‘Wizards vs Aliens’: ‘Dawn of the Nekross’ review

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The new show from former Doctor Who show runner Russell T Davies and writer Phil Ford (Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures) has arrived, breathing life once again into science-fiction and fantasy on our television screens.

And what life!

This opening two-parter has the tough task of both introducing the main characters (of which there are quite a few) and the main conceit of the series – that wizards exist on Earth (some wearing t-shirts and playing football for goodness’ sake!) and there are also aliens who want to chomp all the juicy magic out of them. But more of the extra-terrestrials later.

The tough task, however, is easy meat for such seasoned and talented people like Davies and Ford. The latter takes writing duties on this tale, peppering it with laughs whilst instantly and firmly introducing us to each of the WvA gang. Tom, a schoolboy with a keen interest in football (or cheating at it, at least), tries to keep his magic to himself as he fits in whilst fellow student and all-round geek, Benny, can’t but help reveal his intelligence and interest in science at every move.

It’s not a friendship to begin with but the intervention of the titular aliens bonds the pair and it’s credit to the young actors, Scott Haran and Percelle Ascott respectively, that the parts are so convincing. Both play with a likeable, teenage zeal; instantly engaging with the audience, never belying the seriousness of the situation they find themselves in.

And the rest of the cast are no slouches either! Tom’s dad is portrayed by EastEnders and The Bill star, Michael Higgs – and the experienced actor brings all his skill to the production. Though not a wizard like his son (or “unenchanted” as they are called here), Michael is an everyman, coping with his unusual life without his wife and wizard son. Higgs is superb in the role, shining at every turn and utterly believable; quite the revelation.

Completing the family unit, as it were, is grandmother Ursula, played with perfect comic timing and flighty energy by the finest Slitheen of them all, Annette Badland. She’s the quirky one here, the wacky oldster who has the wisdom but not the wherewithal. The actress makes for wonderful viewing, stealing every scene she inhabits.

Speaking of scene-stealers (and we might as well as get this out of the way now) – enter Brian “The Guv’nor” Blessed. Although only present in voice the Flash Gordon actor makes quite the impression as the Nekross King. It’s very, very Brian Blessed.

Matching his gregariousness is the physicality of the King (puppeteered by Star Wars veteran Tim Rose) which is sure to attract some… attention (for want of a better word). The Nekross themselves are beautifully designed and make for impressive villains.

Completing the cast, and popping up in the second part, is the Harry Potter Dobby pastiche Randal Moon, played by everyone’s favourite Sontaran, Dan Starkey. The Doctor Who actor Gollums around with delight, living in the Chamber of Mysteries – which rather handily doubles as the downstairs loo.

It’s this mixture of the everyday and mundane with the unusual and fantastical that makes Wizards Vs Aliens such a joy. The familiarity of school life is delightfully juxtaposed with the enchantment of the magical world and the science fictional surroundings. Typically wonderful traits from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.

For the adults there’s some touching moments, particularly when the young wizard is turned old, and he wanders dazed around the ship unable to take in what just happened. Playing the older version of the boy is actor Brian Miller, husband to the late Elisabeth Sladen, star of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Doctor Who. How wonderful to have him here and what a lovely tribute to his much-missed wife.

As a final note – what a magnificent title sequence! The retro feel is stylish and the theme tune rockets along, fixing itself in your brain instantly. Likewise the score from Sam Watts throughout the two episodes is cinematic in its range with daunting brass to jaunty piano to the evocative theme for the Chamber of Mysteries and the moving strings at the close of the story; fine, fine work.

Given that Ford and Davies gave us the terribly terrifying and admirably adult Doctor Who classic, ‘The Waters of Mars’, it’s refreshing to see the pair can conjure up such a family-friendly atmosphere.

Wizards Vs Aliens is placed firmly within the feel of The Sarah Jane Adventures and already looks like it will match its predecessor in both entertainment and quality. For a first story, the cast and crew have delivered an absolute knock out that won’t fail to engage the young and the old. Just like Doctor Who used to.

Aired on Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 October 2012 on CBBC.

> Order Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

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