Wizards vs Aliens: 301-302 “The Secret of Room 12” Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
The first series of Wizards vs. Aliens established the fantasy show as a likeable, engaging successor to The Sarah Jane Adventures (production-wise) but the second run set the magical CBBC drama as a cut above the rest. Whilst other programmes like Wolfblood or Nowhere Boys might impress, Wizards vs. Aliens is something really special. One episode in particular, The Thirteenth Floor, which I’ve already raved about is BAFTA worthy and really set the bar. While nothing has achieved the same emotional heights as that story, other episodes have only been a little under. And The Secret of Room 12 is no exception.
Picking up just one season later, the first act of The Secret of Room 12 carefully sets the stage for proceedings although, interestingly, it doesn’t establish everything. The Nekross are back sans the King (Brian Blessed’s absence is literally a gaping hole in the room) and Lexi (who is now residing on Earth with her son, leaving the door open for Gwendoline Christie to return although I’m sure she’s fine galloping around Westeros and the Empire) but the slightly one-dimensional Varg (played with pantomime relish by newcomer Kristian Phillips, replacing Jefferson Hall. Phillips mimics Hall’s performance so well I didn’t recognise the changeover in actor although Phillips does add a more villainous air to Varg) has been crowned king regent and has a new bride, the slimy Lady Lyzera (a strong debut from Alex Childs). Lyzera and Varg work well together and it will be good to see how their relationship develops. Mrs Varg is said to harbour a secret and while this is tantalising, I hope it isn’t a plot against Varg because that ground has been, more or less, covered with Technician Jathro 15 and his mother in All-Out War.
Speaking of the last series finale, the repercussions are still being felt as evidenced in The Secret of Room 12. The idea that Tom is fearful of his own powers after Bad Wolfing in All-Out War is interesting and another useful way of curbing his magic aside from the three spells rule. Something I negligently excluded from my review of All-Out War was Benny coming out to Tom aboard the Zarantulus and while I’m not saying the show needs to bring it up (what does one character’s sexual preference have to do with anything?) all the time, I hope it isn’t a detail that slips away. Children’s television is sorely lacking in LGBT characters, after all.
It’s something I noted in one of my series two reviews but Wizards vs. Aliens started to grow ever-so-slightly repetitive. The Nekross versus wizard-kind seemed an exciting prospect at the start of series one but midway through the second run it was getting tired. Thankfully, Phil Ford and the terrific production team (who seemed to have a ball making this third series) in Cardiff have shaken up the show’s dynamics. Well, at least for episode one. Aside from the Nekross threat, Benny, Tom and Ursula (unfortunately, not Michael; he does little after unconvincingly wandering into Tom’s school for no reason and I hope Michael Higgs, who is a perfectly capable actor, gets something more to do and not simply serve as an obligatory background character) had to face the Prospector, a mole-like alien that was – and I mean this in a good way – similar to something to Jim Henson Creature Shop would whip up. The Prospector and the Consolidation, really, were a pretty lacklustre foe and probably the weakest aspect of an otherwise shining opener. I found, especially with the thick accent, the Prospector somewhat hard to take seriously although after Ursula cast a love charm over him, I rather think that was the point. Even though the Prospector is gone and the Consolidation have been threatened off by Varg, I would like more aliens to appear but if they don’t then I still have faith in Phil Ford to deliver something incredible. He’s a clever one, that Mr Ford is.
The performances were reliably strong, as ever. Scott Haran and Percelle Ascott really have a dynamic to rival Luke and Clyde of The Sarah Jane Adventures’. Haran, in particular, is excellent and a real star in the making (was I the only one that thought of the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special when Tom’s kit was magicked off?), supported by the brilliant Percelle Ascott, bringing depth and pathos to the rather clichéd science nerd character (although Ford’s script really helps this, too). Annette Badland is a complete joy to watch and it’s great to see Ursula get a piece of the action already. Fingers crossed she gets more to do.
A brilliant return for Wizards vs. Aliens, The Secret of Room 12 gradually builds in the first half before taking things up a notch in the second. The resolution was clever and I didn’t call it, turning the hokey idea of Tom’s portable bomb into something useful. Haran, Ascott and Badland were on top form and while The Secret of Room 12 highlighted the new changes in the show, it didn’t lay out all its cards on the table. I still feel there’s a lot more to be discovered and while Tom might say ‘it’s wizards versus aliens’ (how many times has he said that?), I’m not entirely sure everything will be quite such plain sailing.