The novel “Sick Building” by Paul Magrs was published for the first time in 2007.
The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones arrive on the Tiermann’s World, so called because it’s inhabited by the Tiermann family. The Voracious Craw, an alien creature literally capable of devouring anything is coming and the Doctor wants to warn the Tiermanns of the coming threat. The reception is not exactly the friendliest received by travelers.
Professor Ernest Tiermann built on his world what he calls the Dreamhome in which a number of robots serve him and his family. The house is equipped with a force field that he believes to be impenetrable but which turns out to be vulnerable and loses stability when the Voracious Craw approaches the planet. Despite this, when the Doctor urges him to leave the planet, Professor Tiermann wants to do things his own way and has the Doctor locked in the cellar by his robots.
“Sick Building” is part of a series of novels connected to the new “Doctor Who” series. They’re targeted to a wide audience by being linear enough to be appreciated even by very young readers but sophisticated enough to interest more mature readers.
For once, the Doctor doesn’t run into danger in the place where he arrives at the beginning of an adventure but goes to a place because he knows there’s a danger. Specifically, the Voracious Craw, a giant creature capable of devastating entire planets. Apparently, not even the Doctor can stop it so he has to warn the sentient inhabitants living on a planet and luckily it’s just a family made up of a father, a mother and a son.
It seems like a simple task, but the Doctor and Martha Jones come across someone who seems to concentrate the worst clichés about mad scientists. Professor Tiermann seems in fact very capable as a robot builder and a developer of artificial intelligences because his Dreamhome is full of such creations, used as servants for his family. However, for anything else he proves to be a total idiot and also childish, with the risk of endangering his family.
Since the meeting with the Doctor and Martha, Professor Tiermann proves arrogant and contemptuous about the danger. He’s convinced that he can leave the planet with his family when he decides and is consequently annoyed by the Doctor’s arrival. When the creature’s influence begins to destabilize the force field that protects his home, Tiermann accuses the Doctor of sabotage.
Ernest Tiermann is a character that only provokes dislike for his attitude but in my opinion is really badly developed. There’s supposed to be a moral in the novel, but when negative behaviors are as trivial as his ones the message loses its strength because they come from a character that is like a pantomime character.
Ernest Tiermann’s negative characterization of is also seen in his attitude towards his robots. The Doctor wants to save them because they have a level of intelligence that makes him considers them sentient beings but for Tiermann they’re no more than home appliances. In the end, a part of the danger comes from the mess that he made in programming them because a character made that way must have such a trait.
Amanda Tiermann, the professor’s wife, isn’t developed better than her husband. She seems unable to do anything and can only complain about everything. Perhaps she’s too used to being served by robots, but even in this case if that’s the point meant by the author it’s lost in a very trivial characterization.
In the end, the dangers for the characters come mainly because of the messs made by Ernest Tiermann because otherwise they would have had plenty of time to leave the planet well before the Voracious Craw arrives. It’s a rather thin plot that, together with Ernest and Amanda Tiermann’s characterization, made the reading of “Sick Building” boring for me. Basically, in my opinion it’s a book yo might want only if you want to have the complete collection of this “Doctor Who” novel series.