The Curse of Peladon
The Monster of Peladon

The Bewildering Reference Guide's entry

Virgin Publishing
Venusian Lullaby

Author Paul Leonard Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20424 7
Published 1994
Continuity Between The Dalek invasion of Earth and
The Rescue

Synopsis: The Doctor takes Ian and Barbara to visit his old friends on the planet Venus, where they discover a civilization on the brink of collapse.


A Review by Tammy Potash 10/6/00

Douglas Adams supposedly said that a sign of bad sci-fi is unpronounceable character names. I give you pg. 4 of Venusian Lullaby: "The child-- Zidifghil, or was it Midharkhij?-- moved hesitantly..." So does the reader, towards the rubbish bin. There's lots more jawcracking names to come in Paul Leonard's debut novel. In the Venusians, Leoanrd has created a truly alien society. "Welcome. Sit down. Have some brains." They have very little in common with human behavior or thought patterns, apart from a love for their children. (A glossary at the back might have been nice for all the untranslated venusian words.) And just when you've got used to them, another group of aliens arrives on Venus, armed with their own bizarre names and mind-boggling behaviour. Can the Doctor sort all of this out? Give it a go and see for yourself.

The regulars are portrayed well, and Leonard has a tricky task in front of him; depict Ian and Barbara normally, as well as when they're under an alien influence. The Doctor is written so well you can hear Hartnell saying the dialogue. It is also fun to see our heroes as viewed by alien eyes.

The original characters are sketched out lightly but satisfactorily. If you thought City at World's End had intrigue, try this. 312 pages, none of which seem superfluous. The cover looks great, and even the lullaby itself, so beloved of the Third Doctor, is here, in English. This one could never have been filmed, but it would have fit in very nicely all the same. Not as good as Sorceror's Apprentice, but recommended.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/8/00

If alien races were based on characters with unpronounceable names then Paul Leonard's Venusian Lullaby would win hands down. But even with this going against it; the titular Venusians are the strong point of the book.

PLOT: The Doctor attends the funeral of an old friend on Venus. While Barbara worries about Ian, who has been captured by fanatical Venusians wanting to prevent the Venusian race from colonising Earth. Elsewhere, The Doctor uncovers another race wanting help and becomes a political criminal, when he tries to warn the Venusians. In short ambitious, there is a lot going on in this book which gels together nicely.

THE DOCTOR: Very Hartnellish in the beginning, although he tends to waver as the book goes on.

COMPANIONS: Ian and Barbara are excellent, their relationship is explored more and they get a greater slice of the action; as was often the case on TV during the Hartnell era.

OTHERS: The Venusians themselves are very strong, being both alien enough and retaining a degree of humanity to make them believable. Their aversion to various metals is plausible, although the imparting of memories seems unlikely.

OVERALL: Enjoyable enough if you like your Doctor Who to be challenging, if not necessarily representative of that particular era. 7/10.

A Review by Keith Bennett 14/2/01

The previous reviewers of this book have commented on the unprouncable names present, but this aspect seems to have affected me in a considerably adverse manner. Maybe it's just my brain, but I have a heck of a job trying to wade through pages that are not only full of names like Gwebdhallut, Sesifghall, Nohik-imaden and Mrodtikdhil, but have further names with brackets in them(!), and various other Venusian words that, for some reason, had to be printed in italics. I know Paul Leonard wanted to make a race as alien as possible, and he has done it here, but there's such a thing as readability as well.

To be fair, there's much to like and be intrigued about the Venusians, and a few of the characters are also quite likeable and interesting. The story itself is pretty good, and the Doctor is fine, but Ian and Barbara tend to suffer somewhat from their influences from "remembering" some dead Venusians; can one really imagine William Russell behaving like a little child?

Overall, this is not one of the easier Doctor Who novels to read, especially at over 300 pages, but there is a certain appeal within it that helps to overcome the ghifghonis, binihabegs and Sou(ou)shis.

A Review by Finn Clark 4/8/04

One of my favourite novels, not just from Doctor Who. What's most impressive is that this is entirely due to the quality of the writing, since nothing else about the book is particularly extraordinary. Its story is nothing special. It's not laden with big SF ideas. It doesn't play literary games or do high-falutin' things with its narrative. Many Who authors working from this book's outline would have produced little more than schedule filler for the never-ending sausage machine.

The story is so simple as to be almost simplistic. The Doctor visits his old friends the Venusians and saves them from the alien Sou(ou)shi. I think that covers everything. The Venusians themselves are rhino-sized crab people with five of everything and keyboard-sneeze names (Gwebdhallut, Nohik-imaden, Inarihib, Barjibuhi, etc.) that were a real stumbling block for many readers. There's an in-joke on p177 which stops the book dead. There's another bloody steerable Hartnell-era TARDIS. There's even a sequel-hunting ending which will surely never get followed up, unless you believe Lars Pearson's theory that this is the origin of Nightshade's life-consuming Presence.

None of this matters. Paul Leonard is a writer of many talents, as he proved in The Turing Test, but for me one of his greatest gifts involves the creation of truly alien aliens with dignity, intelligence and warmth. He did it again in Genocide and Dreamstone Moon, but before either of those came this novel. I adored the Venusians. Simple as that. They're charming. I would have happily read the Venusian phone book if it let us get to know them better. When they're threatened by an overheating planet and the Sou(ou)shi, I cared about their fate. Good storytelling doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

People you care about in danger. That can be enough for a great story in itself, but the good stuff doesn't end there. Even the Sou(ou)shi are more interesting than you'd expect. Their plot function is to invade the planet and try to kill its inhabitants, which is hardly groundbreaking stuff... but there's a twist. In their own way, the Sou(ou)shi are as honourable as the Venusians [1]. 'Twas a hoot to see them tie themselves in knots as they tried to wreak bloody havoc without breaching their moral code.

[1] - more amazingly still, I'm talking about "honourable" in TV tie-in SF as a good thing! Normally aliens banging on about honour are a one-way ticket to Bad Cliche Hell, be they the Klingons, the Draconians or the touchy-feely New Age Ice Warriors with their sodding Sword of Tuburr. However Venusian Lullaby reclaims this lost ground and makes it its own.

For those who enjoyed this book, Paul Leonard wrote a follow-up short story (Venusian Sunset) for the Perfect Timing fanthology. It's a five-page snippet starring the 2nd Doctor, Ben and Polly that takes a page or two to get going, but eventually it charmed me too.

One unusual feature of this book is its enormous distance from our era. For some reason, the TARDIS rarely seems to travel more than a few centuries away from present-day Earth. Millennia are unusual. Stories set millions of years ahead are scarcer still, but Venusian Lullaby is set three billion years in the past. Gorblimey. Mind you, this kind of timescale was necessary to wind the clock back to a time when Venus might have been inhabitable.

Quite simply, everything about this book's writing sings for me. Its TARDIS crew (the 1st Doctor, Ian and Barbara) is perfectly suited to the story's maturity and intelligence, with reactions that are realistic, honest and free of lazy Who formula. If you can get past the Venusians' keyboard-rattling names, there's an enchanting and occasionally harrowing novel for the reading... and let me observe in passing that this was Paul Leonard's debut. Another triumph for the Hartnell novels.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 28/2/05

I liked Venusian Lullaby for the same reasons frequently stated elsewhere. That it depicted a uniquely alien culture and did so in a logical, believable manner. And, yet, I can't quite place it up there with the classics of the Doctor Who range, because other portions of it were rather pedestrian. It's good, it's a bold experiment (for Doctor Who), but it's not quite perfect.

Before I move into more whining passages, I need to give credit where it's due. Paul Leonard did a superb job of creating a valid, alien-seeming society. Given the ludicrous illustration on the cover, the average person could be forgiven for assuming this to be a one-dimensional story where the aliens do nothing but make beeping noises and shout, "Resistance is stupid!"

But that isn't at all what the aliens in this book are like. They look strange, they act different (though the Venusian children behave a little too much like human children for my liking) and their thinking does not closely resemble human thought. I loved every bit of the Venusian customs. I can only wonder if it was as much fun for Leonard to write this stuff as it was to read.

And I loved the decision to make this a First Doctor/Ian/Barbara story. The slower pace of this book really made it feel of that era. (The Doctor even goes missing for a sizable chuck of the middle, either an accidental or tongue-in-cheek reenactment of William Hartnell going on vacation during the season.) In fact, I always thought that period of the show was much more interested than later years in giving the alien or human cultures more interesting and detailed backgrounds. The show was still exploring and establishing its own boundaries in those days, and it seems appropriate that it would allow time to explore the environment of the current story.

The invocation of the regular characters is outstanding. Without rehashing dialog or situations verbatim from the second season, Leonard utterly captures what this reader imagined as their mindset during that time. Ian and Barbara's opinion of the Doctor, their desire to return home, their common-sense attitude to the strange wonders they encounter -- all perfectly accurate. I was especially impressed by how Leonard manages to express the Venusian culture through Barbara's "remembering" ritual at the funeral while still managing to be completely true to her character. The subtle trick of introducing the utterly unfamiliar through the eyes of one of the most familiar characters in Doctor Who history is nothing short of a triumph.

Where the book begins to falter is when it moves away from character moments and Venusian culture and instead becomes involved in the rather humdrum plot. I would much preferred the book padding its length with more of the Venusian world-building. I could happily spend all day reading more about the Venusian funeral customs. More scenes involving the Venusians' goofy plans to escape their dying planet? I'm there. But the unfortunate sequences of companions endlessly hiking all the way across the planet trying to find their lost friends just didn't do anything for me. The book clocks in at 316 pages, making it slightly longer than the average for a Doctor Who novel, and the storyline just isn't quite involved enough to justify that length.

In fact, I found the last hundred or so pages rather tedious. It's almost as if Leonard, figuring he had done enough with the background, could simply place his plot into that setting and run with it. Judging by other, extremely positive reviews, this method worked out all right for him, but it left me a little cold. If I reread this book, I'll have to manage my time better so that I'm not breaking it into little chunks. Given enough momentum from the excellent beginning and middle sections, it might have made the plot-oriented ending easier to digest.

Close Your Eyes My Darling, Well Three of them at Least by Jacob Licklider 20/4/18

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, 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 becoming 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 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, 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 high 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 for seeing 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 that it is very long. 55/100