Reviewed: Lethbridge-Stewart – The Schizoid Earth

The Lethbridge-Stewart range kicked off superbly with a thoroughly enjoyable sequel to The Web of Fear, which also took into account the Great Intelligence’s more recent encounters with the Eleventh Doctor. The Forgotten Son was a fantastic start… but it’s ending promised something the series is sadly yet to deliver: a return trip to the Himalayas in Lance Parkin’s Horror of Det-Sen. With Parkin (hopefully temporarily) stepping away from the project, David A McIntee’s The Schizoid Earth was moved up the schedule. But would it keep up the pace?

As tempting as a trip to Det-Sen might be, The Schizoid Earth delivers something just as satisfying: a complete change that shows the diversity this range can offer.

It’s been said quite frequently that Doctor Who, at least during the Classic era, doesn’t actually ‘do’ time travel stories that often. Day of the Daleks is a solid, rare example of so-called timey-wimey-ness before Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. That’s what The Schizoid Earth immediately purports to being.

The actual crux of the matter, however, involve something much rarer in Doctor Who. In fact, I can only think of a handful of serials that do mull over the concept at the heart of McIntee’s book. It’s a notion that’s absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, it’s also one that’d be considered too much of a spoiler to reveal.

Nonetheless, Doctor Who fans have a particular kind of mind, able to grasp scientific theories better than most, so you’ll likely figure it out pretty fast.

The beginning is a bit confused, and the nature of the beast means that you’re a few chapters in before story strands begin to make sense. In fact, you don’t entirely grasp the prologue itself until around the middle of this book. That’s not really a bad thing, it serves to introduce the ominous sense of foreboding that hangs in the air throughout The Schizoid Earth.

The Face of the Enemy

Similarly, the action skips between scenes quite rapidly, and that’s somewhat jarring to begin with. Soon, however, the plot falls into place and you become used to the frequent scene changes – in fact, you enjoy catching up with these seemingly-separate elements.

It helps that one strand revolves around Professor Edward Travers and his daughter, Anne. In a book where you’re never quite sure who to trust, they offer a pleasing degree of comfort.

Nonetheless, McIntee consistently puts readers on the back-foot: the novel plays on our expectations and subverts them. It’s not entirely devoid of an alien presence, but it’s not all about an invasion. Indeed, many fans will, based on the title alone, initially draw parallels between The Schizoid Earth and the Third Doctor classic, Inferno. Those expectations aren’t entirely unwarranted. And if you love that 1970 serial – who doesn’t?! – you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

Anyone with fond memories of McIntee’s 1998 book, The Face of the Enemy will also be pleased to see the return of Marianne Kyle. It’s by no means a requirement to read that novel too – in fact, you can approach The Schizoid Earth as a sci-fi story in itself, although obviously you’ll benefit from being very familiar with Alastair, and from having enjoyed The Forgotten Son.

The events of The Revolution Man (briefly) and of course, The Web of Fear are also alluded to, intermingling lashings of The Prisoner. There’s one specific high-octane sequence that echoes the 1960s TV show. The book as a whole captures the essence of the Third Doctor era ably, but very smartly mixes this in with a more modern approach to non-linear storytelling.

If you have read The Face of the Enemy, you’ll know how well McIntee writes for our wonderful Lethbridge-Stewart; his characterisation of not just the protagonist but all supporting characters too makes for a very strong book. And even if the story risks becoming confused occasionally, the dialogue is always a highlight.

With plenty of chase scenes, paranoia, and red herrings, this second outing for Lethbridge-Stewart is a wonderful thriller, and definitely one not to miss.

Lethbridge-Stewart: The Schizoid Earth is out now from Candy Jar Books.