This week saw the premiere of the new UK children’s series co-created by Doctor Who Savior Russell T Davies. It’s called Wizards Vs Aliens and is the show I would have killed for as a kid. There’s a fun concept, exciting storytelling, high production value, and spaceships and magic.
Last year, when the world lost the actress Eisabethe Sladen, the Whoniverse lost its beloved Sarah Jane Smith, and television lost the immensely entertaining Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. It didn’t only leave a whole in the hearts of Whovians, but a gap in the BBC production lineup. So the task of creating a replacement began. Thus, Wizards Vs Aliens was born.
The idea for the show came about during a dinner Davies was having with his often Who and Sarah Jane collaborator Phil Ford. The two were discussing how few genuine science-fiction/fantasy shows there were. The two genres are often packaged together but rarely co-exist as a single genre. They set out to make that happen.
The Premise is a simple one, kinda: Wizards fight off a race of aliens called the Nekross who feed off magic and are after Earth because it is the only planet in the universe left that they haven’t drained.
The format follows the template of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Every two episodes equals one serialized story. So you have six stories broken up into twelve episodes.
The first story, Dawn of the Nekross, wastes no time getting into things. A wizard and his young son attract the attention of the Nekross after performing a magic ritual. They’re beamed aboard the ship and the boy is drained of all his magic, resulting in a rapid aging process that leaves him an old man. Both of them are locked away until it is feeding time again.
From there we meet our hero. Tom is a teenager, football (meaning soccer) enthusiast, and secret wizard. He lives with his grandmother, who also uses magic (or is enchanted), and his father, who does not (or is unenchanted). All we know of Tom’s mother is that she was very powerful magically when she was alive. Tom’s friend is a brainy kid (we know this becuase he wears glasses and people like to make fun of him) who loves science and doesn’t believe in magic. The four of them assemble to make a very unlikely team of heroes.
Right away you get the feeling that Tom is meant to be struggling with his double life. His father scolds him for using magic to win a football match. A cute girl at school declares how much she would love it if magic existed, and he can’t tell her that it does. His grandmother isn’t exactly the teacher he would like her to be. This is all glanced over as the episodes busily set up all the necessary components for the series. Things move so quickly that you’re not allowed any time to be eased into the world being created. You have to grab on and hold tight, or get left behind. While thrilling, this technique does leave some aspects of the pacing to be desired.
There isn’t a whole lot about the plot that will surprise you. You’ll probably figure out all the character arcs and climaxes a few minutes in. Like Davies’s Who scripts, however, the show is not about plot points. It’s about the rush, thrill, and fun of the adventure. And there is a lot of fun to be had here.
One of the biggest reasons I wish this show was around when I was a kid is that it looks great. Not only could the Nekross make fantastic action figures, they’re so well designed that they could easily stand beside the best aliens from Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Babylon 5, or Farscape, and in no way seem out of place. Also, there is a huge scope to the series that was sorely lacking in the shows of my childhood.
Other than slight pacing issues, the only complaints I have would have would technically be considered nitpicks. Nothing substantial enough to deter me from enjoying the show. Well, maybe the fact that the wizards don’t believe in aliens. Each time one of the wizard characters are told about the aliens they respond with, “There’s no such thing as aliens.” I understand the irony of having wizards be skeptical of extraterrestrial life, but find it a little hard to accept that they would be so closed minded.
This is the first original series (meaning not connected with an already established world) Russel T Davies has created in almost ten years. With only two episodes under their belt, it’s impossible to give a final verdict. It doesn’t have the benefit of having several decades worth of mythology to fall back on. Still, the show has certainly hit the ground running.