Wizards VS Aliens series 1 finale review: The Last Day

Review Pete Dillon-Trenchard 4 Dec 2012 - 16:32

Wizards VS Aliens' first series draws to an emotional finale. Here's Pete's review of The Last Day

This review contains spoilers.

1.11 & 1.12 The Last Day

Throughout its first series, Wizards vs Aliens has been a show which has never really settled down into a particular style or format. For the most part, this has been to its benefit; it’s proved a real surprise each week, as wacky Gremlins-style hijinks have given way to more sombre, moralistic pieces. 

What it does mean, unfortunately, is that the finale always had a lot to live up to; in many ways last week’s episode would have made for a good finale, with a powerful emotional dilemma at its centre, lots for everyone to do, plenty of action and more explosions than you could wave a sonic screwdriver at. 

The show’s actual finale, The Last Day, chooses to tell a smaller story that tries to dress itself up as a bigger one. When Tom starts seeing his dead mother around town, he follows the trail to the heart of the Nekross’s master plan - to produce endless clones of Tom’s mother and feed on her magic.

In some ways, this feels like a story that was supposed to be aired earlier in the run. At the start of the story Tom is on a date with Katie - remember her? Having been used as a plot (in)convenience in a few stories, Katie returns to give Tom someone to speak to who isn’t Benny. The lack of development of the boys’ personal lives has been one of the few big failures of the series, and so it’s reassuring to see some lip service at least being paid to it here, although the building sense that Tom’s old friends have turned against him because of his friendship with Benny seems to have itself been abandoned. At the very least, the producers could do with adding Manpreet Damdra to the regular cast next year; it would go a long way towards making the boys’ friendship seem less insular and strange. 

The other thing that feels off about this story is the lack of any sort of debate when the Nekross’ master plan is revealed. Of course, the fact that it’s Tom’s mum being cloned renders Tom and his family less than clear-headed about the whole thing, but if viewed pragmatically it’s not actually that bad a plan - with an unlimited supply of magic, the Nekross are able to survive without having to hunt down and kill any more of the Earth’s wizards. It’s a shame that Benny, who had little to do in this episode, couldn’t have pointed this out. Or, if that would have been too callous, Lexi could have made the case to Tom; while there are a few allusions, the script requires that their relationship basically be back to square one - so much for my idea that Lexi would defect for series two. 

There’s still a lot to like in this episode, though; Jennifer Hennessy, who previously worked for Russell T. Davies in the third season Doctor Who episode Gridlock, is an effective presence as Tom’s mother, both before and after regaining her memories. And her role in the plot does bring out some superb performances from Scott Haran, Annette Badland and in particular Michael Higgins, who is rewarded for what’s been a bit of a thankless role all season with some weighty and emotional scenes as he catches up with his lost love. Even Dan Starkey, whose Randall Moon character has been on the verge of annoying for the past ten episodes, gets a more quiet, reflective scene in this story. 

Emotional scenes require an emotional score, and composer Sam Watts provides some of his finest work in this story. Not as in-your-face as Murray Gold’s work on Doctor Who, the music effectively underpins the key moments in the story, particularly at its climax. The effects are good too, with CGI used sparingly to give a sense of grandeur to the entity and to the story’s end. 

The story ends on a rousing speech designed to rally the troops (and the viewers) for the already-commissioned second series, but it seems like a bit of a forced moment given the emotional wringer the characters have just been through; much like the rest of the finale, it feels like writer Phil Ford is trying to serve two masters here, and not doing enough justice to either as a result. 

That’s not to say series two isn’t something to look forward to, though. In its short and frankly manic run, Wizards vs Aliens has proved itself as a show unafraid to experiment and unwilling to talk down to its audience - both of which are incredibly rare qualities in television these days, let alone children’s television. These twelve episodes have done a great job of introducing the regular cast of characters and putting them into a number of interesting situations. Now let’s see what this show can really do.

Read Pete's review of the previous episode, Fall of the Nekross, here.

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