the book never to return.) There's some nice lines here and there, and I personally love the idea of realigning the planets to give the solar system better feng shui, but again, you're really just rocketing through the book for the adrenaline rush. And on that level it's fantastic.

Admittedly, it does steal some from '28 Days Later'... but then again, they stole their first big scene from The Dalek Invasion of Earth anyway, so we're owed payment."

A Review by Finn Clark 5/7/05

A hundred pages into this thing, I was afraid I'd become sick of Doctor Who. Admittedly I'd foolishly come to this from Stephen Cole's 9DA, but it's the old, old problem... I've enjoyed some of the man's writing but look at, say, Parallel 59, The Ancestor Cell, Timeless, The Monsters Inside, Frayed, The Gods of the Underworld and now To The Slaughter. You don't care, do you? They go through the motions. Even if it so happens that the plot, dialogue and characters aren't filched from fourth-rate Pertwee runarounds, it feels like they are.

However around the 100-page mark, one character generated a spark of interest in me. No, of course not the whole cast. Just one of them. That's not much, but I clung to it like a drowning man. When you're struggling through endless pages with nothing on which you can fix your attention, you get desperate. Fortunately from then on, things improved.

Eventually I thought the last two-thirds of To The Slaughter were okay. Not great, or even in the same dictionary as "great", but there's lots of action and a certain forward momentum. The plot's high concepts, once we get a good look at them, are suitably wild and silly, and I imagine this book's synopsis looked great. You'd obviously apply a heavy discount for the author's name, but even so I can see how this got commissioned.

However those first hundred pages... I looked in vain for a reason beyond stubbornness to keep reading. I didn't care about the characters. I didn't like them. I didn't hate them. I just didn't engage with them in any way. The plot certainly doesn't try to do anything interesting with them, but just does Doctor Who Things because this is a Doctor Who Book. Thus you read about spaceships, asteroids, boardrooms, powerful corporations, etc. and despair that books like this think so meanly of our show.

The TARDIS crew are the book's most attention-grabbing characters, which would be a good thing if we weren't talking about the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix. But joy of joys, I hopped and skipped and danced... "Coming soon from BBC Books: the Eighth Doctor's Last Adventure! The Gallifrey Chronicles, by Lance Parkin." Okay, that's technically a lie because of Fear Itself, but if this happy promise is true in any sense then the world will be full of sunshine and flowers.

However the oddest thing about this book is that Stephen Cole appears to be having fun! It certainly doesn't infect the reader, but there's a laddish flippancy in the dialogue that was perhaps meant to be amusing. (Note: I'm speculating.) Arguably that's also in line with the wacky story ideas, which I can appreciate and applaud on general principles even if they're not entertaining in actual execution. Points for effort, I guess. Looking back with hindsight I think I see the seeds of what in the hands of another author might have become a comedy. You have no idea how weird that feels.

After unfunny deliberate examples, an accidental innuendo on p244 raised a smirk. Trix "tossed Falsh for the pleasure", did she? I presume that means she didn't charge her usual rate, then?

Overall this ain't a good book. However once you've struggled past the first hundred pages, it becomes readable in a cold, uninvolving kind of way. Eventually I kinda enjoyed it, but I wish Stephen Cole a long and successful involvement with his non-Who kids' fiction.

Three Out Of Ten by Jamas Enright 5/2/06

I've just finished To The Slaughter, yet another book from the unstoppable (unfortunately) pen of Stephen Cole, and now come to the typical task of reviewing it. However, as I think back on the book I've just read, my overwhelming feeling is... 'huh?'

I do remember a lot of eye-rolling I did as I read various passages, but that was just typical Stephen Cole reactions (the man can write very good Benny audios, but when it comes to books he just doesn't push my buttons). I can vaguely remember parts of the plot: there was rubbish about Feng Shui, which was thrown out as a more typical 'threat to life and limb as a disasterious weapon of epic proportions is unleashed' (I'm sighing just writing it) and lots of action. Lots and lots of action. People running around all over the place, definitely lots of running. But, ultimately, the experience didn't add up to anything satisfying. Although I must say that, it being a Stephen Cole book aside, the book wasn't particularly dissatisfying either. It just was.

The characters are, at least, more memorable. Although barely more than one-dimensional. The names alone (Falsh, Tinya, Sook, Halcyon) are distinctive enough to enable me to remember who is who and keeps scenes from becoming confusing (although Stephen does skirt danger with Trix and Tinya). The most developed character is Sook, who takes a liking to Fitz because...of no readily apparent reason that I can see. She gets development in the form of a line or two about her past which causes a crisis between her and Fitz, but their reactions are played up more than the importance of her past action, so if you blink you'll miss the cause of it and be wondering what all the fuss is about. (I have no idea what 'inspired' Stephen to have 'Gaws and Mildred', I just wish he had resisted more.)

The main cast are... generic. Fitz is a guy who... is there and recalls some of the past events that happens to him (although I can't remember which stories are being referred to), but could otherwise be any other companion (Stephen Cole brings up again the idea of Fitz having been Remembered in Interference, and plays it like it's something Fitz is continually remembering... which he isn't). Trix is also generic female companion (of the current age, no twisted ankles or anything), and makes contemporary culture references (please, Stephen, don't do that again). Stephen also drops in a few lines that might indicate they're thinking of leaving the Doctor, setting up, no doubt, ideas for The Gallifrey Chronicles. Oh, and the Doctor's also in this, but aside from breaking into files and running around, doesn't really have anything important to do.

My favourite scene in the whole book (and yes, there were one or two good moments) was the attack by the chiggocks. The idea of these animals, bred purely for the dinner table, fighting back is one of the better concepts presented here.

But good moments are few and far between and To The Slaughter is just another churned-out book on the Doctor Who paper mill. Roll on the next book... which is Stephen Cole's Ninth Doctor book! Bah!