Monday, March 7, 2016

Venusian Lullaby by: Paul Leonard: Close Your Eyes My Darling, Well Three of Them at Least

One of my biggest complaints when it comes to alien designs in Doctor Who is they always seem to be just your standard humanoids with no real thought into the design.  Venusian Lullaby doesn’t really suffer from that as the Doctor, Ian and Barbara are the only humanoid characters in the novel.  The titular Venusians, beautifully depicted on the cover, are creatures with five eyes and several limbs.  Paul Leonard develops the Venusians to be a totally alien race with no real similarities to humanity.  In Chapter 1 alone we get to see how a Venusian funeral is conducted with the brains of the dead Venusian eaten so they can be remembered as that is how the society works.  Leonard perfectly captures the reaction that a human would have with such a custom as while Barbara eats the brain without realizing it, Ian is absolutely disgusted in the idea yet is forced to eventually go along with it.  The Venusians also become confounded at the prospect of teachers and only having one permanent mate.  That said the Venusians cause one of the major problems of the novel, which is the fact that none of the supporting characters have pronounceable names.  Now you may not immediately see why this is a problem, but without a glossary to check pronunciations or even know what names are supposed to be like, it becomes difficult to have any sort of attachment to the characters featured in the novel.  It becomes even more difficult as you realize that the culture barrier is so great that you barely get a feel for some of the emotions.  This isn’t a problem for the entire novel as there are scenes that are specifically meant to get your emotions going, but it’s large enough to lower the novel’s rating.


The plot also has the problem of not being anything special.  Picking up from the ending of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Doctor gets an invitation to the funeral of a Venusian friend of his and they get embroiled into observing the dying planet Venus as an alien race is helping them getting to Earth but not really as they want to eat them.  Honestly it’s a story that is really average as it feeds off the desperation of an alien race.  This may be the first time this plot was done, but it was dragged out over a long novel compared to the hour long audio drama Orbis which instead of making the characters not relatable, it makes them sympathetic and has the Doctor right in the middle of events with his own stakes in proceedings.  Here the Doctor and his companions are just on the sidelines except for the fact that they make the aliens go away.  This said the way the main characters are done here is the main focus of the story causing some of the novel’s shining moments.


The novel isn’t about the plot, but about how the three main characters are recovering from Susan being left behind on Earth with David and they act in three different ways.  The Doctor’s main reaction to Susan’s departure has him become a lot grouchier.  In the opening scenes to the TARDIS, he is really reserved and he wants to be left alone to grieve.  The trip to Venus allows him to see just how much Ian and Barbara mean to him as he doesn’t want to see them hurt in the same way he didn’t want to leave Susan.  Leonard gets Hartnell’s mannerisms down to a near perfection as the last adventure took a lot out of him and he is ready to move on.  Ian on the other hand spends most of the novel in apprehension on Venus as he is afraid that the Doctor is going to strand him and Barbara on the planet.  He also has to be the audience surrogate as he is the only one who doesn’t get high on the Venusian’s brains.  He knows something is wrong with this situation and eventually has to accept the alien environment for the first time as the television series is usually focusing on Barbara reacting to things.  He also has to realize his feelings for Barbara as he alone gets stranded for about a month realizing how much he loves her.  Barbara gets the least amount of development in this story.  She spends a lot of it on the Venusian’s brains which does allow some interesting scenes as her mind is in confusion.  This story is basically The Aztecs, but with alien interference.


To summarize, Venusian Lullaby is a good enough book from a first time writer, but it doesn’t allow its supporting characters to be relatable as everyone is an alien.  It’s a beautiful character piece to see how different characters react to loss.  The novel hits story beats that have been touched upon after this was published and done a lot better.  Some of you may like it, but be warned how it is very long.  55/100

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