Wizards Vs Aliens series 2 launch report

Feature James Peaty 28 Oct 2013 - 06:44

Starting today on CBBC, James reports back from the second series launch of Russell T Davies and Phil Ford's Wizards Vs Aliens...

Despite its undoubted behind-the-scenes pedigree, it would be fair to suggest that Russell T Davies and Phil Ford’s Wizards vs Aliens struggled to find its feet during its maiden series on CBBC last year. 

Weighed down by a far heavier expositional burden than the team’s previous effort, The Sarah Jane Adventures, ever had to contend with, it wasn’t until the final weeks of its first run that WvA truly seemed to find its feet and deliver satisfying and compelling stories in its own right.

However, despite the show finally managing to deliver on its obvious potential the question remained: would WvA’s second season be able to maintain that progress?  While it’s too early to deliver a definitive answer, after Saturday’s BFI screening of two episodes from the show’s second season, all evidence would suggest that WvA’s upward curve continues apace.

Differing from last year's BFI series launch, which unsurprisingly showcased the opening two episodes of the first season, this time around the team chose to show us a story from much later in the upcoming fourteen-episode run.

Written by series co-creator Ford, The Thirteenth Floor comprises episodes nine and ten of the forthcoming season and not only shakes up certain key elements of the show’s formula, but also comes to the screen with an interesting behind-the-scenes story too.

Originally commissioned as a script for the fifth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, it was unfortunately shelved due to the untimely death of Elisabeth Sladen.  Adapted for the new show at the urging and ‘arm twisting’ of fellow executive producer Russell T Davies, Ford admitted after the screening that he was initially reluctant to rework the story for the new show.

However, once work on the new version began, it soon became clear that the story seemed to fit into the magic inflected world of WvA far more easily than perhaps it would have in the more ‘rational’ Doctor Who universe.  

Building on a strand established in the series one adventure, Friend or Foe, the story finds wizard Tom Clarke (Scott Haran) and best friend Benny Sherwood (Percelle Ascot) investigating strange happenings at the mysterious Wyvern House office complex. But Tom and Benny aren’t the only ones on the case as the alien Nekross dispatch Lexi (Gwendoline Christie) to locate her missing brother Varg (Jefferson Hall).

But the mystery of Wyvern House is more complicated than either side realise and when Tom and Lexi take an unexpected trip in the lift up to the building’s mysterious thirteenth floor their lives are changed forever...

Sharply scripted by Ford, impressively directed by series newcomer Paul Murphy and subtly scored by Sam Watts, The Thirteenth Floor arguably marks the point where the series steps out of the shadow of The Sarah Jane Adventures and proudly stands tall on its own merits.

Deftly blending tropes from both fantasy and science-fiction to impressive effect, The Thirteenth Floor pushes the series into more mature territory, while at the same time fully delivering on the show’s defiantly on-the-nose, yet sometimes oddly restrictive central premise.

The Thirteenth Floor also effectively showcases the programme’s strong cast with leads Haran and Ascot as reliably energetic as ever, while Gwendoline Christie manages to combine size, strength and some subtlety in her performance as Lexi.  Of the regular supporting cast, Annette Badland and Michael Higgs deliver their usual consistently strong work, while Jefferson Hall offers up his best and most affecting performance as a decidedly different version of the alien Varg.

Clearly proud of the work the team had managed to achieve, the post-screening Q&A was a good-natured affair with Phil Ford and Executive Producer Brian Minchin deftly holding court alongside cast members Haran, Ascot, Higgs and Badland.

Fielding questions from the diverse crowd of adults and kids, the cast and crew shared some insights into working on the show, while at the same time being incredibly coy about both the upcoming season and the show’s longer-term future… if indeed it has one!

What we do know is that season two features two more stories by Ford, including season opener 100 Wizards, while the remainder of the series will feature contributions from returning writers Gareth Roberts, Clayton Hickman, Joseph Lidster and - most exciting of all - series co-creator Russell T Davies.

Of course, given the production team’s history, the Q&A couldn’t pass off without at least one obligatory Doctor Who question being levelled at the panel and it was left to the BFI’s Justin Johnson to ask new Who Executive Producer Brian Minchin how his new job was shaping up.

Naturally circumspect, Minchin confirmed that yes, he’d help produce the forthcoming Christmas special, featuring Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith’s regeneration into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth incarnation of the Time Lord and that filming on series eight with the brand new Doctor would kick off in January 2014. 

Judging by the quality of the work Minchin has managed to bring to the screen on a CBBC sized budget, it would appear that the keys to the TARDIS are in very safe hands.

Wizards Versus Aliens series two begins on Monday the 28th of October on CBBC at 5pm.

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