Q&A: 'Doctor Who's' Phil Ford Trades Science for Magic in 'Wizards Vs Aliens'

New series on The Hub Network focuses on magic, responsibility

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"Wizards vs Aliens" on The Hub
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Tom Clarke (Scott Haran) is a sporty 16-year-old boy, but he's not the most likely of heroes! His life …

"Wizards vs Aliens" is a concept that seems long overdue. A European import debuting June 1 on The Hub Network, the series focuses on Tom Clarke (Scott Haran from "Upstairs Downstairs"), a schoolboy wizard who hides his magical abilities. Mentored by his enchanted grandmother (Annette Badland from "Doctor Who"), Tom practices spells in secret, but he reveals his other life to schoolmate Benny (Percelle Ascott) after magic-stealing aliens land on Earth.

Phil Ford of "Dr. Who" fame co-created this series with Russell T. Davies ("Torchwood"). When reached via telephone, Ford talked about the inspiration for "Wizards vs Aliens" and the direction the show is heading in Seasons 1 and 2.

How did you come up with the concept for "Wizards vs Aliens"?

Russell and I met in Los Angeles; it was when he was still living in L.A. Literally, it was just a blank canvas to find a show that we could do together. Of course, Russell and I had been working on "Dr. Who" together.

In that universe, it is basically science; there is no magic. In thinking about a new show, we wanted to go in a slightly different direction and find a way that we could do a show about magic and the supernatural -- and do it in a different way. Obviously, the specter of Harry Potter was over all this. We wanted to find a way to do a show about magic without it becoming Harry Potter.

And I simply said, "What about wizards vs. aliens?" That was literally it; I had done nothing else. We'll take some wizards and give them aliens to fight.

Russell loved the idea, got very excited about it, and said, "Yes! That's the title." The title was so cool because it was, without doubt, one of the ways we got the show away so quickly. People heard the title and knew instantly what it was about.

The Nekross have come to Earth to take all magical energy from wizards and other enchanted beings. This is a concept we haven't really seen before.

They've come for magic, which is a great idea: The idea that these aliens have crossed the universe and gone to all of these other planets, all these other worlds, where there was magic. And now those stars burn a little dimmer because they've used the magic, they've taken the magic.

The only planet in the universe that's left with magic is Earth. So basically, Tom and Benny are defending the last magic in the universe, which is a huge story. And again, the stakes couldn't possibly be higher. It is that nice, interesting idea that you do have that hidden world of wizards who have been hiding for centuries, because they were exploited. They were hunted down by wizard stalkers, which we will deal with later on. And now they are being hunted by aliens.

When we first meet Tom, he's out there playing football like a regular boy, but he's not above snapping his fingers to make a goal.

We kind of wanted to make Tom real. He is a real lad; he is a real 16-year-old boy. Let's face it: If you've got magic and you're into football, what 16-year-old boy wouldn't snap his fingers and cast a spell if he could to score a goal? That's a part of Tom's journey, as well, because when we first meet him, he is a wizard, but he is a secret wizard, and he's not above using magic to his own advantage.

Having said that, magic [to him] is just something that is cool and it's fun to have. He's not, at this point, somebody who is willing to accept the greater price that comes with that, with that gift, and the responsibility that it involves. Part of Tom's journey throughout the first season is about him coming to accept that responsibility, effectively grow up.

Will he take on an even more awesome responsibility: restoring magic to the universe?

Certainly over the first season, there's a lot about Tom growing up. And into the second season -- we're just coming to the end of filming the second season at the moment. And there are some big stories in there about Tom's responsibilities towards magic and about the conflict that he has all the time really.

He's a 16-year-old lad. He's special because he's a wizard. On the other hand, he has that pull that all boys have -- and indeed all girls. They just want to be with their friends, just wanting to belong.

Scott Haran really steps into this character. He seems comfortable playing a secret wizard.

Both boys are amazing; they really are. We searched high and low for them. The casting process was a long issue. We kind of found Percy. Percy wasn't too difficult to find.

For Scott, we had to search longer. There were actors who came along who could play the part. They were great, but then Scott walked in, and he literally nailed it. He looked brilliant, and he just had that chemistry. And he had that chemistry with Percy, as well. From day one on set, they were always friends, they were always mates.

I had hoped we would be lucky enough to find two young actors who sparked off of each other. And they really do. While filming Season 2, the two guys lived next door to each other. They got adjoining apartments. I remember them saying to me, "We're going to be doing an awful lot of rehearsing together." I'm thinking, "You two lads -- I'm sure you're not going to be spending that much time working."

And you definitely can't go wrong with Annette Badland in the cast.

Annette was a gift. She really was a gift. And again, she really just nails it. Ursula is kind of a difficult part to play in some ways because, on one hand, she's kind of the ditzy grandmother whose spells can go disastrously wrong. On the other hand, there's a ribbon of steel that rips through her, which you see towards the end of that first episode.

"Wizards vs Aliens" debuts on Saturday, 6/1 at 7 PM on The Hub Network.

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