Wizards vs Aliens is the latest production to emanate from the BBC Wales’ Roath Lock production base. Despite being devised by former Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies and The Sarah Jane Adventures writer Phil Ford, the show is decidedly set in its own universe and fuses two key childhood interests, that of sci-fi and magic.
Following the now familiar CBBC format the show consists of six 50 minute tales, each comprising two 25 minute episodes, with writing talent drawn from a pool of familiar faces from SJA, namely Joseph Lidster, Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts.
The cast is led by a likeable pair: ‘Magic’ appears in the person of schoolboy wizard Tom Clarke (Scott Haran) and ‘Science’ is represented by the self-confessed geek Benny Sherwood (Percelle Ascot).
Haran is clearly fashioned as the leading man, with good looks and a talent for trouble. Meanwhile Ascot delivers a charming down to earth performance he appears the more confident performer of the two at times.
A seasoned cast supports the young leads. Annette Badland plays Tom’s batty magical Grandmother Ursula and his ‘unenchanted’ non-magical father is former EastEnders star Michael Higgs. Contained within their house is the Family Crowe’s ‘Chamber of Mysteries’, a magical den accessed via the family’s downstairs loo. It is also the dwelling place of Ursula’s Hobgoblin assistant Randal Moon, played Yoda-like by Doctor Who Sontaran stalwart Dan Starkey.
On the Alien side, Brian Blessed voices the gargantuan, immobile Nekross King in his usual bombastic style, while he is served by his mildly incompetent son Varg (Jefferson Hall) and more intelligent daughter Lexi (Gwendoline Christie).
With some deliciously retro opening credits and thumping music, the show has a clearly defined comic strip tone. The aliens lean broadly towards the outlandish rather than the horrific, and the magic draws on the cool of the Harry Potter zeitgeist. Special effects are impressive, particularly the alien spaceship ‘Zarantulus’, and the Nekross makeup looks the part too, even if their armour is a shade familiar.
‘Dawn of the Nekross’ provides a solid introduction the world of WvA though the eyes of our two young protagonists as the aliens arrive, intent on consuming all the magic on Earth. It deftly sets up the rules of magic which allow it use and at the same time constrain it. ‘Grazlax Attacks’ is a Gremlins style romp, with a creature that multiplies exponentially. The Grazlax itself is realised in pretty weak fashion, with blue fur and snarling, but the story allows room for the two leads to bond a little. In addition, there are great cameos from Benny’s deeply embarrassing parents, Don Gilet and Nina Sosanya.
One of the stronger tales, ‘Rebel Magic’, introduces another young wizard and his brand of unconstrained grim magic. The charismatic and troubled Jackson Hawke (Andy Rush) shakes up the show’s status quo and drives a wedge between Tom and Benny. Hawke uses his magic freely for personal gain and, on discovering the Nekross threat, chooses to take the fight straight to them. In ‘Friend or Foe’ Ruthie Henshall guests as the ruthless, if a touch hammy, Stephanie Gaunt. Intent on exploiting Magic for her own ends she captures Tom and also the Nekross Lexi, in human form, and causes the formation of an uneasy alliance to free them.
The show really finds its rhythm in the final two stories; Benny harnesses a computer virus in ‘Fall of the Nekross’ to launch an attack on the Nekross ship. When it is rather too successful, everyone has to live with the consequences of their actions. Doctor Who fans are provided a treat with the voice of Gabriel Woolf guest starring as the Voice of the Stones.
Series finale ‘The Last Day’ seeks to resolve the mystery surrounding the death of Tom’s, revealing the horrendous details of the Nekross’ devilish Master Plan.
WvA has already been commissioned for a second series and looks set to build on this impressive first run. With its ability to handle tougher storylines, as demonstrated in ‘Fall of the Nekross’, it appears to be a worthy successor to The Sarah Jane Adventures and it will doubtless find its way into the hearts of children and adults alike.
Released on DVD on Monday 31 December 2012 by Fremantle Home Entertainment.
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