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Christopher May 28 2013 11:27 PM

Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
Wizards vs. Aliens is the show that the producers of The Sarah Jane Adventures made as a "replacement" of sorts for that show following Elizabeth Sladen's death -- an SF/fantasy show aimed at young viewers and made by the same creative team. It premiered seven months ago on CBBC, and debuts this week on cable channel The Hub in the US. The regular time slot will be Saturday at 7:30 Eastern, apparently, but it debuts this Saturday (June 1) at 7:00 with the full 2-part premiere (as with SJA, all the stories consist of two half-hour segments).

There was a preview showing of episode 1 yesterday, and I'm sad to say, I found it inferior to SJA on every level. The premise is pretty straightforward -- there's a hidden community of wizards and sorcerors living among us Muggles (or "unenchanted" as they call it here), but instead of Hogwarts they go to regular schools and do their magic in secret at home and out in ancient stone circles at night. Some aliens called the Nekross show up, and their king apparently eats magic or something, so they start abducting wizards and draining their magic. The process ages a pre-teen wizard into an old man, and the fate of his father, who was abducted with him and isn't seen again, is left to the imagination.

Anyway, the main characters are a teenage wizard/football (soccer) player named Tom (Scott Haran), who's something of a jerk at first, behaving in stereotypically bullying jock fashion toward stereotypical bespectacled science nerd Benny (Percelle Ascot). The two of them get thrown together in the battle against the Nekross. One amusing thing is the different worldviews they come from and what they exclude -- Tom, like everyone else in the wizardly world, doesn't believe in aliens, but Benny accepts the idea of aliens readily but doesn't believe in magic.

But aside from that, neither character is much more than a stereotype at this point, and neither actor is particularly appealing. And it's just too male-dominated -- unlike SJA, there's no young female lead, with the only female regulars being Tom's powerful but slightly ditzy good-witch grandmother and the evil daughter of the Nekross king (who might turn out to be less evil, or at least smarter, than her bellicose brother). The cast is also less diverse than the SJA bunch, with the only nonwhite regular being Ascot (although there's apparently a recurring schoolgirl character played by an Indian actress). So far the writing doesn't impress me too much either. The show doesn't seem to have the sense of wonder at the alien and unknown that made SJA so appealing; the characters so far seem to be defined more by their narrow worldviews and denial or fear of the unknown.

I think the one thing I like most is the Nekross makeup, which is pretty interesting; they have kind of a scaly appearance with two animatronic tentacles/trunks on the sides of their heads, the right one containing a third eye and the left one either a mouth or a gripping appendage.

There are also some notable names in the cast. Brian Blessed does the voice of the Nekross king. The younger, more humanoid Nekross are both actors who are in Game of Thrones, Gwendoline Christie and Jefferson Hall (although I don't watch that show so that means nothing to me). Tom's grandmother is Annette Badland, who was the Slitheen "Margaret Blaine" in the first season of the revived Doctor Who. And I gather that there will be a recurring hobgoblin character played by everyone's favorite Sontaran, Dan Starkey (aka Commander Strax).

I guess I'll keep watching to see if the show gets better. But so far it's just making me miss SJA more.

Mr Light May 29 2013 02:05 AM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
what is the extent of Davies' involvement in this show?

Christopher May 29 2013 02:18 AM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub

Mr Light wrote: (Post 8168689)
what is the extent of Davies' involvement in this show?

Co-creator and executive producer. His only script credit to date is for an upcoming 2-parter in season 2. Co-creator Phil Ford is evidently the head writer, with other episodes written by SJA veterans Joseph Lidster, Clayton Hickman, and Gareth Roberts.

Stevil2001 May 29 2013 03:50 AM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
My wife and I watched the first... five episodes, I think, and then lost track of it. Definitely not as immediately charming as SJA, alas, and not as well cast. And its male-centric-ness seemed quite odd coming from Davies.

Christopher May 29 2013 04:14 AM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
In theory, it's an interesting concept, combining the ideas of magic/fantasy and aliens/SF. But so far they don't seem to be doing much with it that's very interesting -- just mashing two sets of stock tropes together. There should be much more interesting ways of combining the two. For instance, instead of just having standard technology-based aliens whose king eats magic or whatever the hell that is, why not have alien sorcerors who have used magic to enable themselves to travel among the stars? Maybe have them look down on humans with scorn for our tunnel vision in keeping magic a secret and separating it from science, when the two of them working together can achieve greater things. Give them a technology that's as much magical as scientific, so that both the magic guy and the science guy are stymied by it until they begin figuring out how to mesh their methods and worldviews.

diankra May 29 2013 04:59 PM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
A point to note about it is that the BBC Trust, as a matter of general policy, decided a few years ago that CBBC should be aimed at a younger audience... a younger audience than SJA was aimed at. The Sarah Jane Adventures were allowed to carry on as was, as it was already running, but Wizards vs Aliens had to be more juvenile, whether the production team liked it or not.

Christopher May 29 2013 05:20 PM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
^Okay, but that doesn't explain the diminished ethnic and gender diversity, both of which seem surprising to me in an RTD production. And it doesn't explain the weaker casting -- it's certainly possible to get good actors in something kid-oriented.

Christopher June 29 2013 04:22 PM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
I just noticed that apparently this show wasn't aired last week (since there's no recording or missed-recording notation on my DVR) and isn't on The Hub's schedule for the next couple of weeks. Has it been cancelled already? I was just starting to find it relatively watchable.

Mr Light June 29 2013 10:33 PM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
I've only seen the first four, did they air more than that? The second two parter was pretty bad...

DalekJim June 29 2013 10:40 PM

Re: Russell T. Davies's WIZARDS VS. ALIENS on The Hub
It's total hack work which has further destroyed RTD's reputation, which is a shame as SJA was well above average for a CBBC show.

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