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...
Janus, the Roman deity who guards the gates of heaven and hence the gates where all things began. Now there's a 8DA thematic just waiting to be worked into some thrill-busting, bone-shaking adventure.. I can just see Jac Rainer, Steve Cole and Gary Gillat all discussing the potential of Trevor Baxendale's synopsis. "But how do we flesh out the idea into a 270+ page thrill ride?", says Jac. "Have we done Earth colonists under threat yet?", says Steve Cole. "I know, let's factionalise them - how about some good law-abiding farmers (and some cow hands - oh no, that's Oklahoma...) and...er... a nasty bunch of hired mercenaries who can't cope with the peaceful life and got themselves a bit viscous from exposure to too much radioactivity?", says Gary. "Think psychological - the leader must be motivated by a deep seated paranoia, and a desire to blow things up? We need that sort of depth", says Jac. "Great", they all say. "So we just tell him to rewrite Colony in Space....."
For a while I thought this book was called The Janus Connection because, as thematics go, the link to our friend Janus is about as tenuous as they come. Getting my head around the word "conjunction" (from the Latin, by the by, defined as "to join to") really gave me a headache. Grammar lessons came swimming back - the word "and" is a conjunctive, so.......the book is about a god who is hanging about the Elysium gates joining to something. Hmm. Not getting it, Trevor, not getting it. Of course I did take the thought a bit further. Perhaps it's meant to mean "God's Joining", "Joining to Gods" but I got dangerously close to appreciating Steve Lyons so I gave it up. I did begin to wonder whether conjunctivitis was the connection, as the narrative (I use the word loosely..) whizzes along at such a colossal pace that you do begin to wonder if you are blinking enough. And somehow the American parlance "pig eye" does seem to sit as a useful description for the playdoh mercenaries who seem to be there primarily to melt on cue (You'd think they'd have manufactured a radioactive proof lotion - say radio-factor 24 for just such an eventuality). It made me think of the Wizard of Oz and the wicked witch of the west, but that is presumably a pecadillo peculiar to me. Altogether now... "I'm melting...I'm melting"
Anyhow, I digress. To the book. Well, if body horror, body count and body boredom is your thing then the Janus Connect...oops..Conjunction is the one to read. If dull plotting, running around a few ancient ruins, faction-fighting (without a whiff of paradox) and killing Cyborg arachnids gets you all gooey (sic) then likewise this will be a big hit. If not, then you might be thinking how on earth this book ever got comissioned at all.
There is probably an underlying subtext in there somewhere. If you are a good honest, hard-working colonist then never mind that you are sitting on top of a Doomsday Weapon (hmm....that sounds familiar....) your values will protect you because hate only ever nukes the bastards - even the reformed bastards who think their leader is the ultimate bastard gone - wait for it - mad (surely he wasn't meant to be the God??) It's that ol' faithful - if colonisation is either horrific death or barley corn then just hand me a plough and let me get farming.
Of course having the Doctor along is a bonus. But not if it is Baxendale's Doctor. For the complex, claustrophobic eccentric of, say, Seeing I, is replaced with a buffoon who is there to be a little fluffy, brave and to work out what the quasi-transmat rift thingamybob is all about (and we didn't guess that one, Trevor - oh no!). And Seeing I may as well not have happened as far as Sam Jones is concerned because she is a spunky, self-righteous sado-masochist in this one. And frankly, she is also one lucky eco-pain. Given the amount of time it took Sam to get away from the Janus Prime she would be one big bubble on the floor at the end of it all (but then her contract does require her to get beaten up on a regular basis like all good fetishists so I don't want to push the point). Question - bubble or more Sam Jones? I go for the bubble. Of course, her extraordinary biodata could explain it. Or simply the pasage of time. Perhaps the resistant gene was bred out of successive generations. The genetic remnants of Earth bereft of a gene or two. Don't tease us, Trev! Of course Sam may be irritating (really?) but she is one tough hash brown. With hindsight Sam Jones has had more near and after death experiences than strictly possible for a mortal (and Steve Lyons can tell you all about that!). However, I am fed up with having my hopes lifted each time only to have the Doctor do a Superman: The Movie and get her back again. Immortality is too good for that girl. Oh, has that been covered????
As for the remaining characters I think "loyal mercenary", "not sure where loyalty lies mercenary", "stark staring bonkers mercenary", "more mercenaries than you can shake a stick at", "any number of ineffectual and dull colonists" and "a very big cyborg spider" should cover the ground (and didn't they just - all that running back and forth makes a reader dizzy!).
On another level, some reviewers have commented that this book is about as scientifically accurate as Barney the Dinosaur. Well, I've got to tell you. To me a star is a star. A planet is a planet. If a wormhole pops up then I can go with it. If it is time for a dimensional rift, then I can swallow it as much as a black hole can swallow matter. Doesn't matter to me. As for the continuity bloopers - what can I tell you? No - I mean it. What can I tell you boys with the highlighter pens and copy books that you haven't already checked your Howe's Who for. Frankly, I just don't care. Period. Can't a guy just mess up?
I do care, however, about a quirky, intelligent read. I'd like to have been at the alcohol induced party where this book was conceived for I cannot believe that anyone was sober. Call me old fashioned but (conjunctive) if you are writing a swift and spunky adventure, make sure that enough is going on to ensure that the reader doesn't get bored. Make sure that there is more in the synopsis rather than the original thematic. Try giving the characters depth - don't drop into pastiche. Don't do "back from the dead". Avoid corridors, or tunnel ruins. Avoid arachnids. Avoid playdoh. And, yes, it was just waiting in the wings - avoid this book.
In brief: Quite good, surprisingly. It's so desperate to be a very traditional Doctor Who tale that you can actually see the transplant scars, but it succeeds more than it fails.
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.
The Janus Conjunction was very much like a traditional Doctor Who story, lots of chases, lots of prison cells. In fact one might even say that is almost an exact copy of Colony In Space.
Of course, The Janus Conjunction's first airing didn't start exactly 10 minutes before I was born...and allowing me to use the theme music as a cue to enter this strange world, but that is another story.
Oh wait...actually this IS that story. JC is so parallel to Colony In Space I am surprised I didn't see Dent and his sillly hairdo. We had the innocent loveable (sort of) farmers on a new world, the bitter exiled renegades wanting revenge, a typical over the top meglomaniacal leader of the renegades sitting on a doomsday weapon. We get some cool Raiders Of The Lost Ark face melting scenes, some glowing sand, some ruins and of course...cybernetic giant spiders. Interestingly too, the spiders (insert the word Natives) had the same attitude that was given about the natives in Colony In Space too.
The Janus Conjunction was a blatant ripoff of one of the better (in my opinion) Pertwee stories, following an almost scene for scene copy, and I loved it to bits.
Yeah, thats right. I liked it.
What I really enjoyed about this story was its pacing. The adventure was simple (although some of the Doctor's technobabble was getting annoying - and of course Sam was annoying by mentioning it every second she could) and direct. Stop the renegades...easy enough. I am a very slow reader but I read this book over 3 nights which is very fast for me...the story just flowed.
We had two good side characters...Julya and Lunder. Lunder was an ex-soldier, but was both fiercely loyal and violently hot headed, and Julya was a farmet/settler turned soldier by circumstance. Julya was a great female companion, capable, level headed, inquisitive, but not pushy, and not preachy like a certain other one of the Doctor's companions. I would really liked to have had her join up with the Doctor. Lunder too had some really great qualities, and in many respects reminded me of Chris Cwej. Both had the potential to be good companions, and in fact were much more welcome than Sam. She was the most annoying companion until Seeing I, then she became a respectable likeable character, one that I actually gave a damn about. But Sam of old came back...the whiny holier than thou companion, of whom I can't understand why the Doctor even likes. Then about 20 pages from the end of the book, she dies. I jumped for joy, I sang the songs of happiness and thankfulness...then the Doctor did the improbable. He went back in time to save Sam. He wouldn't do this for Adric but without a pang of guilt or responsibility to the readers, he saved her? Oh well, I guess the BBC has still more they can do with her (or us as the helpless reader)
But why does the Doctor just accept the stupid things that she does. I mean the Doctor's attitude just isn't realistic (for Doctor Who). When the spiders were being blown up and the Doctor asks what fool is doing that and Lunder replies that it is Sam, his attitude was 'Oh well...thats all right then'. I mean its just not believable. The Doctor ripped Leela a new one regarding using the janis thorns, and really laid into (hey don't be rude) Adric for using the TSS and no one even got hurt (well it was only a flesh wound). The Doctor just looked like Sam was sick and she didn't know better, so it was okay. I didn't like that one bit. Should have let her die. I mean when Roz died, it was sad, and it was painful. But her life was full, rich and meant something. Sam means annoyance and pain. KILL HER OFF! but I digress.
One small complaint...and it was the same complaint I had about Star Trek: Generations. If you are going to have a planet being destroyed, with hundreds or thousands of people on it, show us the people. Make us familiar with them, not just mention them. To put it bluntly, I only met three moronic settlers, other than Julya and Lunder (of whom I liked), and that spoke nothing for the colony. I didn't feel for them, I honestly didn't care if they lived or died. I cared more about the spiders because they at least had personality. If we got to know some of the regular citizens, the innocents of war if you will, maybe the impending disaster might have meant a little more. As such, i really didn't care if the colony lived or died which is too bad, because there were 5 Mendans borne last year. The Doctor and Julya were walking about and we didn't really see any colonists...no kids playing, no working the fields, nothing to really signify that we had a new thriving colony.
The Doctor had some really good scenes...prompting a fight so he could pick pocket some keys for his escape plan. His reminicing about the way the TARDIS used to be with the white walls, and the roundels. His verbal altercations with Zemder were quite good. There was a lot of the RWS (tm) (repeat word syndrome), like 'Sam, sam, sam, sam,sam,sam,sam' and 'wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait', which was okay in the movie, but on paper its a little too much, although it did still perpetuate the fact the Doctor is a little more scatterbrained, and yet thinking incredibly faster than he is speaking or interacting with his surroundings. I wonder if RWS will be used if the Doctor reads a thesaurus or gets a multisylabbled companion like 'Billy Jo Jim Bob, Billy Jo Jim Bob [repeat ad naseum]'. But I digress again.
Other than that, I really did enjoy JC. Despite its faults, it was a fun romp around the ruins, with an interesting backdrop, even if it was scientifically silly.
This is by far not the best EDA out there, but it is by no means the worst.
Now what other Pertwee story should be copied....