‘Wizards vs Aliens’: ‘The Cave of Menla-Gto’ review

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After an experiment, where science-geek Benny was studying magic, went wrong, wizard Tom Clarke found himself in deep trouble after his powers backfired on him with Grimm Magic. It’s soon revealed that the youngster has been infected by The Devastation and little helper Randall Moon suggests that a journey to Tibet is in order.

So Tom is taken to find the Cave of Healing by his dad (Michael Higgs) and his gran Ursula (Annette Badland) whilst Randall and Benny stay behind. However, to make matters worse, The Nekross have come into possession of the Zeyton Particle which will put an end to their war with the wizards. With the Shroud of Protection now removed (originally produced by Tom, Ursula and Randall) every wizard is at the mercy of their alien invaders.

This part of the plot results in the most amusing pairing-up of Benny with Randall Moon. The latter, played by Doctor Who‘s Dan Starkey, leaves his Chamber for the first time in over five hundred years and this means that every day objects like lights, paint and telephones are fascinating to him. Starkey, no stranger to wonderful comedic performances as Who’s Sontaran Strax, delights in the tittersome script from Joe Lidster (who penned last year’s brilliant ‘Rebel Magic’ and a number of fantastic Sarah Jane Adventures stories).

From his lambasting of Benny’s “technokkery” to reappropriating GPS to mean “Great Pointing Sticks” to the origins of the Great Fire of London (where a naughty dragon thought there were actual puddings in Pudding Lane) to the Wildean exclamation of “A handbag!” whilst on a bus with his new BFF – it’s all such great, fun stuff.

It makes for all the more mournful an end to the second part after the two reveal that their new relationship could bring an end to the war when Randall returns to the Chamber only to his find his newly acquired science memories and knowledge have disappeared. A deeply affecting denouement.

Also affecting is the moral stance taken by Benny and Tom, neither of whom want to murder the Nekross. Benny, as in the first series, stops his magical friends from destroying their enemy’s ship, the Zarantulas. It may air on a children’s channel, but the issues of good and bad are anything but in complexity and consideration.

Of course, one of the most impressive features of ‘The Cave of Menla-Gto’ is the stunning location work combined with equally stunning computer-generated wizardry that recreate Tibet. Hearty congrats to all involved for such a real and encompassing locale. The depth given to the story, and the WvA universe, is heightened ten-fold by this wondrous sight.

Writer Joe Lidster has combined a number of intriguing elements here and also manages to neatly link in a number of tropes from the first series (Benny’s morality and Tom’s relationship with Nekross Lexi) whilst also throwing in a mention of the Neverside (name-checked every story so far this year) and another glimpse of alien Jathro contacting the Nekross home world again.

Though triumphant in their battle, one can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for both Benny and Tom on lost friendships.

Aired at 5pm on Monday 11 November 2013 and at 5pm on Tuesday 12 November 2013 on CBBC.

> Buy Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

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