“Sick Building” by Paul Magrs

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Thank God it’s Sunday. It’s been a while since I’ve worked four days in a row. I’d forgotten how tired it makes you. Give it a few weeks and I’ll be back in the swing of things. What my new schedule means, though, is that it’s taken me longer than usual to finish my book for this post. I’ve been trying to read for an hour before bed each night, but getting home at about midnight, after working nine plus hours, is a little taxing.

That being said, I love having a job to complain about. My legs might be aching, and I might have cracks on my hands from the cleaning products at work,  but I have a purpose. And I feel useful again. Yay!

Sick Building struck me as an odd title for a book. Maybe it’s because I’m Aussie, but the first time I read the title I read it in a thick North Queensland accent (translation: bogan), saying “sick building, mate” about an impressive piece of architecture. Which, come to mention it, isn’t actually that bad of an interpretation. Sick Building is about a planet Martha and the Doctor happen upon that has only three human inhabitants: the Tiermann family. The Tiermann’s live in a Dreamhome, an Ernest Tiermann invention. Everything in the house is automated and designed to cater to the humans’ every need and desire. The house is run by a supercomputer named the Domovoi, described as a domesticated goddess numerous times throughout the story. So, when the Tiermann’s world is threatened by the Voracious Craw, an alien being that eats anything and everything in its path (and I mean everything) the Tiermanns, specifically Ernest, decide to leave the Servo-furnishings, the automated household devices, behind. And doesn’t that just drive the Domovoi crazy…

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the storyline. Sometimes it felt like it dragged on a bit too long, but sometimes I’d praise Magrs for choosing a setting in which he could explore the relationships and history of his characters. I loved the character of Solin, the son. His slow realisation that his father was actually a stark-raving lunatic was superb. I really felt like I could see the development. But when Ernest punched his son in the face, I gasped. No matter how disturbed and distant Ernest was, I wasn’t expecting him to actually hit his son. Being able to shock the reader that way is a brilliant skill. I tip my hat to you, Mr Magrs.

I wasn’t sure about the story opening and closing with the saber-toothed tiger and her cubs. I mean, I get it: the whole effect of the Voracious Craw on the native wildlife. But it felt unnecessary. And when the sabre-tooth was finally referenced, by the Doctor, it felt rushed. Like Magrs had forgotten to mention her and was shoving the reference in wherever it would fit. And the ending really wasn’t needed. It could have ended with everyone getting away. (Because, of course they did. It’s the Doctor, everyone always gets away. Unless Moffatt is writing, of course.)

Characterisation was a bit all over the place. The Tiermanns, the Servo-furnishings, and even the saber-tooth were beautiful, well-rounded characters. The Doctor, however, was a bit off. Tennant’s Doctor must be hard to encapsulate on paper when a lot of what he does is all intonation, body language, and intense facial expressions. But still, there had to be a way to portray those qualities on paper. I felt as though the Doctor was lost in translation.

And as for Martha…she was a nothing character in this story. Which isn’t fair. timthumb.php Martha seemed to be a plot device. Something to help the Doctor get ideas, a way for characters to vent their feeling about the Doctor, and basically a way for the reader to see how other characters reacted to the Doctor. She had very little personality. All we really got was repetitive mentions of her being a medical doctor. And “Smith and Jones” was in there a couple of times as well. Martha is a strong woman who is incredibly family oriented. I feel as though the real Martha would have had a stronger reaction to the family dynamic in the Dreamhome. Martha’s family, while estranged, are very close. And very in each other’s business, as seen by the first episode of Martha’s story. So why wouldn’t we see that family connection as she watched Solin’s parents acting like anything but parents? Magrs missed a huge part of Martha’s character, and the story suffered for it.

Oh! And Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor? Totally skipped over. But there was this gem about Rose:

‘It is evident, Doctor,” Tiermann said haughtily, ‘that you have never lost anything of value.’
The lift juddered into life and their ascent began. Something in the Doctor’s bearing stiffened with anger. Then he turned on Tiermann. ‘Oh, I have. Not that you are really interested, you silly, selfish man. But I so have lost something of value.’
There was a lethal pause. Martha sighed. Here we go, she thought – though she didn’t like herself for thinking it. The Doctor was going all misty over Rose again. Just ignore it, she told herself. Rose isn’t here. It’s you now. And he cares about you, too.

That was probably the only true to character thing that Martha did throughout the whole story. Besides taking care of people using her medical training, that is.

There was some lovely symbolism about the role of technology in the lives of modern day humans. Amanda Tiermann (the mother) [SPOILERS] turns out to be a cyborg because Ernest decided that she wasn’t perfect enough and added some technology to his wife to make her more subservient. Well, it’s never actually said, but that was the impression I got. Ernest even replaced some of his organs with robotics to make himself stronger. The Tiermanns never have to do a thing themselves: not even eat or take their medication! And, seriously, how far away are we from this technology? Our cars already park themselves and we have robots that vacuum for us. How far away are robot butlers, maids, and chefs? I feel like Magrs had a point to make and disguised it in Doctor Who canon. Not that this is a bad thing.
Oh, and the Domovoi losing her mind at the thought of being left to be eaten by a giant alien eating machine? Felt to me like Magrs is a believer in the technological revolution. One day the robots will rise up and attack us humans. Or so some technologically jinxed people believe.

I’m still not sure whether I liked this story or not. So I’m going to give my most indecisive  star rating ever:

★★ 3/4

I think I’m going to lie in bed and listen to David Tennant for a while now.

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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2 Responses to “Sick Building” by Paul Magrs

  1. Man, I need to order me some more Doctor Who books! As much as I also enjoy laying in bed listening to David Tennant, sometimes its nice to have the Doctor on paper. So you can keep him on a shelf for a rainy day.

    Yeah, I know how dirty that sounds. No, I don’t feel bad about it 🙂

    • Bec Graham says:

      Have you seen the 11 Doctors, 11 Stories collection? It’s Eoin Colfer, Richelle Mead, Patrick Ness, NEIL GAIMAN, and a bunch of othet authors all writing about the different incarnations of the Doctor. They were eBooks but they got put into an actual book. It’s so awesome so far 😀

      And David Tennant on a shelf…dream come true, that is!

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