Doctor Who
Sick Building

Author: Paul Magrs
BBC Books
RRP: £6.99, US $11.99, Cdn $14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84607 269 7
Available 06 September 2007

Tiermann’s World: a planet covered in wintry woods and roamed by sabre-toothed tigers and other savage beasts. The Doctor and Martha are here to warn Professor Tiermann, his wife and their son that a terrible danger is on its way. The Tiermanns live in luxury, in a fantastic, futuristic, fully automated Dreamhome, under an impenetrable force shield. But that won’t protect them from the Voracious Craw, a gigantic and extremely hungry alien creature that is heading remorselessly towards their home. When it arrives, everything will be devoured. Can they get away in time? With the force shield cracking up, and the Dreamhome itself deciding who should or should not leave, things are looking desperate...

By Paul Magrs standards, this book starts off in a fairly straightforward manner. OK, so there’s a giant space beastie called the Voracious Craw (which sounds a little too much like Penelope Pitstop’s adversary, the Hooded Claw, for my liking), but apart from that, the author’s typical weirdness seems to have been played down. He’s probably on his best behaviour for the kiddies.

Before long, though, we are introduced to the Servo-furnishings, robots created by Professor Tiermann to serve him and his family. Like Disney characters, these robots come in all shapes and sizes, each based upon a household implement, such as a drinks cabinet or a vacuum cleaner. Silliest of all, but in a quite endearing way, are Barbara the vending machine and Toaster the sun bed, aged Servo-furnishings that have long since seen better days. I was reminded a little of Talkie Toaster from Red Dwarf, in that the decrepit droids keep offering people snacks or a bit of a tan, because that’s all they’re good for.

The book’s most obvious sources, however, are the movie Forbidden Planet and The Tempest, the Shakespeare play that inspired it. Like Dr Morbius and Prospero (who gets a brief name check near the end of the book), the prideful Professor Tiermann lives in seclusion with his small family unit. Like Prospero, he is surrounded by magical-seeming servants (whereas Morbius had only one robot, the famous Robby). Like Morbius, his hubris and massive ego are his undoing.

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Magrs not to feature his Time Lady creation, Iris Wildthyme. (This is probably because the Time War is supposed to have wiped out all the Time Lords. However, Iris has often been depicted as something other than your regular Time Lady, and may have originated from a parallel universe called the Obverse - as mentioned in the Eighth Doctor novel The Blue Angel. This might explain why the Doctor has been unable to sense her existence.) However, some of Iris’s dottiness is present in the character of Barbara.

Despite the childish nature of certain plot elements, which also include much supping of fizzy drinks and resultant windiness, things turn surprisingly violent during the second half of the novel. Hmmm, perhaps Magrs isn’t on his best behaviour for the kiddies after all...

Unlike Forever Autumn, which takes place before 42 for the TARDIS crew, this novel is evidently set afterwards, because Martha refers back to the events of that episode. I doubt it can be a long time afterwards, though, because it is also stated that Martha has been travelling with the Doctor for only a relatively short period of time.

Rather than building to a dramatic conclusion, the last quarter of Sick Building is unfortunately sluggish and rambling, just when the plot needs to keep moving. It’s not as though the author was struggling to reach the word count - the type size is smaller than that of Forever Autumn (though not as small as that of Wetworld, the other book in this batch of novels).

However, even at that point in this otherwise entertaining story, I wasn’t sick of reading it.

Richard McGinlay

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