The Lethbridge-Stewart series: Interview with Candy Jar Books Editor Andy Frankham-Allen
In 2015, Candy Jar Books published their first series of The Lethbridge-Stewart novels, focusing on the character of the Brigadier from Doctor Who. Set between the Second Doctor stories The Web Of Fear and The Invasion, there have been nine more novels and a host of short stories so far, expanding the mythos of one of the Doctor's closest allies.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Candy Jar Books editor, writer and creative director of the Haisman Literary Estate, Andy Frankham-Allen to talk about The Lethbridge-Stewart series. Not only does Andy oversee the series, he had also penned two books in the series, starting with the very first The Lethbridge-Stewart novel The Forgotten Son and has written another book for the upcoming fourth serie,s set to be released at the end of May.
I met Andy in one of his usual coffee shop haunts in Cardiff to chat about the series, its origins, influences and plans for the future as well as a brief chat about the show that spawned it, Doctor Who...
Can you tell us a bit about the Lethbridge-Stewart books and where they fit into the Doctor Who universe?
They are set primarily in between [the Second Doctor stories] The Web of Fear and The Invasion, which is about a four-year gap. When Lethbridge-Stewart meets up with the Doctor in the latter story, he says it’s been about four years or so since the ‘Yeti do’. That doesn’t sound a lot but, when you consider that our novels run successively through the months, with each book taking place within a particular month, we have, potentially, forty-eight novels to release. And then we have short stories set in-between.
So basically, that’s the main gap. But with the short stories and novellas, we do dip in to other parts of his life. Pre-UNIT, post-UNIT, pre- [Seventh Doctor story] Battlefield, post-Battlefield. Most of the Brigadier’s life is unexplored in Doctor Who. Apart from the short time during the Jon Pertwee era, we don’t know much about him, certainly not about his personal life. So that’s where we’re set. It gives us a heck of a lot to play with.
How did you get involved with the series and why the focus on Lethbridge-Stewart?
Back in 2014 I did another re-watch of Doctor Who, and I noticed on the episode The Snowmen (with the Eleventh Doctor) that there was no credit for the Great Intelligence creators Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (they also created the Brigadier). I knew Haisman’s grandson Daniel, and that his sister was the executor of the Haisman Estate. So, I tracked Daniel and got his sister involved. She wasn’t aware that the Great Intelligence had been used.
We got talking and she mentioned that she had other stuff from her grandfather that she wanted to put out there. So, I kind of knew she owned the Brigadier and I got her in touch Candy Jar Books, and discussions began rolling and we decided that we could write a series of books about the Brigadier. Those discussions happened over a period of about two weeks maybe. We secured a deal very, very quickly.
Then became the very hard job of where do we set this? What do we do with it? And out initial thought was the Brigadier post-The Web Of Fear. It just made sense. We didn’t really consider any other timeframe.
You mentioned that each novel is set in a particular month, so you’ve got about forty-eight stories to write in the series?
Yeah, I worked it out and I think by doing six books a year, with each one a different month, we could wrap up sometime in 2023. Which sounds a long time, but it’s not that far in the future.
And that’s just for that section of the Brig’s life. We could potentially do a phase two section set post-UNIT, you know, what happened to him pre- and post-Battlefield. Though admittedly, after seven years of doing this, I might just want to move on to something else!
How much creative freedom do you have to write about the Brigadier in that period between The Web of Fear and The Invasion?
It terms of the characters?
Yes, and how it fits into larger continuity?
Well, first I had to become really familiar with the character. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who and I knew that there wasn’t much about him on TV. He was a pretty straightforward character, so I made sure I re-watched all the episodes, of course, and made sure I noted everything that was said about the character. I did consider other sources like audios and novels, but my thought was to always base around what happened on TV. Although I do have a good working knowledge of his life outside TV, anyway, so didn’t feel the need to read and listen to everything.
So, freedom wise, a heck of a lot. For instance, going just by TV, we don’t actually know that Kate Stewart [from the current series] is actually the daughter from his first wife. In terms of TV, all we know is that he had a daughter – who herself has two children – and that he got married to Doris during the ’90s. That’s literally all we know. Oh, and that he was in Sandhurst back in the day and that he has Scottish heritage.
This gave me a huge canvas of stuff to fill in.
Is it a challenge for you to work within Doctor Who copyright when working on the Lethbridge-Stewart stories?
It’s about trying not to step on toes, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that copyright is pretty straight forward. There’s actually a lot of assumptions about copyright that people make. In the beginning, I looked into copyright intensely because I needed to understand what we were doing. Copyright is not as restrictive as you might think. I hear a lot of people worrying that we’re stepping on copyright when you reference an episode or character from TV. And I have to explain that copyright law is very clear. You can’t copyright names, so you can pretty much reference anything you want, but you can copyright the work – that is, the finished product. So, say, a TV script, or the actual characters contained in the script.
It’s not as complicated or restrictive as it may appear, but the real challenge – because we are within the Doctor Who universe – is that you can’t use BBC copyright material. We can’t use the copyright stuff from other authors unless we use their permission, which we do for certain things. So it’s not restricting, it’s a juggling act and you can play it loose to a degree. And I’m also very aware of how far I can go in terms of referencing in terms of the Doctor himself.
In the third book, Beast of Fang Rock, you pretty much had the Doctor as a sort of vision, and the setting obviously was based on the Tom Baker story Horror Of Fang Rock.
Yeah, Beast of Fang Rock was probably the closest we’ve got to ‘TV Doctor Who’ in actuality, because we approached Terrance Dicks who wrote, and therefore owns, the script. It was difficult. Luckily he’s [the Doctor] there but not actually there. He’s described but not actually there. You can copyright the character but not the description of him. That was certainly the closest we’ve come to deliberately linking to the TV series, but only because Terrance authorised the referencing of his script. We’ll only do it again if we get approvals first.
As we’re licensing the Haisman properties, and I’ve been become the creative director of the Haisman Estate, I know how I – and Hannah Haisman – would feel if someone stepped on our toes, so we make sure not to do the same to them.
Okay, you might have possibly answered this already with the four-year timeframe, but what are your long term plans for the series?
Loads. One of my first goals, right from the beginning, is to make the Brigadier a much deeper character. In the latter half of his regular appearances on the show, he became much more of a cipher, he becomes a buffoon. All the integrity of the character disappears, until he returns in the ’80s and suddenly he’s a character again. So that was one goal, to make him a proper character, give him family, because I cannot honestly believe that when he dies he leaves behind one, maybe two wives, a daughter and a couple of grandkids. That’s extremely unlikely, particularly as he’s a man with an amazing heritage. He’s going to have a huge family, so one goal was to create a massive family; cousins, second cousins, third cousins, a whole family. Not all Lethbridge-Stewarts, of course, because there’s his mother’s side of the family tree, too.
Another goal was to set up towards the formation of UNIT, which, when we get closer to that point, we’re going to have to treat very carefully; unless we can get the BBC’s approval, we’ll have to be quite careful as to how we play it. I know how to play it without making it a copyright issue, but I have things underway that will, hopefully, help us secure a few things from the Beeb by the time we get to that point. But that’s a few years away yet.
Otherwise, our goals are to expands the other characters; Anne Travers, Professor Travers, Dominators, Quarks… We’ve got quite a lot to work with. It’s very much about exploiting all of those things. Anne’s family, her father, her father’s twin… Though nobody knows about him yet.
Can I share that?
Yes. Travers has a twin; Vincent. That’s an exclusive for when the next series comes out soon!
And one of the other goals is to keep it within the era it’s been set, because I’ve read a number of Doctor Who novels set in the ’60s that never quite felt they existed in that era. They were modern retellings of it. I’m very mindful of trying of making it true to its time as possible, while still making it appealing to the audience of today. It’s bit of a juggling act.
I can say one thing, though – and this isn’t a long-term goal but a plan for the next year – I intend to destroy everything we’ve built. We’ve spent the last two years building up this team of core characters and surrounding characters, and we’re going to see a major destruction of the team in the next year. It’s the whole ‘break them down and bring them back stronger’ thing, to show why all these characters are so important to the series.
What’s your favourite character in the book series?
Gosh, it’s hard to give an answer, as a lot of the characters in the books are ones I created, so it’s all a little ‘who’s your favourite child’ syndrome.
I love Owain. He’s the Brigadier’s nephew, who I created for the series. They’re not technically related, but it’s quite an interesting relationship, quite unique. It’s much more complicated than just an uncle/nephew dynamic. He’s our window into the era. Because he’s nineteen, he’s very much part of that era’s culture of drugs, free love, make peace, etc. So he’s a wonderful way to get into this world, which is a lot of fun.
He’s almost like the companion character in that sense?
I also love Bill Bishop, a character I created. [laughs] I love my characters! Bill and Anne have an interest in each other and keep skirting around it, but that tension is going to be addressed this year properly. Bill Bishop is a great character to write for, I think readers get him very quickly.
Another character that I love is Samson, who I didn’t technically create. I gave the idea to Jon [Cooper] who developed the character. He’s a black chap, which gives a nice narrative for the period. His full name is Samson Ware, a black army officer who used to be a stuntman, which is quite deliberately a nod to Derek Ware of HAVOC, the stunt team of Doctor Who back in the day.
I really like Patricia Richards, she was created by Sadie Miller for her book Moon Blink. She is really fun, the adoptive mother of a baby called Brendan, who you might be familiar with. Sadie and I developed the idea of the baby, because Sadie is Liz Sladen’s daughter and we both wanted to do something that connected the two eras of Doctor Who in a subtle way that wasn’t a copyright issue. So we created this baby who could, maybe, be the ward that Sarah Jane ends up with [in K9 and Company].
I could talk about characters all day. My writers have come up with some really fun characters so it’s really difficult to choose.
You’ve also written the Companions book for Candy Jar Books and are obviously a big fan of the TV series. What is your favourite story from the Doctor Who?
I have many and I don’t think I can chose one; it depends on what I’m watching at the time. For instance, the last time I did my re-watch I came across [the First Doctor story] The Romans and thought, wow, this is so much fun! And then you come across something like [the Second Doctor story] The Seeds of Death, which is still a phenomenally good six part story. The Moonbase is also really good.
Then we jump to stuff like [the Fourth Doctor story] The Talons of Weng Chiang. The giant rat is awful, but generally that story is amazing. [The Seventh Doctor story] The Curse of Fenric, wow I love it. Nu Who, that’s a tougher challenge, but the old series, really, I don’t know where to begin.
And your favourite Doctor?
Again, depends on which one I’m watching. For someone like myself who has been watching it since I was a kid, I’m too invested just to pick one.
Going back to Lethbridge-Stewart then, can you tell me a bit more about the short stories and how they fit into the series?
There’s two ways to go. Originally, they were going just a delve a bit further between the novels, as many of those don’t cover a full month. So often they are used to show the characters having another mini adventure, show that they do other stuff. It is also a way to test new writers. Because we only have six books a year, we have to choose the authors for those books carefully; people make the mistake that they can write a novel just because they can write a short story. Not every writer can do both.
But, also, what’s quite fun with short stories, is that they allow us to explore other elements of the series, including delving into some of the semi-regular characters, like Samson, Bishop, Owain and Professor Travers. We can also do stories about the Brigadier’s childhood, which we’ve done a couple of times now; they’ve got a sort of a Famous Five vibe to them.
That’s how they fit in really. We did one for one of the HAVOC files, which are our short story collections, which was set just after [the THIRD Doctor story] Inferno, called Ashes of the Inferno. It sees the Brigadier go back to the project literally a day after it happened, when they are winding Project Inferno down. So, there’s loads of different ways to play around with stuff and experiment a bit.
And as you know, we often give them out free with our main books, so it’s a nice way to get people interested; it’s a publicity thing obviously. So, there’s loads of reasons why we do them, loads of ways to build the empire if you like, test authors, get new writers coming on board. And, which is kind of fun, do more continuity kind of stuff which doesn’t fit into the books. Like we did Dogs of War, which is basically Gilmore meets the Brigadier; it’s something we’ve known had happened but never seen dramatised.
You’ve already mentioned one teaser about the upcoming series of Lethbridge-Stewart books, but is there anything else you can tease?
What can I tease? I can tease that, as the first couple of stories will show, Professor Travers is back. And we’re wrapping up his storyline in, I expect, very unexpected ways. We’re moving Anne and Bishop on in their relationship finally, which a lot of people will be happy with, but we’re going to see the ‘devolution’ of the engagement between the Brigadier and Sally. They seem to be in a position at the moment where everything seems okay finally after she forced herself into his workplace, something he wasn’t happy about. They now seem to have found that balance, so all obviously all *@#! Is going to hit the fan because that’s good drama.
In terms of fan stuff, and not just within the series, we’re going to learn what happened to the Brigadier’s dad, who was declared missing in action in World War II. That’s going to be a major turning point for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
And for those who have read the last series (prepared to be spoiled if you haven’t), we’re finally going to have the confrontation between Brigadier and the General who runs the Vault. That’s been building for a while now. In the last series, Johnson tried to have the Brigadier killed. So the Brig is going to find out about the Vault properly, what makes it tick, and that’s going to be a very explosive confrontation. And that’s just the first book! The first book doesn’t pull any punches.
Because this year is the 50th anniversary of the Great Intelligence, we’re going to be making the most of that in many ways. [Upcoming book] Night of the Intelligence is going to be massive. It’s going to be very much a sequel to The Abominable Snowman and The Web Of Fear. One of our books sees the gang in Australia, which is a whole new interesting location, and we’re going to take some radical turns in Owain’s dynamic, particularly with his family, to make it more complicated.
For classic Doctor Who fans, they’ll be getting more of that rural The Daemons kind of vibe happening – the third book of this year is very Daemon-esque. And we’ve got one that looks at the peace movement of the time, in a story that takes quite a nasty turn. And we’ve got a bit of a ghost story in book four of this year.
As I said, this year is very much about shaking up the dynamic, and breaking them down so we can move the characters into new places, test their loyalties, and, partly to answer a complaint from certain quarters, that the Brigadier is not the central lead but co-supporting with Anne Travers. The following year is, in many ways, about showing why Anne is so essential, why the Brigadier needs her.
Anne’s funny, because every fan wants to write for her. It’s a testament to Mervyn’s writing, but also a testament to Tina Packer’s acting in The Web of Fear.
Plus we also have some short stories and a spin off novella series of three stories which look at a different aspect of the Lethbridge-Stewart series, but order them now because they’re limited edition and will be sold out!
A big thanks to Andy Frankham-Allen. You can find out more about the Lethbridge-Stewart series over at Candy Jar Books.
The first book of series four, Andy's own The Night of the Intelligence is available to pre-order here.