DWM 469 TV Magic!

I would have started writing this column earlier today, but my laptop was commandeered by certain children so they could play the Wizards vs Aliens game on the CBBC website. I didn’t mind too much, because Wizards vs Aliens is a Very Good Thing.

I haven’t actually counted, but I am fairly sure I’m right to say that what to watch on TV causes more arguments between Fan Twin and Non-Fan Twin than any other subject. Their tastes are diametrically opposed (not just in relation to telly but in virtually everything, but that’s another story). Fan Twin favours Doctor Who, football or game shows where people (often Japanese) end up spectacularly falling into some water. Non-Fan Twin, on the other hand, prefers cartoons (often gross). In vain do I implement rota systems, in vain do I relate horror stories of how when I was a child there were only three channels, children’s programmes were only on a couple of time a day, and anyway I had to watch whatever my parents wanted to watch (I don’t think they fully believe me, but really, there’s no other explanation for why I actually experienced more than one edition of ‘Seaside Special’ over the course of my childhood).

You often hear parents criticised for using television as a babysitter, a means to keep their children quiet while they do other things. Ha! I have to do more parental refereeing when the telly’s on than at almost any other time. The only exception is Wizards vs Aliens (or, by means of repeats and DVDs, The Sarah Jane Adventures). The second season of Wizards vs Aliens is on at the moment, and it’s wonderful. Twenty-five minutes of silence twice a week! Actually, more than twice a week, because we record it so they can watch it a few more times before the next episode. Oh, and they’ve wanted to go back and watch the first season (yet) again, which has had even more benefits – we’ve managed to extract promises that they’ll lie down and go to sleep straightaway at bedtime if they’re allowed to watch an episode on DVD first! It’s brilliant!

Possibly *too* brilliant. Goodness it reminds me of my relationship with Doctor Who in those far off days of childhood. I mean, we’re not sure that Fan Twin’s reluctance to go to karate class on Tuesdays is because he’ll miss the broadcast, but we have a suspicion that it is. On the other hand they write their own stories and invent their own games for WvA, which is something I also did at their age with Doctor Who and therefore leads me to hope that in thirty years time they’ll be writing a column for Wizards vs Aliens Magazine about their family life.

Do I like it too? Goodness, yes. I think it’s wonderful, and I’d happily watch it even without the children. But what’s even better is I like it as a programme for them. I like that it promotes bravery and understanding and cooperation. I like that it doesn’t ignore the cool/uncool divide in place in childhood, but that the characters – not in any priggish, preaching way – realise for themselves that that doesn’t have to dictate their friendships. I like that it’s not just baddies versus goodies, but allows shades of grey. I like that it can appeal equally to boys and girls (and their parents). I like that it makes it OK to be clever, but also OK to not be so clever. I like that the characters are allowed to make mistakes. I like that it doesn’t make violence the answer. Remind you of any other programme?

Are the children’s reasons similar? ‘I like the action and everything like that and the adventure and stuff,’ says Fan Twin. His favourite character is Benny, the ‘geek’, ‘because he likes science and things’. Non-Fan Twin’s favourite character is Tom, because he’s cool, and he likes it ‘because it’s really cool and it has aliens and wizards’ (he went on to list almost everything that had ever happened on screen, with a special emphasis on funny bits and goo).

It’s not just the funny stuff or the cool stuff (or the goo), though. A recent storyline featuring a baby made a real impression on Non-Fan Twin; in fact he was quite distraught. He’s talked about it a lot. And that’s something else I like about the show. I like that it doesn’t always have a happy ending. I like that it doesn’t talk down to its viewers and expects in them a certain emotional maturity. I like that it does feature ‘issues’ (but deals with them in a way that’s neither saccharine nor traumatic and which complements the stories rather than being shoehorned in).

And of course, I also like that there’s action and adventure and aliens and wizards.

It looks like I’ve just devoted nearly the whole of a column in Doctor Who Magazine about a show that isn’t Doctor Who. But you know what? A show doesn’t have to be Doctor Who to be Doctor Who-like. Not in terms of spaceships or time travel, but in sensibilities, in values. You can tell the people who make Wizards vs Aliens grew up steeped in Doctor Who, because all those qualities listed above? They’re Doctor Who. In a world of a thousand different 24-hours-a-day channels filled with gross cartoons and Japanese game shows, a programme like that stands out perhaps even more than Doctor Who did during a childhood of Seaside Special and Nationwide and That’s Life. Programmes like this are rare, and should be celebrated wherever they’re found because they can help to shape a child’s life. They’re the programmes I want my children to be watching. Of course, it helps if they have action and adventure and aliens. And wizards. Because who is the Doctor but the greatest wizard of them all.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Still hoping for a new series of WvA. Come on, Auntie Beeb!

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