An interview with Andy Frankham-Allen and Shaun Russell, conducted by Stephen Jewell (January 2015)
Andy: Doctor Who has a long history of not crediting the character of Lethbridge-Stewart to his creators (indeed, they’ve only received on screen credit once in forty-seven years, not counting the script in which they introduced him), and it’s a well-documented bone of contention. In the summer of 2014 I was re-watching series seven and I noticed that for the three appearances of the Great Intelligence the creators received credit only once – now as I already knew the grandson of Mervyn Haisman (co-creator of Lethbridge-Stewart), I made a post on Facebook to see if Daniel was aware of this. This Facebook post led me into contact with Hannah Haisman, Mervyn’s granddaughter and the executor of his literary estate. We talked a bit and she told me she had some work her granddad had done and did I know anyone who might be interested. I was aware that my publisher, Candy Jar, had recently acquired the rights to the novelisation and original novel of Dr Strangelove, as well as other works by Peter George. I introduced her to Shaun to see if they could do something similar together.
Shaun: Hannah came to see me armed with three very big folders of work. Mervyn had adapted The Abominable Snowmen (his first Doctor Who script) into a non-Who novel and a screenplay. Alas, these adaptations were pretty much word for word that which had been transmitted, with the exclusion of all Doctor Who elements. Despite being a very interesting oddity, I wasn’t sure what we could do we them. Perhaps a Kindle release if the fans are interested? The other book, however, was very interesting. It’s not connected with Doctor Who but still has a strong concept, and we hope to publish it at a later date.
We carried on chatting and it occurred to me, although I’m sure I knew on some level already, that Hannah owned the rights to the original characters and situations from Mervyn’s three Doctor Who scripts, which included the character of Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. For a second I found myself lost for words at the possibilities. It was the work of moments to realise we could do a series of books featuring Lethbridge-Stewart.
Andy: It was a simple and obvious matter, and we’re both surprised that nobody had looked into such a series before. The license followed very quickly, but developing the series took a fair bit longer. We had to show Hannah we were the right people to be entrusted with her grandfather’s legacy, and understood and respected the integrity of the Lethbridge-Stewart character. Building a trust between Hannah and Candy Jar was essential. So what followed was five months of preparation; developing the concept of the series, writing the first draft of The Forgotten Son and assembling a team of authors who knew the characters.
Shaun: I think the series has huge potential, both in the sense of narrative and following. Already the reception has been astounding. Fans love the Brigadier! And, in some ways, this is the series they’ve been harking for ever since Torchwood was mooted back in late 2005. Fans wanted a Brigadier led-UNIT series, and this is the closest they’re likely to get.
How did you come to choose the novelists who will be writing the first four novels and how did Andy Frankham-Allen come to pen the first one?
Andy: The selection of authors was pretty much down to me, as I have the Doctor Who contacts after being involved with Who fiction, on and off, for the past ten years. Shaun and I discussed the kinds of authors we wanted, and how one of our missions was to bring back some of the excellent authors who were part of the Virgin/BBC ranges of the ‘90s – authors who haven’t had a proper shot at Who-related fiction since the BBC rebranded the novels in 2005. (Indeed, we look at ourselves as Virgin.2!) I suggested David McIntee, mostly on the back of his novel The Face of the Enemy, which strongly focused on the Brig, plus he’s done some great Who novels over the years, not to mention some really good Star Trek stuff. Nick Walters was totally my choice as I’ve known Nick for a few years now, and I’ve always wanted to see more Who work from him, plus the plan for book four suited his personality to a tee. Indeed, all the authors were chosen based on the kinds of stories we wanted for the first batch of four books.
Shaun: As for Andy opening the series, that was pretty much a given, although we did toy with the idea of having a more established author open the series. Eventually it came down to planning. These books need to work together and Andy is the engine in the machine.
Andy: I’m the range editor, I developed the series, so it follows that I know more about where it’s coming from and where it’s going than anyone. Besides which, honestly, how could I not open the series? I’ve written a fair chunk of published material over the last ten years, and I know the Brig inside out. Plus, as I’ve established a trust with Hannah, I’m not sure she would have been as comfortable had the first book not been written by me.
How did you come to set the books just after The Web of Fear? Was the fact that it marked the Brigadier’s Doctor Who debut? Are these part of an origin story as such?
Andy: I think it was the obvious decision. Shaun and I pretty much came to that conclusion at the same time, that we had the ‘four years or so’ gap after The Web of Fear to play with initially. It’s a period of the Brig’s life that has never really been touched on in Who media, other than a few references and flashbacks. I suppose, in a manner of speaking, you can say it is part of an origin story, in that we get to look at the man before he became the legend. What turned him into the character that became such a mainstay and important part of the Doctor’s life? There are a few clues scattered throughout the TV series, but not as much as you’d think, so we have a pretty empty canvas to play with in some respects.
Can we expect any other supporting characters or indeed the Doctor himself to show up or even have their influence felt? And I have to admit that I didn’t realise that the Brigadier’s first Doctor was actually Patrick Troughton and not Jon Pertwee, who he is arguably most associated with. Do you think that allows you to bring a kind of fresher angle?
Andy: We’re dealing with a period of the Brig’s life that so little is known about. We get to deal with the man. Alas, the license doesn’t currently allow for the Doctor to appear, but it would be nice if we can, at some point, work out a deal with the BBC to allow us to use the Doctor for one story.
Does the fact that the stories are set around the time of the 1968 series mean that you are aiming the series more at classic Who fans? And will there be any allusions to Cyber-Brig or any of his other more recent depictions?
Andy: I think it’s a foregone conclusion that our core readership will be classic Who fans, just by virtue of it being a series about Lethbridge-Stewart. But a lot of fans of the current series like to explore the old series and have become fans of his character, so we hope to bring a lot of those over too. Show them just why Lethbridge-Stewart is such a well-regarded and much-loved character.
Shaun: At the moment there’ll be no allusions to the CyberBrig, no, that’s way too far ahead in terms of narrative. We’ll probably get to seed things here and there that become relevant to later Brig appearances in Who.
Are the novelists looking closely at the late Nicholas Courtney’s performance when it comes to Lethbridge-Stewart’s mannerisms etc?
Andy: I imagine they are. Certainly, when I wrote The Forgotten Son I watched quite a lot of Brig stories, and studied The Web of Fear quite intently. I think for the established Who authors they have, like me, lived with the Brig for so long that translating him, and by extension Courtney’s performance, to page is quite easy really. I was surprised how easy I found to write him.
What else can you tell us about what to expect, especially from the first book?
Andy: How much to reveal? Okay, well, it’s a very personal story for the character, and sees the Brig facing his own past. It’s very much about the private man he keeps separate from the military man he’s most known for. It is set a week or so after the events of The Web of Fear, and so that story has a huge impact on the first novel. It brings back a few characters from The Web of Fear, some only in cameos, setting up the series as a whole. It has a link to the current series which you’ll either get or you won’t. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter, as it’s explained within the narrative and foreknowledge isn’t necessary.
Shaun: We have made it our mandate to use the TV series as our primary source of reference. The fans should expect new ideas, some familiar faces and some fantastic adventures for the dear old Brig as a thrusting young officer. Oh yes, and, as you can see from the cover, the Yeti are in it. Which, in itself, does rather suggest the return of another old enemy…
Andy: We’ve got a lot of plans for the series, and we’ve already got our second year of authors signed up. Although every book will be a stand-alone story in its own right, therefore requiring no need to purchase all for those daunted by committing to a full series, there are many plot strands and character arcs that will be spread throughout the series for those who do follow every book. Each year we intend to bring at least one ‘unknown’ to the series, as well as three established Who authors, which will eventually lead to a limited open-submissions policy – but not just yet.
It’s important to note, in closing, that we have access to all characters and concepts Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln created for Doctor Who, and that extends beyond Yeti and Lethbridge-Stewart – we will be mining that rich source. Not to mention the other author-owned elements of Doctor Who which are, subject to licensing agreements, potentially open to us.