Candy Jar Books’ latest endeavour is something of a risk – meaning it’s also pretty exciting. The Lucy Wilson Mysteries is essentially a spin-off of a spin-off: the titular character is the granddaughter of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (whose adventures Candy Jar thankfully continues to chart), and the nemesis of the first book – Avatars of the Intelligence – is, unsurprisingly, the Great Intelligence.
The range is aimed squarely at the Young Adult market, and that might put some people off.
Basically, The Lucy Wilson Mysteries is in the same arena as The Sarah Jane Adventures, so will suffer the same sorts of prejudices. Far too many fans will turn their noses up at something they deem best suited for children, or a spin-off too detached from the main series.
But, just as with the aforementioned TV show starring Elisabeth Sladen, those who don’t pay attention lose out on a very interesting and enjoyable proposition.
Publisher, Shaun Russell previously said, of the range:
“The great thing about Doctor Who is that it appeals to adults and children alike. There’s something for everybody to explore… Lethbridge-Stewart’s last appearance in any Doctor Who media was, in fact, in The Sarah Jane Adventures. I’m sure that sent a lot of kids back to the classic series to see what all the fuss about. And once you’re a fan of that, you’re generally a fan for life.”
And I couldn’t agree more: Doctor Who caters for a very wide spectrum of people, and it’s only right that other mediums reflect that. It’s one reason you should openly embrace The Lucy Wilson Mysteries – the other core reason being that Avatars of the Intelligence is an excellent story with plenty for all fans to enjoy.
However, I admit to being a tad wary to start with. It begins with a fairly typical set-up for YA and children’s books: Lucy is feeling depressed about moving from her home in London to the sleepy Ogmore-by-Sea (which is actually a real place in Wales). I was a bit tired of this well-worn trope, the trendy city-dweller moving to the countryside and missing friends, the underground, and any hope of an internet connection.
I was similarly concerned when she befriends the “loner” of the school, Hobo: so far, so usual.
Nonetheless, it works very nicely. Author, Sue Hampton has an upbeat writing style that puts across Lucy’s unhappiness without it dragging down the narrative; she’s relatable, and doesn’t venture into mopey territory, holding something of a grudge against her dad who dragged the family to South Wales.
Hampton should even manage to get the dads reading the book to side with Lucy: her father, for some as-yet-unrevealed reason, didn’t get along with his own dad – Alistair – and is also nervous of embracing his incredible legacy.
Fortunately, Lucy makes up for him dragging his heels: she’s actively looking to make her deceased grandfather proud, and is, in fact, so eager, she confuses the Brigadier’s spiritual influence with something… far less well-intentioned. You can probably take a wild guess at who or what that is.
The Intelligence proves a solid link to the Doctor Who universe – a voice without a body but certainly a strong presence throughout. Hampton cuts him back to the core: as a temptation, taking over people (the titular avatars) and influencing them via technology. His manipulation of Lucy is pretty creepy; in fact, here, the alien is decidedly scary, forcing our protagonist into a lot of tight corners. All of this is, of course, reminiscent of the Intelligence’s TV stories, but there’s a particular couple of scenes that recall the events of The Web of Fear.
Further easter eggs will please fans new and old, as will Lucy’s insistence that her legacy means something. Her willingness to see her grandfather again is really endearing and sweet, making this a perfect continuation of the Lethbridge-Stewart story.
There’s also something distinctly Doctor-ish about her new best friend, Hobo, his name surely an allusion to the “Cosmic Hobo” moniker given to the Doctor in the main Lethbridge-Stewart range. He’s a kooky and genuinely likeable character who acts as something of a companion to Lucy, also proving himself to be brave and smart. Touchingly, he has alopecia – fitting as Hampton is an ambassador for Alopecia UK. The insults he suffers, his “outsider” attitude, unfortunately hold a mirror to our society.
However, this also feeds into a minor complaint, not necessarily of the novel but of an aspect of Lucy that feels awkward to me. It’s her preoccupation with diversity. We’re told that she’s concerned about Ogmore-by-Sea’s diversity, compared to London’s “multi-cultural colours, smells, and rhythms”. This comes straight away when you open the book, and continues: “It wasn’t that she didn’t know how many mixed-race families like hers there might be in a sleepy Welsh high street, or how many girls at school would have a gay brother too, because difference was good.”
Is this the sort of thing the next generation is worrying about? If so, this is a very sad world they’re being brought up into.
Another minor complaint is with how confused the narrative becomes: to start with, it works well as the Intelligence messes with Lucy’s mind; but towards the end, there’s a section that puts you on the back-foot, at a point where clarity would be preferred.
Fortunately, it doesn’t affect the overall storyline or your enjoyment of it. Because this book has a cracking pace, plenty of nods to the wider Who universe (without feeling like it must rely on it, as Kate Stewart does in her TV stories, annoyingly), and leaves you wanting to read more. How will The Lucy Wilson Mysteries proceed then? Surely it can’t fall back on the Intelligence for every instalment. If it follows a similar format to The Sarah Jane Adventures, treading new ground as well as respecting the past, that’s certainly a great thing.
Avatars of the Intelligence is an ideal starting point, and proves there’s always room for more stories in the Doctor Who universe. After all, we’ve seen amazing things out there in space, but strange things can happen wherever you are. Life on Earth can be an adventure too.
The Lucy Wilson Mysteries: Avatars of the Intelligence is available to pre-order from Candy Jar Books now.