THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Colony in Space
BBC Books
The Janus Conjunction

Author Trevor Baxendale Cover image
ISBN 0 563 40599 6
Published 1998

Synopsis: A hyperspatial link, a moon weighing billions of tons more than it should and a deadly weapon cause the Doctor and Sam to piece together a centuries old puzzle in order to avert the destruction of the entire galaxy.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 13/3/99

Oh dear. After the dizzy heights of The Scarlet Empress, a return to the troughs. Sadly there seems to be a basic level of uninspiring bog-standard workmanship to which the 8DAs keep returning (unlike the quirkier PDAs). The Janus Conjunction is a solid book. The bases are covered; the characterisation is acceptable and the plotting is workmanlike. Everything is good enough, but nothing is particularly good.

Let's be specific. We'll start with the plotting.

The basic set-up contains physical impossibilities and absurd plot holes, but we'll return to that later. For now we'll just consider "plot" to be the sequence of events that make up the novel, which case The Janus Conjunction has a plot that is logical, reasonable and dull.

The first 40% of the book just bored me. Efficient professionals attend debriefings, shuffle prisoners around and discuss their strategy. Other things happen, but you could be forgiven for not noticing. There's isn't a single scene that lights up the page. There's no passion; nothing is visceral or moving. Instead we endure endless dull SF chapters of Faction One working out how to defend itself against Faction Two. There's some effective body-horror and a couple of interesting characters, but that's about it.

A bit of action improved matters, until soon after the 60% mark I realised I was actually enjoying my reading experience. Unfortunately things proceeded at such a healthy pace that not long after page 200 I was starting to get impatient for things to be wrapped up. I also felt this with Last Man Running, with which this book has many similarities. Both are wind-up-and-go plots, with a limited range of settings and a small cast. Neither has any great surprises in store. Neither is going to set the world alight.

What about the characterisation? Again, it's solid and unflashy. The killers come across better than the civilians, perhaps because they have more to do. The biggest problems, sadly, are the Doctor and Sam. We'll begin with the Doctor.

I have a friend who holds strong opinions on Paul McGann's Doctor and would never, ever use him in a novel. To quote him verbatim: "You know I think the eighth Doctor's a wuss who lives on people helping him in utterly American fashion". The phrase "fluffy bunny" has been heard to crop up in our conversations as well. I'm not saying I agree with this, but my friend's basic thesis is that the eighth Doctor doesn't have much of a personality and doesn't take charge of situations, preferring to drift gently through.

The Janus Conjunction supports this argument. Despite delivering an accurate pastiche of McGann mannerisms as seen in the books so far, this is almost a textbook example of how not to write him. He doesn't have any good scenes! He just drifts through inoffensively, being vaguely Doctorish without ever really having anything to push against. Things pick up towards the end as things get more serious and he starts losing his rag, but a lead character who's basically relaxed and unworried about everything does not make good drama!

But Sam...

Where to begin?

A bright note! The title of this book did inspire one serendipidous thought regarding our favourite eco-warrior. If you're familiar with a certain attractive young actress, just read "Samantha Jones" as "Samantha Janus" throughout for added reader interest... :-)

Basically Sam is the most annoying git of all time. She's pointlessly rude to soldiers in the full knowledge that they'll hit her for it. She makes nasty little digs at sympathetic characters for the heinous crime of being proficient with guns. She's offensively self-righteous. I kid you not, I was screaming abuse at this book: "Shoot her, shoot her, shoot her!"

Fitz cannot come too soon. He'll take the you-know-what out of Sam for us and we'll be just that little bit further from a coronary. When the action starts and Sam actually gets something to react against (physical pain, huge danger or imminent death) then she's actually quite good. When she's in undramatic scenes however, she's just intolerable. The Doctor can be bland when not in immediate danger, but Sam is just a painful cow.

Moving swiftly on, how well does The Janus Conjunction work as an addition to Doctor Who lore? Not well, I'm afraid. Apparently mankind didn't leave the solar system until after the Dalek invasion, which contradicts at least St Anthony's Fire, Lucifer Rising, Paradise Towers and Nightmare of Eden.

The 22nd century Cyberwars are alluded to yet again and given extra weight, which IMO is making it increasingly hard to reconcile the Tomb of the Cybermen's dialogue with a 25th-century date. The Cybermen have been extinct for 500 years, have they? Methinks this must be the 31st century. Having said that, the memories of the Cyberwars help to build up their reputation, much as Virgin made the Daleks truly threatening by keeping them firmly onstage. I appreciated that.

On the other hand, the temporal orbit makes an unwelcome reappearance just when we hoped that it had been decently forgotten. The sonic screwdriver is far too wimpy (remember Robot?) Oh, and the Korman scale measures toxic radiation. I wonder what the Jblum scale would measure... :-) Bloody hell, I'm in full Nitpick Mode and no book deserves this kind of thing. It's the death of a thousand crits, but sadly I've only just begun.

Let's get down to the scientific inaccuracies....

  1. The Milky Way contains a hundred billion stars and is 100,000 light-years in diameter, with Earth lying 30,000 light-years from galactic centre. The Janus system is described as being on the edge of the galaxy... 27 light-years from Earth!
  2. According to the Doctor, a black hole of three solar masses would destroy a significant chunk of the galaxy. Not so. Beyond its event horizon, a black hole behaves no differently from other stellar bodies.. and this particular black hole's event horizon would only have a radius of three kilometres. That's ten light-microseconds.
  3. Anyway, galaxies can cheerfully accommodate even supermassive black holes. At the centre of the Milky Way is Sagittarius A*, a highly promising black hole candidate that weighs something in the order of ten million solar masses.
  4. Janus Prime is the biggest planet in this solar system, but has a moon that keeps it permanently eclipsed. This "moon" must therefore be at least as large as Janus Prime.

Other people have suggested further astronomical bloopers, but frankly I can't be bothered. Life's too short. There's a still more painful absurdity at the book's heart, idiot plotting this time, but I can't describe it because of spoilers. It's time to stop nitpicking.

I've laid into this book more viciously than it deserves, but quite frankly it's begging for it. It's not so bad. I have good memories of the middle section. It's not the best 8DA out there, but it's a long way from being the worst. It's not grossly flawed; the worst accusation that can really be levelled is that it's Doctor Who by the numbers.

The Janus Conjunction is a modest book that achieves what it set out to do but little more. Someone here was playing safe. However Trevor Baxendale is clearly not without talent; let's see more next time.


A Doomsday Machine on a Colony in Space by Jason A. Miller 26/6/99

Twenty-seven years before the BBC published Trevor Baxendale's first Doctor Who novel, The Janus Conjunction, it aired a six-part television program called Colony in Space, a well-acted outer space story, about which the worst thing that has ever been said is that it's too long. Shortly afterwards, author Malcolm Hulke novelized that story, eliminating padding and strengthening the story's themes. The result is one of DW's finest print adventures.

Now the story's told again, nearly word for word. Well-meaning colonists leave a semi-devestated Earth in order to raise plants and live in a rock quarry. Standing in the way of their self-sufficiency are human soldiers, and a dark alien secret from a long-dead civilization whose descendants are now mute scavengers. Before human greed launches the star-destroying weapon, the Doctor averts disaster, with the help of an old standby, a noble human sacrifice. The human villains die, except for those who find salvation in the colonial lifestyle.

Janus Conjunction is fairly well-written, so that as a book, it rises above its all-encompassing cliches. The human villains here, disgraced soldiers all, wear their depravity on their sleeves - rapidly melting, radiation-blasted skins. It's an unsubtle metaphor which becomes unintentionally comic. But Baxendale's heart is in the right place. He clearly likes the 8th Doctor, and even Sam, and his political sensibilities (presented through Sam and the supporting cast) never grate, as they do elsewhere in this series.

But the whole novel's really something of a non-entity. The Mac Hulke/Doctor Who and the Doomsday Machine ethos permeates mankind's future history as set forth in earlier New Adventures. Here, Baxendale borrows wholesale, but changes a few historical details, as another reviewer comments earlier on this page. And just what is a Trevor Baxendale? Is he a real writer and fan? Another pseudonym? One wishes the BBC would reinstate the old Virgin author biographies. Still, we know that Baxendale likes the TV-movie, and that he appreciates the Jon Blum/Kate Orman vision of the 8th Doctor (indeed, one could argue that their's is the *only* vision of 8th Doctor we've yet seen). Look for a reference to the Doctor's train set, and a "Korman" namecheck halfway through.

Janus is light-hearted, without getting silly, and repetitive, without getting boring. The plotting, full of the astrophysical improbabilites that make Doctor Who's universe worth reading, is workmanlike, as is the prose. The best prose, the best lines of dialogue, are all saved for the brief final chapter. There's a terribly manipulative companion death moment later on, but even this is par for the course. We come to expect it from print Who, as much as we expect bad science and rotting limbs and faces. It's just a pity that some more risks, some real freshness, are never claimed. In that, the Mac Hulke ethos has been failed.


Surprisingly good, in a very trad way by Robert Smith? 31/7/99

I'm really glad I read this one out of order. I'm convinced I would have hated this if I'd read it after The Scarlet Empress. TSE isn't quite an impossible act to follow - but the way to follow it is not with a story that's so traditional that Malcolm Hulke's estate could be on the litigation gravy train for life.

The Janus Conjunction manages to hold itself up quite well. It's got a great setting, lots of action, people getting locked up, escaping, getting locked up again, an improbable superweapon, arachnid people who've descended into primitive states after their massive genocidal war with a neighbouring people, struggling but heroic colonists, none of whom have any personality whatsoever, military guys gone bad, a sympathetic military guy helping the colonists, a farmer turned warrior girl who gets to be companion for the story, an insane megalomaniac who wants to destroy the solar system for no readily discernible reason and some really dodgy science. Yep, it's Doctor Who in a nutshell, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much, even though every sensible fibre of my being told me I shouldn't.

The Doctor is quite good here, mainly because Baxendale sensibly removes Sam from his presence and teams him up with a far more tolerable and interesting pseudo-companion instead. Julya's everything Sam should be but isn't: interesting, likeable and capable of making a decision - even a tough one - without endlessly angsting about it. The Doctor isn't brilliant but he's competent and not too goofy, thankfully. Baxendale carries off this characterisation fairly effortlessly - which is quite impressive considering how problematic this appears to be for other authors.

Alas for Sam. She gets to say "Go on, do it. Show me what a man you are." She gets to say this (twice) in The Face-Eater as well. Thanks for setting the precedent here Trevor, you bastard. You'll be hearing from my attorneys. In true EDA formula, she also gets to be severely tortured, almost to the point of death, do some incredibly stupid things (which even the Doctor remarks upon), whines, angsts, complains and generally makes things far worse than they'd have been without her. This is Jo Grant without the brains, Mel without the likability, Adric without the personality.

I can't figure out why the Doctor not only puts up with her, he keeps on forgiving her. Consider two similar scenes when the Doctor and Sam each provoke a guard who ends up hitting them. The Doctor deliberately provokes his guard in order to steal a vital piece of equipment so he can begin a complex method of escape in order to save thousands of lives. Sam provokes her guard into hitting her by saying "You can spell and hold a gun" because, um, well because she's Sam, really.

If Sam were in the TV series, she wouldn't be a companion, she'd be a misguided scientist and the Doctor would make her see the error of her ways and convince her to sacrifice herself to save the day and atone for her mistakes. Never have I wished for the show's return to our screens more than I do right now.

The dodgy science bothered me less than I thought it would from reading the back cover. It's not really dwelt on, so I prefer to take the decent story over the loopy thinking. It's a bit of a shame, though - someday I'm going to pitch a Doctor Who historical written about a real period of which I know next to nothing. I'm sure it'll be accepted, I wouldn't want to accuse the BBC of having double standards or anything.

Captain Zemler is a highly suspicious character. He's a faceless leader, locking himself in a darkened office which his underlings can enter, but never feel comfortable in. He's trapped where he is, but wields absolute power there. However, he chooses not to use it, aside from occasionally correcting his underlings' grammar. For no particular reason, he's intent upon inflicting pain and misery on thousands of otherwise happy innocents. Yes folks, I think it's pretty clear where Trevor Pseudonym is going with this. Captain Zemler is Steve Cole!

There are three minor characters whose names are Vigo, Vikto and Varko. Who thought this would be a good idea? Demontage has much the same thing and it doesn't work any better there either. Oh, and Zemler and Moslei aside, the entire cast of soldiers - and indeed their equipment! - are introduced by way of little labels written in small caps. Fair enough for the random guards like ANSON, but we also get doors marked MORTUARY and aeronautic devices marked FLYER. The bad guys are (naturally) American: You can tell this, because they get to say "Asshole", so they must be evil. Not like the good and proper colonists, who are very British, naturally. And while we keep being told that there are thousands of colonists, we never see more and three in one room. I'm laughing so hard it hurts - someone switch the Doctor-Who-plot-generator in Steve Cole's office off before it tries to take over the world and launch a wildly improbably plan to destroy the solar system for no apparent reason. Or is it too late?

What's marvellous, though, is that despite all these problems, The Janus Conjunction somehow works. It manages to succeed where so many EDAs try and fail. It's Doctor Who through and through, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Really. It might be ultra-trad, risk-free Doctor Who, with 40% new plot, but I don't really mind. Ripping off third rate B-movies is a Doctor Who tradition anyway, so who am I to complain if someone's chosen Colony in Space for a target?

The Janus Conjunction succeeds in being a nice little tale with a couple of characters, a decent Doctor and a highly irritating Sam. In short, it's the pinnacle of trad EDA achievement - everything the other books are trying to do is accomplished here. It's a pity more of them don't succeed as well as The Janus Conjunction, actually. Ultimately, I'm just grateful that its success means I won't have to be referring to it as "The Anus Conjunction" for years to come. Thanks for thinking of me, Trev.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/6/01

The Janus Conjunction is a book that doesn't know where it wants to go and never really gets there. The story borrows very heavily from certain Jon Pertwee adventures and does not end up escaping. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but there isn't a point in the story where I found something that I hadn't seen before. Everything felt as though I'd seen or read it a few times previously. The real shame of this is that it disguises some of the actual original pieces in it.

As for the plot, I'm afraid there are just one too many impossibilities for me. I don't mind a little bad science every now and again if it isn't distracting and it helps move the plot along. Minor errors that crop up are usually more annoying than anything else, but in this case they really got in the way of my enjoyment of the story. If there had been more to the plot, then it might have just gotten away with this, but as the story was so straightforward (and, frankly, dull in many places) the science mistakes became that much more apparent. I was actually not terribly bothered by these errors until almost the very end, when a huge deux ex machina pops up, destroying all manner of physical laws, just in time to save the day.

Another major problem that I had with this book was the use of Sam, though to be fair to Trevor Baxendale, this is not completely the author's fault. Sam is a very annoying character and there just isn't a terribly satisfactory way of putting her into a story without the reader wishing that she doesn't end up dying after her Torture of the Month. Seeing I got away with using Sam well by having her grow up and putting some of her more annoying characteristics into perspective. Vanderdeken's Children starred a generic companion who just happened to be named Sam and shared very few of her positive and negative points. But Janus just shows us Sam in all her annoying, holier-than-thou glory. The results are very painful in places. While some authors have gone to great lengths to keep her out of situations that will bring out the worst in her character, Baxendale does not do this. It's hardly his fault that he was stuck with a companion that has to be tiptoed around, but the story he has written really clashes with the Sam that he had to use.

The other characters (including the Doctor) are fairly bland. If you've ever seen a Pertwee episode then you've met these people before. We have the 70's era environmentally friendly colonists that are looking for a nice place to live away from the hustle and bustle of Earth. They're lead by the council of elders who are slow, bureaucratic and don't listen to the Doctor until it's too late no matter how much sense it would make to do so. The bad guys are a group of mercenaries who are evil, greedy and are only in it for the money and the glory. The exceptions are the soldiers who end up siding with the colonists by the end of the book, which, again, is a plot point that we've seen again and again.

In any case, Janus is a run of the mill adventure that's let down heavily by it's reliance on very poor science and some rather cardboard characterizations. It's a very fast read, but there is not a whole lot there to recommend it.


Reading Behind the Sofa by Brett Walther 15/8/03

Two of the scariest moments in Doctor Who -- for me, anyway -- involve spiders. As an impressionable four-year-old, the first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw was Planet of the Spiders when it was being broadcast on public television in the early eighties. The terrifying image of the eight legged nasty springing onto Sarah Jane's back was enough to spark a fascination with the program that has continued for twenty years. The other moment is in Full Circle in which the fanged spiders hatch out of the marsh melons and corner Romana in the cave: scary enough that it is this scene that most of my friends remember about the programme.

Considering my high regard for the chills in Planet of the Spiders and Full Circle, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Janus Conjunction does spiders even better than those two classics. There's a sequence in which the Doctor is trapped in a cobweb infested giant spider cage on Janus Prime, swarming with recently hatched spiderlings that demonstrates that Doctor Who still has the ability to frighten its audience through imagery as well as through concepts. While not managing to be terrifying like The Banquo Legacy or Casualties of War, this is scary FUN -- an enjoyable behind the sofa read (if such a thing can be said to exist).

I love this book, largely because of the ease by which it can be imagined as a television adventure. If a new series was to be produced, I would give anything to see The Janus Conjunction produced for the small screen. Apart from preying on my admitted arachnophobia as detailed above, The Janus Conjunction presents some hauntingly beautiful imagery: moons streaking across the sky as they fulfill their doomsday weapon destiny, a world in perpetual darkness, illuminated only by the glow of its radioactive blue sand, giant cybernetic spiders that spray jets of acid onto their victims...

The whole book is given a sense of urgency by the death sentence of radiation sickness. The longer characters remain on the surface of Janus Prime, the more horrific the effects of the radiation. Skin starts peeling and sticking to anything characters touch... Making things worse is the catch-22 situation encountered by the inhabitants of the planet: if they try to escape back to Janus Prime's more hospitable sister planet Menda, the effects of the radiation are merely accelerated to the point where they become piles of mush.

As a result, the "villains" of Janus Prime are a surprisingly sympathetic bunch. They are reluctant colonists trapped on a hostile world, being led by a crazed death's head in a spacesuit. They know they're going to die, and they're angry about it. Hard to find fault in that.

Just as surprising is the characterization of Sam. In the same manner as Paul Leonard presented her in Revolution Man, Baxendale constructs her as the character with which the reader identifies, which is amazing considering how in other books she has easily been the most alien concept in the storyline. She develops an interesting rapport with a fellow prisoner in the early stages of the book, and holds him as he is ravaged by the accumulated effects of radiation sickness, disintegrating in her arms. It's hard not to feel for her, especially when she starts going through the stages of radiation sickness herself.

Although the ending indeed seems stretched-out unnecessarily, the bad rap that this book has received from other reviewers is seriously unwarranted. The Janus Conjunction is a quick read that will remind you of why you fell in love with Doctor Who in the first place. What more can you ask for?

7.5/10


Undervalued... by Joe Ford 4/11/04

I feel it is my right as a positive follower of the BBC books range to state a case for the defence where it comes to The Janus Conjunction, a book that is so harmless I cannot fathom why so many people have directed their bile at it. Here is a book which, as Finn Clark says, covers all the bases (although that's about it as far as our agreeing on this book goes), is crisply written, has a wealth of good surprises and some damn good imagery. Indeed the cover is fabulous in a way Black Sheep isn't very much these days, the image integral to the plot and striking to boot.

Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not about to start a rally claiming The Janus Conjunction (love that title!) is a perfect EDA or even close. It has its flaws but just not as many as others claim and has far too many strengths to be actively dismissed as bland or run of the mill or a nonentity or whatever is popular to label it this week.

For a start what is all this guff about scientific accuracy. You've got to laugh when people rant on about the scientific mistakes in a series that is helmed by a time travelling police box that is bigger on the inside than the outside! But of course the TARDIS and its technical ignorance as has been ignored because it was created way back when and is a great idea anyway... the super bomb Janus system is dismissed because it takes place in an early EDA and is written by Trevor Baxendale. People have selective memories, don't they? I have no idea if two moons in a fixed orbit with their masses linked through hyperspace causing a supernova in the solar system's sun is accurate or not and to be frank I don't care. This is science fiction for Christ's sakes! You know... fiction? As in made-up? Maybe the science in the Janus system is different from ours because it's alien or maybe it's because Trevor Baxendale says it is, but as far as I am concerned in a fictional story the writer is free to play about with physics as much as he likes as long as it suits the story and doesn't affect the plot.

As it stands the last four or so chapters of The Janus Conjunction are rather gripping, once you have a fixed idea of what is happening in the Janus system it is a race against time to stop a universe-wide disaster from happening. I like how the story plays about with telling you the truth throughout and how Baxendale cleverly offers enough hints and clues and builds up the plot around the revelation, which still manages to be much, more epic than I would have guessed.

For what has been written off as a generic Doctor Who runaround (which, to be fair, it is for about two hundred pages) there are number of scenes that surprise. I was shocked when Vigo was turned to the human equivalent of porridge in Sam's arms, I genuinely thought the Doctor would find and save him because he was with Sam so thumbs up to Baxendale for this memorably gross-out moment. The Doctor and Julya thrown in with Big Henrietta was another great scene, especially when the lights go out and her baby spiders start crawling all over him. I was impressed at the drama of the moment as the babies were slaughtered whilst the Doctor was still telepathically linked to them, his vicious anger directed at Lunder is the sort of development we hadn't really seen from the Eighth Doctor up to this point in the range. And when the answers are spilled out about the Janus system I couldn't help but be impressed at the lengths the Janusians and the Mendans went to ensure there would never be another war, turning their entire system into a device of destruction. Its almost as if Jim Mortimore has been secretly whispering in Baxendale's ear.

I have never really agreed with Brett Walther's disgruntled opinion of the EDAs but I am behind him one hundred percent when he says The Janus Conjunction produces some hauntingly good imagery. The first scenes of the two fugitives being hunted by cyborg spiders on a planet that is captured in perpetual twilight is a fine opening for a book. The Doctor striking a match and having its light reflected redly in the eyes of a giant spider, the crimson sunlight from the red giant peeking around the sun as the conjunction is pulled out of alignment, even Julya's amazed reaction the interior of the TARDIS, Baxendale might not be the world's master of the English language but he knows how to set a scene.

And whilst I'm on the subject of Brett's review he also comments that the book would make an excellent TV story and it brings to mind my earlier comment about which Doctor Who books would work better on the television. It has been pointed out that this an unusual school of thought because a book is a book and the TV is the TV and the two are entirely separate entities. How about the Remembrance of the Daleks novelisation so recently championed by Robert Smith? Now there is a book that took hold of its television counterpart and added such detail that it enriched the experience tenfold. What matters at the end of the day is the story, be it a book or a television programme and sometimes a book would work better on the telly (The Domino Effect apparently) and a televised story would work better as a novel (such as the dense Warriors' Gate). And a book with imagery as shocking as The Janus Conjunction would look great on the telly, its must-read denouement would make a wonderful fourth episode. After all aren't we just televising these books in our heads anyway? I'm not saying it would definitely work better as a four parter as it stands as an above average book but it is interesting to ponder on such matters.

Another popular myth about The Janus Conjunction is how it screws up the regulars. Without sounding too harsh on the book when your regulars are the goofy pre-amnesiac Eighth Doctor and rebel without a cause Sam Jones you are fighting a lost battle anyway so squeezing anything bearable from this pair is something of a feat. To Baxendale's credit he writes a mean Eighth Doctor, one who leaps of the page, deeply humorous and willing to throw his life away to save the day. About halfway through the book I realised the Doctor was annoying pretty much everybody just by being cheerful! Every time he opened his gob he was punched in the face, highlighting how serious everyone was. I admit suffering from radiation sickness and trapped on a sunless planet would drag me down too and the Doctor is obscenely cheerful in places, poking fun at people on a whim. It is an interesting interpretation and one that makes him stand out as a frightening optimist; one who tries so hard to make people see there is always a better way.

Sam is so unimportant to the first half of the book I could not comprehend how anybody found her portrayal so offensive. She quickly discovers she has radiation sickness and starts displaying nasty symptoms, dragged from one cell to the next and abused physically and mentally. I actually found myself caring about the girl in a way I never really had before, she really does go through companion TORTURE. Yes she is fairly generic at the end of the day, just a token young girl to keep the Doctor's mind on the job but at least she remains likeable here. Whatever flaws she has are in-built into the character and Baxendale basically ignores what has gone on before and tries his own thing. Thumbs up. Turns out it takes killing the woman off to give a shit about her, go figure.

The two features that threaten to drag the story down is the characterisation and prose, neither of which is actively bad but it never rises above acceptable. There are a few bright spots, the tangled romance between Lunder and Julya is worth sticking with their characters for and Julya is probably the best original character in the book, opinionated and intelligent and deeply embarrassed at how unpredictable the Doctor is. Moslei and Zemler are okay too but have barely sketched out histories and are so horrible it is hard to give a damn about either of them. Moslei's sudden change of heart at the book's climax almost, almost redeems him since it does show some signs of individuality. But the rest of the characters are just stock beaurocrats and bullies, the reader given barely a description and perhaps one or two standard emotions so we can distinguish them. It would have been easier to care about these people if they were actual people rather than ciphers.

A friend over on Outpost Gallifrey has recently commented on my favourable response to much Doctor Who prose when he considers much of it to be horse dung (I say friend, what I mean is a foul degenerate who enjoys winding people up but I still love him!). In an age where JK Rowling and Stephen King can be praised for their writing skills (oh pur-lease) I am proud to support Doctor Who writers (especially of the likes of Jonathon Morris, Lloyd Rose, Stephen Cole, Andy Lane, Jim Mortimore, Martin Day, Paul Margs, Kate Orman and Lawrence Miles who all have a distinct, striking writing voices) but when I read The Janus Conjunction I can almost understand where dear old Mick is coming from.

It's not badly written per se, more like simply written. A young child would have no trouble reading this book; Baxendale's language is crisp and clear without ever being especially riveting. The first half is the poorer of the two, lots of "he did this", "she did that" without going into too much depth of offering any imaginative descriptions. As a result the book is a painfully simple read but that's hardly the worst crime, right? Every year there is one book that undistinguishly tells its story in a very basic, pleasant way (this year we have had Synthespians). I think the editor could have perhaps coaxed a little more depth from the writer since Baxendale's later Eater of Wasps under Justin Richards' guidance is a much more wholesomely written book.

But I refuse to finish on a complaint in a review of a book that kept me interested in its developments throughout. It's not an inspiring read but it is an enjoyable one, surprisingly well constructed and no hassle to get through. If only all the early EDAs could have been this agreeable...


A Review by Brian May 19/5/06

I quite like The Janus Conjunction, in a rip-roaring, good old- fashioned escapist action adventure kind of way. It's "trad" through and through, and in the light of recent books like Alien Bodies, The Scarlet Empress and Eye of Heaven, it's almost blatantly, brazenly and shamelessly so! I don't favour one style over another; I like the best of what both have to offer. But whether it's rad or trad, I expect the same thing: good writing, plotting, characterisation and, most important of all, I expect to be entertained. When I put the book down I want to be able to think "I enjoyed that!" And that's exactly how I felt when finishing this story.

The pace is rapid and often exhausting, practically from the word go. The Doctor and Sam are dumped slap-bang into the scenario, which is filled with some great action moments and excruciating tension. The various chases in the ruins are great reading, while Sam's separation from the Doctor and the slow degradation of her body keep things on a knife-edge. With a difficult but consistently improving character like Sam, Trevor Baxendale manages to make her believable and sympathetic, always re-emphasising the danger and urgency of her predicament; her sickness is constantly alluded to, which only serves to intensify the race against time factor.

One of the best pieces of continual mounting tension is Sam's brief reunion with the Doctor (pp.132-133). The reader is screaming "Get into the TARDIS, you fools!" before the inevitable, but effective, so near/so far moment of recapture, which is a great chapter ending and cliffhanger. A few pages later there's the obligatory escape, with the Doctor and Sam separated again, the latter's illness still prominently on the reader's mind. Indeed, the chapter title in which this happens, "Here We Go Again", is more than appropriate. The intensity keeps going to the end, although the robot nurse confirming Sam's death (p.272) should have been omitted - a few pages later she is recovering, which only means an attempt at shocking the reader is revoked (in other words, it's a major cheat).

Nevertheless the condition Sam and Zemler's men go through is very nasty; the various descriptions of their melting flesh are unpleasant, but never fall on the wrong side of bad taste. If you read my review (or rather demolition) of Rags you'll see this is a preoccupation of mine. It's disturbing and disgusting, but never to an unacceptable point. And if you suffer from arachnophobia, this book is sure to give you the willies! The series' televised attempts at spiders were pretty lame, but the spidroids here are wonderfully described in all their eight-legged, creepy-crawly glory. The moment when they engulf the Doctor in Big Henry's pen is skin-crawlingly horrible if you hate spiders, and maybe so if you don't. There's more grisly reading when the Doctor witnesses the soldiers attaching the cybernetic parts to the helpless Janusian; his anger at this is a great moment. Indeed, I like the way the creatures are written overall. Just remember, that huntsman in the corner of your ceiling isn't evil; it's more scared of you than you are of it. And I don't intend to sound patronising; I'm a huge arachnophobe, and will admit I'm hypocritical enough not to react so calmly in the same situation.

But back to the book. The Doctor and Sam fare very well, while the rest of the characters are good, albeit not amazing. Moslei is the best: the hackneyed nature of his henchman role doesn't allow him much scope, but his change of sides is logically engineered; he's an intelligent man and knows he has nothing to lose. This is also what makes Zemler work as a villain: he knows his condition is irreversible, and it's made him mad. He resents and blames the Mendan colonists, and his motivation for the mass destruction he plans is simply "What the hell? I'm dying, so I'll take them all with me!" Simple, effective and believable. And he's damn scary, too!

It's Baxendale's first Who novel and the writing is most impressive. It never drags, it's always page turning and edgy, and there are some evocative descriptions of the world of Janus. The idea of the eponymous conjunction is detailed and fascinating - and comprehensible! The novel is Doctor Who at its most old-fashioned: scary monsters, insane villains, a companion to rescue and several planets to save. As such a story it succeeds wonderfully. 8/10