Wizards vs Aliens: 209-210 “The Thirteenth Floor” Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
Wizards vs. Aliens is on the fast track to becoming one of my favourite shows of this year. Week in, week out, it provides stellar episodes and The Thirteenth Floor is the show reaching its climax. Words can’t describe how much I love it; it’s just a mixture of everything Wizards vs. Aliens is so good at: fast-paced action, friendly, likeable characters and the ability to make audiences weep. When I sat down to watch the opener last month I expected the expected but 100 Wizards (although it may not be the best story out there) took the breath from my lungs, I really didn’t predict the maturity and weightiness of it.
I like to have a good old sob when it comes to TV. Last year I was watertight but now when someone steps on a fly I break down into a snivelling wreck. The Thirteenth Floor had me stood in the living room, screaming expletives at Phil Ford so loud I’m probably going to be evicted. Then came the aftermath: the what-have-I-just-witnessed-curled-up-into-a-ball-on-the-sofa mood. Phil Ford is a genius, an absolute genius. I’ve elevated him to a Steven Moffat-like status in terms of weepiness.
With regards to the plot The Thirteenth Floor started off rather simple. Tom (a magnificent Scott Haran) and Benny (Percelle Ascott doing what he does best) investigate the glazed office complex Wyvern House after detecting an influx of magical energy somewhere within it. The Thirteenth Floor started life as an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures but the whole idea was shelved after the lead, Elisabeth Sladen’s untimely and deeply unfortunate passing. It was dredged up from the archives by Russell T Davies who tasked Phil Ford with transforming it for Wizards vs. Aliens. The whole idea of the Neverside seems so much more suited to this more magical oriented show rather than the scientific world of The Sarah Jane Adventures but I’m sure it was changed into an entirely different beast through rewrites. It was actually referenced in dialogue back in 100 Wizards when Nathaniel Nightjar tried to bargain with the Nekross. Now we finally see it and my, isn’t it beautiful? The misted forest and sinister woodland made the whole thing so much more atmospheric. The transformation of Lexi (Gwendoline Christie at her finest) and Tom’s hut over the years was also a nice touch. On the whole Paul Murphy’s direction was spot on and very impressive.
I’ve only recently noticed Sam and Dan Watts’ wonderful music. They fulfilled the same positions whilst working on The Sarah Jane Adventures and I have always been a bit of an avid fan of the music of the former. Now that it’s come to my attention that they are behind the Wizards vs. Aliens score I’ve really been listening out for it. Call it favouritism but I don’t care, the theme tune is very catchy.
Looking at the real meat and true grit of The Thirteenth Floor, the whole of the second part was just a tour de force. The idea of the antagonist and protagonist living together, to eventually produce a baby (it’s okay, Scott Haran is really in his early twenties and Gwendoline Christie is definitely not sixteen), is groundbreaking territory for a kids’ show. I have seen few programmes on CBBC that have been as deep and thoughtful as The Thirteenth Floor.
When Tom and Lexi finally made it back my heart sank just like the lift, what a tremendous bit of writing that scene was. And then the killing blow when Ursula explained how the events passed would be forgotten, that just did it for me.
I have little to fault with The Thirteenth Floor. In fact, nothing to fault. Jessie Cave’s (Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series) character Alicia started off as someone who could get annoying but by the end of it she was a surprisingly likeable figure. Annette Badland and Michael Higgs were on fine form as Ursula and Michael whilst Paul Putner did a serviceable job as Mervyn, the cliché-of-the-week. I could complain and say that the elderly Elizabeth Hatcher was bundled off rather quickly (and apparently killed. She didn’t escape the Neverwas?) and that the fact Varg was the horned beast was rather predictable but I won’t. These are minute quibbles in an otherwise masterpiece. Come on, next week; show us what you’ve got!