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Old May 28 2013, 11:27 PM   #1
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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.
Written Worlds -- Christopher L. Bennett's blog and webpage
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