“I saw so many horror movies where there was that blonde girl who would always get herself killed, I started feeling bad for her. I thought, it’s time she had a chance to take back the night. So the idea of Buffy came from just the very simple thought of ‘a beautiful blonde girl walks into an alley, a monster attacks her and she’s not only ready for him, she trounces him’.” Joss Whedon.
That reversal of power, the victim turned victor and the vulnerable made strong, was fundamental to Buffy’s draw as a series. Here was a teenage girl who really could take back the night, not because the world she lived in was safer than ours – hardly – but because she was its protector. She was the thing that monsters feared, and not just those of the fanged, horned, scaled variety; regular Joe bullies and chauvinists would be put in their place, too. When bigoted jocks smashed a make-up-wearing-boy against his locker, all Buffy had to do was silently show her face for them to apologise and walk away. She was 5ft 2” of potent right-to-be-there, and God, did we want her power.
So perfect was the wish-fulfilment aspect of Buffy’s character (there’s plenty not to envy about her, but what skinny teenager hasn’t daydreamed about responding to cat-calls and blokes shouting out of van windows on the walk home from school with a Jackie Chan-ish display of violence?) that when she was temporarily divested of her strength in season three’s Helpless, the loss was keenly felt. Seeing Buffy pushed aside by Cordelia’s misogynist would-be beau, and then forced to hang her head and walk on when two grunts in the street ask her for a lap-dance, was more painful even than seeing Clark Kent bleeding in that diner in Superman II. Buffy’s vulnerability was our vulnerability, and we’d been shown far too much of that on screen already.
The opening moments of CBBC’s Wolfblood, then, a series aimed at eight to twelve-year-olds (currently being repeated on BBC Three on Tuesday nights), were a joyful reprisal of Buffy’s conceit. A young teenage girl, alone in her house at night, hears a disturbance. Disobeying the first rule of The Big Book of Staying Alive in Horror Stuff (don’t go out to investigate) she ventures outside. Her feet creep through the dark cottage garden, the moon lighting her way, until she sees it: the wolf. Instead of turning to run though, this girl edges, arms outstretched, towards it, and begins to circle the beast…
The girl is fourteen-year-old Maddy (Aimee Kelly), a Northumbrian teen with a supernatural lineage. Maddy goes to the village school, where she and mates Tom (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and Shannon (Louisa Connolly-Burnham) aren’t exactly top of the social pile. That honour goes to football captain bully Jimi and his cronies, and the three Ks (Kara, Kay, and Katrina), a handbag-girl trio Maddy reminds scathingly in episode one, “This is Northumbria, not Gossip Girl”.
Like Buffy Summers, alongside dealing with exams, parents, friendship groups, boys, and the often hellish trappings of teenagerdom, Maddy has to maintain her secret identity and negotiate the dangers of an unseen world. Unlike Buffy Summers, she doesn’t have a Scooby gang (not in episode one at any rate). What she does have is new boy Rhydian (he’s not Welsh), a foster child who shares her secret, and who has his own issues about their common identity.
Wolfblood’s use of the mystical as allegory for the kind of ‘growing up’ stuff the school nurse has pamphlets about – unexpected hair-growth, mood-swings, drugs, safe sex – is beautifully reminiscent of Buffy’s treatment of the same. While the CBBC demographic don’t yet need to learn Buffy’s cynical lesson about boys turning evil after you sleep with them, or Willow’s descent into magic junkiedom, the metaphors are still apt. The CBBC series’ parental lecture on supernatural safe practise and responsibility may only be in the most cloaked terms about sex, but like Wolfblood‘s own veiled depiction of addiction, the messages are there, and importantly so.
It’s not only the nurse’s pamphlet stuff that finds expression in Wolfblood. Philosophical notions as to whether might is right (played out in Buffy’s third season via the character of Faith), and fascist concepts of superiority and purity (so effectively staged in the Harry Potter series) are all given screen time, though disguised necessarily in monster costumes.
The show’s visuals (running through forests, CGI wolves, sniffing the new kid at school…) may say The Twilight Saga, but there’s no creepy chastity be-scared-of-your-body subtext here. Maddy’s message in episode one is that her difference is entirely natural, and no cause for shame. Maddy and Rhydian may be styled to look like Bella and Edward, but underneath the centre partings and blonde quiffs, beats the heart of a slayer.
Wolfblood’s combination of creepy horror with a robust sense of humour too, make it a valid successor to Buffy’s throne. Maddy’s parents (played by Marcus Garvey and Angela Lonsdale) are a charming, comic pair, and their speech to Maddy and Rhydian on maintaining the supernatural life whilst being “a part of the wider community” is gently satirical. The script is well-written, the characters immediately likeable, and the messages, when probed, are sound.
Best of all, eight to twelve year olds now have their own CBBC Buffy, a hero whose conflicts – crucially – revolve around how to best use her power, and not just how to manage her boyfriend’s.
Wolfblood’s thirteen-part first series is currently being repeated on Tuesdays at 7pm on BBC Three. The first two episodes are available on BBC iPlayer until Tuesday the 30th of July. Series two has already been filmed, and will likely find its way to CBBC this autumn.
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