Features | Written by Paul Mount 01/04/2016

Sadie Miller | MOON BLINK

Candy Jar Books’ popular series of novels chronicling the adventures of Doctor Who’s redoubtable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, launched last year, continue in 2016 with a string of new titles guaranteed to enthral readers with the tales of the Brigadier’s adventures when the Doctor’s not around. First off the blocks comes ‘Moon Blink’ in which the Brigadier investigates the rising popularity of a new street drug which seems to have originated on the moon – at a time when the Apollo 11 moon landing is recent history! ‘Moon Blink’ is written by Sadie Miller, daughter of beloved and much-missed Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith from 1974 to 1976, returning to the revived series in 2006 and then in her own spin-off series right up to her death in 2011. It’s a career-change for National Youth Theatre-trained actress Sadie and STARBURST spoke to her to ask her about her new direction and what fans of the indefatigable Brigadier can expect from his latest literary exploit...

STARBURST: Did your move into writing come about from a conscious decision to change your career?

Sadie Miller: Definitely. I always used to write as a sideline anyway, it was always something I was interested in doing but then when everything happened with Mum it just seemed like a more logical progression really because I think, although it’s still very challenging, you have a lot more control over it and it’s not something you have to work away from home for.

How did your involvement with the Lethbridge-Stewart book series – and consequently ‘Moon Blink’ – come about?

It was something that Andy contacted me about. We’d been like ships in the night, we’d almost met and worked together a few times before but when he approached me about it, it sounded like a perfect fit and it’s been quite challenging to write for a character who’s so well-known so hopefully it’ll go down well but it’s been really good fun so far.

How familiar were you with the established character of the Brigadier?

I had to go back and watch all the old ones with Mum although I knew of the character and knew the basics but there’s a lot of the ins-and-outs I wasn’t so familiar with and for something like this I think you’ve got to know your details and make sure it’s all accurate.

How would you describe the story? Is it sci-fi, thriller, adventure?

It’s a bit of a mix really. There’s the sci-fi element in there with an alien baby and the fight for Dr Travers to keep him safe and the Brig is in there of course but there’s also a lot of fun but it’s much more of a family adventure story which will appeal to younger readers. It’s hopefully in the style of the best of the ‘classic’ Doctor Who stories, that’s definitely something I’d like to replicate, if possible, that level of fun and excitement and danger but always in a very safe bubble.

How did the actual story come together? Was it a collaborative process between yourself and Andy?

The concept for the story was something that Andy and I came up with and we developed it together, but I knew it would need to follow on from the preceding book and that restricted us a little bit but Andy’s been great in just letting me get on with it and have a bit of creative freedom which is really exciting.

Who are your inspirations as a writer and how do you discipline yourself to get the actual writing done?

I grew up reading so many different kinds of books that it’s difficult to say, it’s a bit like when someone asks you to name your favourite film. There’s almost too many to choose from. I find I read things ‘as and when’ and that kinds of feeds into my own writing. I’ve just started reading some of Phillip Reeves’ steampunk books and I found that’s really helped me to write something which has a broader appeal so that you’ve got a children’s/YA book but you’ve got that element where it can be enjoyed by everyone. I’ve also been reading books by Glen David Gold who writes quite involved, complex narratives which you uncover layer by layer as you’re reading them which I love as well.

I think you need to have a certain discipline as a writer but for me, because I enjoy it and because it was always a hobby, I kind of see it almost as taking time for myself to disappear into another part of my mind and to let all the crazy bits run free! My husband and I got rid of our TV (so we don’t have that distraction) which is quite helpful! I quite enjoy writing with pen and paper and typing it up later so I love to just go and sit anywhere and I do a bit of people-watching where you sometimes think ‘oh, that’s interesting, maybe that could pop up somewhere.’

How aware were you, growing up, of the popularity both of Doctor Who and your mother’s part in its legacy?

I was aware of it through the conventions mainly and I’d watch a bit of it growing up but I honestly don’t think it was until Mum passed away that I realised where she kind of stands in the Universe of it all. It was only afterwards when I thought ‘Wow, this is much bigger than I thought it was.’

Did your mother ever really appreciate just how popular she was amongst fans of the series?

No, I think she never saw it in that way. She went to work, did the job, came home. I don’t think she ever saw herself in that context and I think that’s part of why she’s popular because she never got carried away with it.

Your mother returned to play Sarah Jane in 1981’s K9 and Company and then, of course, to huge acclaim in the resurrected show in 2006 and then the massively-popular spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures. Did she talk much about playing the character and what she’d like to see her do next?

Funnily enough, we watched K9 and Co again recently for the book and there are moments where you can kind of tell that she’s not as comfortable as she’d been in the original series. There are moments where you can see she’s saying the words but thinking ‘oh, I don’t want to say this!’ When she was first approached about coming back in the new series I think she thought it was just a little cameo and then that would be the end of it so she didn’t think about it that much. But when they had the proper meeting and it was broached about doing an episode and then The Sarah Jane Adventures I think there was never a moment when it wasn’t going to happen, I think it was pretty much decided then and there. She was massively proud of the Sarah Jane series. It’s funny because we used to sit and watch things like Murder She Wrote with this feisty older woman meddling around and Mum always used to say ‘I’d love to do a show like that’ and a few years later it happened which was just amazing.

And, of course, your mother worked with Nicholas Courtney, who played the Brigadier on TV, both in Doctor Who and in his final appearance in the Sarah Jane series. Did she speak fondly about her time working with him?

Oh yes, they were very chummy and when he was down for Sarah Jane they had a good time together on set. That kind of friendship passing down through the years from that original crew meant there was always a lot of love between them all.

A couple of years ago, the Brigadier was controversially resurrected in Doctor Who as a Cyberman, a plot point which many fans felt was slightly distasteful. What’s your take on it?

I have to admit I’ve not seen a lot of Peter Capaldi’s episodes just because over the last couple of years I’ve been moving around a lot and we’ve missed out a bit as we don’t have a TV now! Without having seen that episode, I wouldn’t like to say definitively but obviously, Nick isn’t around anymore and whilst people can refer to and talk about a character posthumously I think you still have to have a bit of respect for who the actor was as well. That sounds to me pushing it a bit too far. If someone did that with Mum’s character I’d be absolutely furious.

What are you working on next? Will you be writing any more for the Lethbridge-Stewart series or are you keen to develop your own projects, possibly even a bit of scriptwriting?

Hopefully, I can do a bit of both. I’ll see how the book goes and if people like it and want to read more and we’ll go from there. I have another book I’m just working on for myself which I’m trying to get edited and find a home for so hopefully that’ll get published at some point in 2016 as well which would be great. It’s just about getting my head down and seeing what happens; it’s very hard these days as a writer, it’s challenging because it’s so easy to publish online nowadays. Scriptwriting isn’t something I’ve done before. There’s a Wilkie Collins story I love called The Haunted Hotel which is not a very well-known story and I’ve adapted it into a radio script and I’m trying to find a home for that somewhere but it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time looking into but it’s definitely something to think about for the future.

Sadie’s book Moon Blink is published by Candy Jar Books in April.