Wizards vs Aliens: 203-204 “Vice Versa” Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
I absolutely loved former Doctor Who Magazine editor Clayton Hickman’s Series One episode Friend or Foe: it was camp, it was fun, it was deliriously entertaining. And now his latest offering ticks all those boxes. Vice Versa is a jovial and lighthearted affair that is essentially Friend or Foe minus the delightful Ruthie Henshall. Hickman is an exceptional penman – one that worked on The Sarah Jane Adventures but only in a co-writing capacity. The stories he did partly write – with fellow Wizards vs. Aliens author Gareth Roberts – were superb with glowing screenplays and excellent characterization. Naturally Hickman has produced another terrific script but Vice Versa is not entirely flawless.
We open with a fun little sequence that introduces the Hobbledehoy, a rather adorable little critter that speaks in rhyme. As soon as he came in with his limericks I instantly thought I’d grow weary of them but actually Squiggly and Stickly are thoroughly entertaining. Their design is a sly tip of the hat to the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and even though it’s obvious they’ve got a hand stuck up their rear, they’re still rather sweet. What does bug me about the first scene is Michael’s foolish attempt to disarm Varg by running at him. Michael would never do that and even if he did he wouldn’t do it in such clumsy fashion. His perfunctory exit (being locked in the adjoining room) was just because there were an odd number of people in the room and they needed him out of the way when Squiggly cast his spell. Hickman could have had him stay behind for whatever reason but who knows what happens behind the scenes.
I can see Wizards vs. Aliens getting darker – last week we had Benny’s cruel betrayal of Technician Jathro 13 – as Squiggly’s graphic death had the series bare its fangs. But what’s ultimately more interesting is the aforementioned technician’s secret communications. Treachery is afoot aboard the Zarantulus and I’m really excited to see where the series takes this plot strand.
The body swap concept allowed the main cast to really have some fun. As much as I prefer Tom having magic it was delightful to see Benny show off to Quinn and the other lads at the pair’s school. “Benny bites back” as Tom put it. He has always been bullied by the other boys, Tom too in the very first episode and it’s good to see him in their league. Scott Haran also handled the jealousy rather well, delivering some of the bolder and more hard-hitting lines (“You’re a sad Unenchanted who had to steal my life to get a life”) with genuine conviction. Percelle Ascott visibly appeared to have lots of fun as magical Benny but unfortunately his character got rather annoying after a while. As much as I love Annette Badland I felt her ego transformation into Varg was undercooked and all she did was act a smidge more aggressively. And so it was Gwendoline Christie and Jefferson Hall that really got to shine as the Nekross siblings. Hall in particular was a delight to watch as he succeeded in mimicking Badland’s mannerisms and tics, creeping around the Zarantulus with just that little bit of femininity. His personality crisis was a joy to watch and it was handled with an appropriate level of maturity. Christie also got to do something meaty as she turned against her brother, seeing an easy way to get to the throne. Her chicanery seemed just a tiny bit out of character given how she is supposed to be the more sensitive out of Varg and Lexi. The Nekross King himself even questioned how quick she stabbed her brother in the back. That, in itself, is surprising especially when I noted last week how the Nekron monarch is perfectly willing to put his children’s lives on the line. His fleeting concern for Varg still seems rather odd.
There was no mention of Chloe Martin, the spunky teenager that got transformed by the Nekross last week and I fear that she will never get referenced. This also puts my hopes that the Nekross will tell Tom of her fate in jeopardy, as the previous week’s events were completely untouched on. Hopefully the writers will allude to her at some point in the future.
The science of Vice Versa made absolutely no sense – I know Ursula had Varg’s mind but it seems improbable that the Nekross prince (even if he’d been in his proper body) would be able to devise a matter transporter out of Earth equipment; the convenient book that told Tom all the answers, etc. – but I can forgive all these flaws. The denouement where they manage to trick Stickly into saying “orange” and it not rhyming with anything was fun despite it being plausible that the Hobbledehoy would make an error. They’d made multiple attempts to hoodwink it and it seems foolish that he’d slip up but I’m not too bothered, Vice Versa was a fun romp that stayed levelheaded and rational throughout.
Vice Versa is, so far, the best in the series and actually tops Friend or Foe as Hickman’s best but as ever with Wizards vs. Aliens, there’s lots to improve on. Hopefully Technician Jathro 13’s treacherous behavior leads into an exciting new storyline. Deceit amongst the Nekross – I can’t wait!