Being a genre of great expense, it’s not a big surprise that children’s TV hasn’t necessarily embraced science fiction. And even when it does, it’s rarely original, with adaptations and spin-offs from big brands such as Star Wars and Doctor Who proving a safer bet instead. All of which just goes to make Wizards Vs Aliens even bolder than it already is.
For sure, Wizards Vs Aliens wouldn’t have ever got the green light if it didn’t come from Russell T Davies and The Sarah Jane Adventures collaborator and writer Phil Ford, but such an original and ambitious production is still a gamble. Centred around a wizard called Tom (played confidently by newcomer Scott Haran), a 16-year-old schoolboy who lives with his “un-enchanted” father and sorceress grandmother (Annette Badland), it follows his desperate fight for the wizarding world’s survival against the Nekross: an alien race that roams the universe to feed on magic. Earth is their last target, and magic’s final stand.
It’s a simple concept, perfectly encapsulated by its title, but one that sets itself up with a smooth sense of ease, with enough background and mystery teased to give the story depth and longevity. It’s something also helped, of course, by the writing, which proves whimsical, sharp and imaginative enough not to patronise its target audience of 7-12 year olds whilst still giving adults a nostalgic hit of Davies’ tone: a mix of silly and serious which occasionally felt jarring on Doctor Who, but feels right at home here.
Yet while its creative bones are impressive enough, it’s the production flesh that really impresses here. From the very first scene, in which a magic ritual is interrupted by the appearance of a gigantic, visually stunning, spaceship, the scale and ambition of the project becomes clear. For while The Sarah Jane Adventures‘s production was relatively big in terms of children’s TV, Wizards Vs Aliens has set pieces, prosthetics and special effects that rival Doctor Who itself. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about Brian Blessed’s obese Nekross king, however, whose big rubbery face looks cheap and ridiculous.
Still, whether it’s a matter of technology moving on or people willing to plough more money into a project such as this, it’s a sign that children’s science fiction has evolved. As this isn’t merely a replacement for The Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s a product of its legacy. Sarah Jane Smith would be proud.