Wizards Vs Aliens: Dawn Of The Nekross spoiler-free review

Review James Peaty 8 Oct 2012 - 08:16

Imaginative, enchanting, and entertaining, Russell T Davies' new CBBC series is a fitting successor to The Sarah Jane Adventures...

1.1 & 1.2 Dawn Of The Nekross

From the creative team that brought us the award winning The Sarah Jane Adventures, Wizards vs Aliens arrives laden with far more expectation and attention than your standard CBBC series launch.

Co-created by former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies and SJA lead writer Phil Ford, WvA’s pedigree is first-rate, but does its opening adventure, Dawn of the Nekross, deliver on the promise of its brilliantly on-the-nose central conceit? 

Thankfully that answer is a resounding ‘yes’, thanks in no small part to a strong script from series co-creator Ford, confident and stylish direction from Daniel O’Hara, and committed performances from series leads Scott Haran and Percelle Ascot. 

Following the classic Davies template of bold storytelling filled with striking and memorable images, the series opens with a pre-credits scene involving alien first contact above an ancient stone circle. Neatly bringing together the two elements at the heart of the show – science fiction and magic – in a single sequence, this tease not only sells the central concept of the show, but also the ambition and scale of the piece in one confident brushstroke. 

From this opening scene we’re then introduced to the everyday life of sixteen year old Tom Clarke (Haran), a popular and attractive schoolboy who just so happens to also be a wizard. Living with his ‘un-enchanted’ father (Michael Higgs) and his very much enchanted Grandmother, Ursula (Annette Badland), Tom practices magic in secret, but isn’t averse to using it to fix the result of a school football match or get a helping hand with his homework. 

However, Tom’s life of relative secrecy and security is shattered when the alien Nekross come calling. 

An interstellar race who roam the galaxy feasting on magic, the Nekross - Lexi (Gwendoline Christie), Vorg (Jefferson Hall) and their corpulent King (voiced by Brian Blessed) - have set their sights on the last planet in the universe where magic exists - Earth. The arrival of the Nekross doesn’t just push Tom towards a whole new way of practicing magic, it also opens him up to new possibilities in his everyday life. 

Thrown together with school science geek, Benny Sherwood (Ascot) to foil the Nekross’ maiden plan, Tom gains not only a new and unlikely friend, but also a greater appreciation for knowledge that isn’t strictly supernatural. A natural skeptic, Benny is an effective foil for Tom and their back-and-forth throughout the episode is one of the show's real highlights. 

Also making an impression is Tom and Benny’s fellow schoolmate, Katie Lord (Manpreet Bambra). Although her appearance in this first story is limited, she catches the eye with her brief screen time and it’s clear she’ll develop into a key player as the series progresses. 

A rip-roaring opening adventure, Dawn of the Nekross takes us on a trip that includes orbiting mother ships, hidden Chambers of Mystery, introductions to mischievous Hobgoblins as well as a sly insight into Nekross gender politics.

However, while this opening story is sharp, confident and effective, if it does have a flaw it would be that perennial ‘pilot problem’ of attempting to establish too much in one fell swoop. While the introductory story of The Sarah Jane Adventures was a similarly jam-packed and frenetic affair, that show had the advantage of inheriting both an established lead and the series’ basic rationale from Doctor Who

In comparison WvA is at a distinct disadvantage and a sizeable chunk of its the opening story is spent establishing the rules and laying the foundations of this brand new universe. With so many regular characters to introduce it’s perhaps no surprise that some of the characters get lost in the shuffle. This unfortunately has a slight dampening effect on the story's climax, which feels as if it’s filled with characters that we’ve met, but barely gotten to know. 

But these are just nitpicks and by the end of its opening story WvA has managed to establish a tone that’s at once more muscular than SJA, while retaining the domestic intimacy that made Bannerman Road such a beguiling place to visit. 

While it’s never a foregone conclusion that a show will be a hit, the omens are good for WvA and it’d be a massive surprise if this show doesn’t connect with its intended audience in a big way. 

Cleverly conceived, intelligently written, lovingly produced and sumptuously scored by the Watts', Dawn of the Nekross is a strong launch for an imaginative, enchanting and entertaining series that has the potential to run and run.

Wizards Vs Aliens is due to air on CBBC in late October.

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