The actual conspiracy and mystery driving the plot of The Janus Conjunction is a good example of fun Doctor Who, yet a style of Doctor Who story that isn’t often done. The grand conspiracy plot brings to mind a story in the style of The Ambassadors of Death, though outside of atmosphere the plots are incredibly different. The Doctor and Sam must keep asking questions about what the conspiracy behind Janus Prime is. Janus Prime is a planet in a binary system with one moon leaving the planet in a permanent total lunar eclipse. The planet is also soaked in a type of radiation which starts mild: at first it leaves only some minor rashes, but it eventually kills the skin and melts its victims. Baxendale has a way with describing the poor victims of Janus’ radiation, and the bitterness it causes. Baxendale employs it as a looming threat over the heroes throughout the novel as at any moment Sam and the Doctor could start succumbing to the sickness. The ending has Sam dead, which is perhaps Baxendale’s biggest mistake in The Janus Conjunction: the novel has no consequences and most of it is undone by the end which feels cheapened. This could have been a decent exit for Sam, but she is spared.
The Doctor and Sam are also split for a good portion of the novel’s length which Baxendale uses to muse on the Sam is Missing arc for a bit, while the Doctor is on Janus Prime’s twin planet and trying to get the action going and Sam is being defiant in the face of an authoritarian military. Gustav Zemler is the over the top villain of The Janus Conjunction, and as a character Baxendale slowly lets him become unhinged while the plot goes on around him. Moslei, one of his underlings, is much more interesting and a source for worldbuilding. Moslei fought in the Cyber wars and there are several war style flashbacks which show the horrors war has on a psyche and the actual threat the Cybermen and Cybermats can be. Neither actually appear, but there’s a goldmine for Baxendale to explore here and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was meant to have the Cybermen in it at one point. The rest of the supporting cast, however isn’t nearly as interesting. They all kind of fit into stereotypes for action movies, which isn’t too bad considering this is Baxendale’s first novel, but with another round of editing and maybe some cutting down of one or two the supporting characters could have been stronger. Finally, the Doctor himself while great feels slightly out of development here, acting more like his TV Movie persona than the development the past fifteen books have given him. Overall, The Janus Conjunction is a good entry in the Eighth Doctor Adventures and a great first effort from Trevor Baxendale which perhaps needed one more draft and an extended page count to find itself amongst the greats of Doctor Who books. 7/10.