The novel “The Grandfather Infestation” by John Peel was published for the first time in 2016.
Mary Wilde is the DJ of a pirate radio that broadcasts from a ship. When something hits the ship, she and the ship’s chief technician Alan try to save themselves but end up in an unknown place where robotic creatures order all the survivors of the shipwreck to work and kill anyone who disobeys.
Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart has recently taken command of the Fifth Operational Corps when he’s faced with a complex situation where he must figure out if his intervention is needed while handling the relations with the British Royal Navy. When a submarine searching for traces of the missing ship meets the same fate, he must investigate openly.
The Lethbridge-Stewart series tells the adventures of the character who became famous in the “Doctor Who” TV show when he works without the Doctor. The stories start from the period immediately following the debut of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the TV show and then extend the period covered. These stories include some characters that appeared in the TV show, some invented for other productions connected to it, and others that were created specifically for these novels.
“The Grandfather Infestation” is set in a time when Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart was just promoted to Brigadier General but before the formation of UNIT. As the commander of the Fifth Operational Corps, he had already received the task of dealing with alien threats in secret but the nature of a threat isn’t always easy to recognize and this novel shows just one of these cases.
Threats in the form of plants are described in several stories such as the super-classic “The Day of the Triffids“, in some cases even beyond science fiction, including the serials of the classic series “The Seeds of Death” and above all, “The Seeds of Doom“. In “The Grandfather Infestation” the nature of the threat is revealed slowly, also due to the presence of robotic creatures, therefore very different from plants.
The stories told in this series of novels are self-contained but soon began to form a larger picture. This concerns not only Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart’s personal history and career after meeting the Doctor but also other recurring characters and links between various stories.
The classic serial “The Web of Fear” also saw the first appearance of Anne Travers, who has a scientific advisory role in these novels similar to the Doctor’s role in the television episodes. Harold Chorley also appeared briefly in that serial and occasionally appears in these novels. In this case, there are also references to events told in the novel “Mutually Assured Domination” but the journalist’s role is secondary, so not knowing those events doesn’t spoil this novel’s reading.
In many ways, this is a story in the style of the ones shown in the television serials with UNIT adapted to an earlier period in which Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart commands a British corps. In this case, he must also collaborate with other British armed forces and handle an oversight that is also political of his own operations.
The story is self-contained but includes some moments connected to Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart’s personal life which are part of a sort of story arc. This series develops the protagonist’s personal history as well as his professional life far beyond what was shown in the television serials.
Overall, it seems to me that John Peel handled the length limitations of the books in this series well even if the ending feels a bit rushed. The various parts of the story seemed well blended to me, including the development of the aliens, more in-depth than the average novel connected to the Doctor Who saga. For these reasons, I recommend “The Grandfather Infestation” to Doctor Who fans.