‘Wizards vs Aliens’: ‘The Curse of Crowe’ review

The latest tale from Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts (‘The Lodger’, ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’) may feel like a retread for its opening ten minutes or so, as if a reminder to the audience of just what Wizards Vs Aliens is all about, but there’s a treat in store after the familiarity.

The slightly repetitious look at school life for wizard Tom and science-geek Benny – and the reminder that the Nekross are a big bad bunch – is all an essential set up for what’s to come.

The naughty aliens have been up to their old tricks and have captured wizards Gemma Raven (played by Georgina Leonidas, Harry Potter‘s Katie Bell) and her mother Madeline (Josie Lawrence) and are about to be the Nekross’s next victims when Gemma devises a plan to save her mother.

The young magician casts a spell which sees an end to Tom and Benny’s friendship, erasing their memories together of one another. And this is where the drama and heart of ‘The Curse of Crowe’ both lie. On the face of it, young boys having a tiff may seem like nothing, but their friendship is the key to keeping the Nekross at bay – saving wizards all over the world from extermination.

Their split is quite brutal and both actors, Percelle Scott and Scott Haran, are to be commended for how they tackle becoming each other’s enemies. The happy, almost smug school life we witnessed earlier is juxtaposed with this cold, dark and mean landscape of hate. Tom’s accusation that Benny smells of “chemicals and loneliness” is particularly unpleasant – it’s nasty stuff as both go at one another’s weaknesses.

Roberts, who penned so many memorable and brilliant stories for The Sarah Jane Adventures as well as last year’s moral-raising Wizards vs Aliens tale, ‘Fall of the Nekross’, delves deep into their friendship and examines it as if it was the break-up of a couple. Both delete each from their phones but have to deal with one another through their shared friends. Tellingly, however, it’s in this separation where Tom and Benny realise something is wrong, just unable to express exactly why.

Their reunion scene, as it were, during detention, is remarkably moving as their honesty reveals their pain and loneliness. Scored beautifully by Sam and Dan Watts, the two become chums again and their strong bond returns and shines through – a heartfelt and extremely rewarding moment. Science didn’t fix them, and neither did magic. It was their friendship and memories which saved them.

Alongside this, poor Ursula, Tom’s wizard gran, is transformed into the horrific Neverwas – a creation that is to be applauded for its freakiness and, with any luck, ability to scare the kids. A ghost-like figure trapped in another world, Tom and Benny would eventually save her too through their joint powers in a very satisfying denouement which had been set up from the very beginning of the first part.

‘The Curse of Crowe’ may be low-key and not as flashy like some Wizards vs Aliens adventures, but it has a dramatic and epic feel (note Ursula’s wonderful monologue) that demonstrates the power of friendship and how it affects those around them, not just those involved.

Aired at 5pm on Monday 18 November 2013 and at 5pm on Tuesday 19 November 2013 on CBBC.

> Buy Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

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