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Reviews for To The Slaughter

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Quality, traditional Who...

By:Joe Ford, Eastbourne
Date:Friday 4 February 2005
Rating:   9

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…its 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 others 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 intruige 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 get 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 wont 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 books sudden descent into darkness as 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 whacky and different novel, you wont be seeing anymore for a few months.

Name that Tone!

By:John Ellison, Atlanta, USA
Date:Wednesday 29 June 2005
Rating:   6

What went right: Cole does (as my counterpart mentions in his review) a decent job of really using Trix to great effect. Her most involved adventure yet. Likewise, he references past events (Fitz's time spent on Mechta) and I find continuity nice although not an absolute must. The last third of the book really pulled it out of the fire for me giving it the 6 I ranked it rather than the 4 it was on course for.

What went wrong: I know writing is no easy task so I don't presume to know better than the author. However, that said, I found the constant shift in tone to be quite annoying. Am I reading this as a comedy, a farce, a horror, a drama, what? I am capable of following any form but at certain moments a dramatic scene could be totally wrecked by referencing something "atonal". Tinya's knickers...enough said.

While the novel follows the successful formula of many a Who story (divide, separate from TARDIS, run up-and-down corridors, etc.) that is exactly what prevents it from ever really working for me. It had it's twists and had some original ideas (the ultimate weapon was different) but in the end it just left me a little flat.

If you have a taste for jazz music with all its weird flares and misplaced resonance, then you may find this novel to be one of your the end it comes down to personal preference. I've just never cared for all that jazz.


By:Hatman, somewhere...
Date:Friday 26 May 2006
Rating:   4

Not very good. good feng shui, though

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