‘Wizards vs Aliens’: ‘Rebel Magic’ review

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The new series from former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies and The Sarah Jane Adventures writer Phil Ford reaches the halfway point and takes quite the shift in tone in comparison to the opening two stories.

Where ‘Dawn of the Nekross’ and ‘Grazlax Attacks’ had the most jaunty of feels and were both packed full of fun and laughs, ‘Rebel Magic’ has a strong emotional resonance that will engage no end and scatter your sympathies throughout the main characters. It’s a story of real heart or, rather, a broken heart.

This two-parter introduces us to Jackson Hawke, another young wizard – but this guy is little edgy. And by a little, we mean a lot. Whilst not quite a “bad” wizard, Jacky-boy likes to life on the edge, using his magic for rather mischievous purposes  to serve his own needs. And to influence the needs of others…

Hawke is played wonderfully by young newcomer Andy Rush, portraying him with all the sultry broodiness needed for the troubled and enigmatic teenager. He’s certainly no one-dimensional character and his back-story only fleshes his personality further as we discover, with horror, that Jackson banished his parents with magic (probably for making him wear that questionable jumper in the flashbacks).

Adding further mystery to the series itself is the notion of “Grim Magic” (no doubt a nod to the fairytale brothers); magic that scares the willies out of Tom’s grandmother, Ursula. It’s an interesting reversal where Grim Magic sees the parents despatched rather than the children (as the Grimm tales featured so heavily).

Jackson’s cool quotient rubs off on Tom (despite that hideous red jacket he wears every week), who gets a bit of a crush on his new found friend. The young wizard is most impressed with the bad boy and indulges in some foolhardy and downright nasty tricks along with his new mentor.

It’s interesting to see Tom’s journey to the dark side, as it were, as his school friends reject him (because of his relationship with Benny the “geek”) and his father’s concern regarding his grades (in a scene which neatly picks up on Tom’s cheating of doing the homework with his powers from the first episode). His resentment of everyone around him leads him into the arms of the new, mysterious stranger with the fantabulous hair.

With Tom chumming it up with Jackson, Benny begins to feel ostracised, physically and emotionally – especially so as the new lad in town isn’t interested in a threesome. The relationships become increasingly complicated and you’ll be perhaps wondering if there’s more than just friendship at stake here. Again the two leads Scott Haran (Tom) and Percelle Ascott (Benny) are up to the task given to them which, as the weeks progress, becomes more involved. Both young men have an engaging style that strikes a hefty chord as their affections are tested.

Writer Joe Lidster, the talent behind such great The Sarah Jane Adventures stories such as ‘The Mad Woman in the Attic’ and ‘Mark of the Berserker’, tackles the issues of divided friendships, familial troubles and loyalty with great style and a touching sensitivity. You may think Wizards Vs Aliens is a “kids” show (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but there’s a strong emotional core and intelligence at work here that many adult dramas would be proud of. It’s a real joy to see Lidster’s work back on television.

Also well worth mentioning is the terrific score from Sam and Dan Watts. So far the show has had some very memorable themes, worthy of the big screen, and here the soundtrack truly shines. Jackson’s burbling, bassy synth sounds (not unlike the magnificent Tron Legacy score) excite and accentuate the drama and mystery behind the boy.

‘Rebel Magic’ is a first class story, dealing with various complex issues head-on, magic fun, whilst also injecting a boost of mystery of future possibilities in the form of the wilfully ambiguous wizard, Jackson Hawke. Best of the series so far.

Aired on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 November 2012 on CBBC.

> Order Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

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