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

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Christopher, May 28, 2013.

  1. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  2. Mr Light

    Mr Light Admiral Admiral

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    what is the extent of Davies' involvement in this show?
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  4. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  6. diankra

    diankra Commodore Commodore

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    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.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^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.
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  9. Mr Light

    Mr Light Admiral Admiral

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    I've only seen the first four, did they air more than that? The second two parter was pretty bad...
     
  10. DalekJim

    DalekJim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    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.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Sorry for the thread bump, but I recently discovered that this show, which ABC Family seemed to pull from its schedule pretty quickly after just four episodes, is now available in its entirety on Netflix streaming. I decided to give it another try, picking up with episode 5. And it was immediately a much, much better show than I remembered, and it continued to improve from there. I've just finished watching the second-season finale (written by Russell T. Davies), and I have to say at this point that this may be an even better show than The Sarah Jane Adventures was -- perhaps because it was freer to create its own independent world and rules and play with them unfettered. Just about everything I complained about in the earlier posts in this thread, I now find myself retracting. The writing is terrific, and not at all simplified or dumbed down compared to SJA; it often gets very intense and dark and emotionally challenging, and there are some great dramatic stories and complex relationships among the characters. It has a larger continuing cast than SJA, since the villains are regulars rather than one-shots, so there's more room for the relationships to develop and deepen, particularly the evolving relationship between the hero Tom and the villainess Lexi (played by Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). And the acting is top-notch, especially from Scott Haran as Tom and Annette Badland as Tom's grandmother Ursula.

    And what I said before about the show keeping science and magic as separate spheres was wrong. The show lets the two interact in often very clever ways, and the partnership and synergy of science and magic, as embodied in the deep friendship of Tom and Benny, is the cornerstone of the series. I also love how committed the heroes are to nonviolence and peace and trying to reach the villains and convince them of a better way. It's something Doctor Who often pays lip service to before inevitably descending into bloodshed, but this show commits to it more. Sure, that's because it's a kids' show and isn't as free to use violence (although there are some rather startling deaths here and there), but I have to wonder -- why do we find it more "mature" to treat death as a meaningless and casual thing, as in most adult programming, than to acknowledge the preciousness of life and the tragedy of its loss, as in children's programming like this? If anything, I think we have that backward.

    I heard a rumor a while back that Phil Ford, the head writer for SJA and Wizards vs. Aliens, was a contender to take over Doctor Who after Moffat. At this point, I'd be strongly in favor of that, because this show is really, really good, with terrific character work and very clever and imaginative plots and excellent production values. Although RTD's second-season finale is a particular standout, a classic, over-the-top, hyperemotional RTD-style season finale laden with massive explosions and shocking twists and characters tempted with ultimate power and its corruptions.

    But a couple of stories before that is "The Thirteenth Floor," which is adapted from one of the three unfilmed scripts left over when SJA ended. It's a pretty dramatic, potent story that has a startling impact on two of the main characters, and it's an interesting glimpse at where Clyde and Rani's story would've gone if SJA had continued.

    I still have one season left to watch, the shortest one at only 10 episodes (the seasons are 12, 14, and 10 episodes respectively). The show's currently on indefinite hiatus, so I guess it hasn't gotten a resolution any more than SJA did. I'd like to see it come back and resolve the series, though I don't know if that's at all likely. Granted, the lead actor was in his twenties playing a teen, and I suspect the same goes for the other "teen" characters, but still, if they waited too long to come back, it could get difficult to pick up where they left off.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2015
  12. ATimson

    ATimson Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Thanks for the info - I missed out on it before, but I think that I'll have to give it a try. :)

    He wouldn't be my first choice, but I think he'd do a good job. Just as long as he doesn't try to write any of the tie-in novels - his prose style drove me bonkers. ;)
     
  13. Sindatur

    Sindatur Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I watched the first Series, and thought it was OK enough, that it could grow into something fairly decent, but, I haven't gotten around S2 yet, and didn't realize there was a third Series, so, I'll be getting caught up when I get a chance.

    Thanks for confirming it does indeed become worthwhile
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I just finished the third (and so far final) season, and it's not as strong as the first two. The arc of the first two seasons was pretty well resolved in the RTD finale, so they were kind of starting over with a followup arc here, and it wasn't as effective. For one thing, two of the main villains were written out and the third was recast, and the relationship between the main villains -- and between them and the heroes -- wasn't as complex and nuanced, and thus not as interesting. Also, 2/5 of the way through (i.e. 4 episodes in), they wrote out one of the two leads, abruptly ending the strong core relationship that was at the heart of the series, as well as the balance of science and magic that was so important to its distinct flavor. The remaining six episodes felt more like a conventional fantasy story, despite the aliens still hanging around. They still had their good points, but with so many of the interesting relationships lost and the show sort of drifting away from its core idea, what was left wasn't quite as engaging.
     

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