Wizards vs Aliens: 303-304 “The Quantum Effect” Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
While Wizards vs. Aliens is, naturally, its own show, it still has yet to step out from the shadow of The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Quantum Effect is, undoubtedly, the closest Wizards vs. Aliens has ever been to the late Doctor Who spinoff since the show began. One of my favourite episodes of the latter was The Last Sontaran in which a lone enemy – after fleeing the scene of an earlier battle in an escape capsule – returns to bring down the world using a local telescope. Plus there were some airborne robots, which pursued our heroes through a forest and the departure of a regular character who went off to America. Sound familiar? I’m being facetious, of course, but there were a surprising amount of similarities. Nonetheless Wizards vs. Aliens still continues to stand out as its own incredible show.
It’s great that Wizards vs. Aliens has finally brought two female writers into what has been predominantly a boys’ club. Julie Dixon is the first and her debut, The Quantum Effect is, perhaps, not as good as The Secret of Room 12 but still packs a punch in its quieter moments.
Pursuing a cry for help from another witch, Eva Starling, Ursula and Michael discover spooky goings-on in the local woods while Tom and Benny head to a local research centre. Upon arriving they find the centre eerily deserted with only a mild-mannered, ready salted-mad astrophysicist in residence. Meanwhile, out in space, the Nekross launch their latest, diabolical plan by dispatching a fleet of flying bugs that latch onto wizard DNA.
It seems best to get the negatives over with and the first complaint I have was the inclusion of Eva Starling. After discovering the spooky red eyes in the forest and alerting the Chamber via wing mirror, she was beamed up to the Zarantulus (Varg’s comment of “they can run but they can’t hide” seems pretty silly considering Ursula just ducked behind a rock and escaped Scot-free while Eva was teleported up) for the rest of story, only to reappear at the end after springing all the other captured wizards free somehow. She had no impact on the plot whatsoever other than in the initial set-up, which could easily have been done by Ursula or Tom. Secondly, the plot was just ridiculous but then again plot never has been Wizards vs. Aliens’ strong point. I barely followed the technobabble about the spacey rainbow light, and the Nekross’ aerial nano bugs was surely one of their clunkiest plots yet. And whatever has happened to Michael who has turned into something of a damsel in distress? Furthermore, Technician Jathro 15 got off astonishingly lightly considering everything he did to Varg, and if I were him I would be thrilled to be Lady Lyzera’s creepy puppet-parrot’s manservant and not fed the Skorpulus (although Brian Blessed may have taken that with him).
Still, there are plenty of pros to counter those cons. The return of Jathro was welcome albeit I called the reveal that it was him. His personality has changed somewhat since we last saw him in All-Out War. For an alien who has been living on Earth for a few months in human skin after his mother perished, he seemed surprisingly chipper. However, his slightly cute, almost shy new personality is rather sweet and there was yet another geeky connection between Jathro and Benny much like their encounter in 100 Wizards last series. The story arc of series two was all about Chancellor Kooth and Jathro’s deception and one would expect shady Mrs. Varg of similar deceit. Naturally, she is up to no good but the decision by the writers to unveil her entire plan (and, most interestingly, her hidden magic) in one is strange yet intriguing. Alex Childs has effortlessly established herself as a strong regular: a slightly camper, more villainous form of Lexi before she got off with Tom – and that’s not a bad thing. The new Nekross: Kristian Phillips as Varg mark two and Alex Childs as Lady Lyzera are two brilliant, cackling, moustache-twirling, pantomime villains that pay dividends (I had my fingers crossed that Lady Lyzera would burst into song and sing her evil scheme to her puppet-parrot).
But now to the hardest part of this review: the departure of Benny. Percelle Ascott has always been an asset to Wizards vs. Aliens, delivering brilliant performances week in, week out. Benny getting accepted to MIT in America is absolutely heart-breaking, not least because Scott Haran and Percelle Ascott put their bloody all into the last scene. “I love you, Tom” was drew tears from this reviewer and the entire scene was exquisitely judged by both actors. Praise also must be landed on the doorstep of director Mark Everest for the lingering final shot of Benny walking away. But what now? Without the crucial central dynamic of Benny and Tom, Wizards vs. Aliens is now lacking a key component. After Gwendoline Christie bowed out last series and Brian Blessed’s magnificent, hideous King is residing on Nekron, Wizards vs. Aliens is losing some of its best players. The next time trailer seems to show Tom’s on-off love interest Katie tag along for an adventure and as soon as I saw it my heart plummeted. Katie hasn’t really impressed me and she has, in the past, come off as somewhat dull. If the Benny/Tom duo is replaced by a loved up Tom and Katie dalliance then I’ll be sorely disappointed. Now that the brilliant Percelle Ascott has gone, it’s really sinking in that he was one of the best things about Wizards vs. Aliens.
A slight step down from last week, Wizards vs. Aliens still remains a strong, thoughtful kids’ drama with The Quantum Effect. I almost feel that I’m doing it a disservice by labelling it as a children’s drama. Benny’s farewell means Wizards vs. Aliens won’t be the same again but this opens the door for new opportunities and new characters. Julie Dixon’s script just about holds together and she interweaves a strong, emotional thread through her plot to keep things lively. The regular cast were all on form but Scott Haran and Percelle Ascott are particular highlights, especially in the final scene. Goodbye, Benny Sherwood, you shall be missed hugely.