The season will explore life for both children left behind in the UK when a parent goes to fight abroad and those growing up in war-torn Afghanistan.
The drama Combat Kids examines the awkwardness of a family divided by the difficulties of military life, while Sonali Shah presents two Newsround specials exploring the lives of children living in Afghanistan and in the UK.
In Combat Kids, 12-year-old Jed (Charlie Hiscock), and best friends Christie (Anna Jobareth) and Zara (Eden Nathenson), all live on an army base.
It’s the only world 12-year-old Jed has ever known. It’s got houses, a green, assault courses, bridges and a hundred forbidden corners. It’s a safe place, a tightly knit community of people who happen to do one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world.
Jed’s sister, Bex, is busy trying to keep her soldier boyfriend a secret. Jed does his best to sabotage her romance. After all, that’s what little brothers are for. With his best friends Christie, Zara and Aiden, Jed roams the base and the woods, dodges authority, plays games of soldiers and enjoys the freedom that goes with living in a secure environment. This is childhood as it was meant to be, carefree, inventive and flying in the face of grown-ups’ instructions.
And then, quite abruptly, his best friend, Aiden, leaves. That’s how it is with army kids – there one minute, gone the next. Aiden’s dad has died and his mum chooses to move on and the effect on Jed and the gang is massive. Soon, a new family move into Aiden’s old house. And the gang are still trying to cope with his loss when strange warnings start to appear on signs in the woods and Zara becomes weirdly secretive.
Something is definitely up and it’s all happening near the secret den in the woods where Jed and his mates like to play. The area is strictly out of bounds – but that only makes it more fun. A rusting old armoured personnel carrier sits among other abandoned military vehicles, next to an improvised wooden structure the kids have built. It’s their special place, where no-one can get to them, where they feel free.
And it’s where they finally meet the stranger – an odd young boy who has been lurking in the woods. He turns up with an astonishing claim – he’s an alien from another planet, the old armoured vehicle is the space-ship he arrived in and, what’s more, he’s got the maps and plans to prove it. All they’ve got to do now is help him fix it up so he can fly home.
Zara – who tends to believe anything – is convinced of the truth of all this, and has secretly been helping him for a while. Jed is more sceptical, and Christie goes along with it for a laugh. As the new kid produces ever more convincing evidence of his identity, and a detailed story about an inter-galactic arch-enemy and a missing galaxy shard, the game becomes more and more involving.
The kids throw themselves into their battle with Xan’s arch-enemy and embark on a series of missions. They must gather the ingredients to repair the Starburst, mobilise their forces and steal back the key (complete with its galaxy shard) to get the spaceship powered up. They will need to dodge sentries, climb over obstacles, evade ferocious dogs and – above all – stick together, if they are to succeed. But if they get caught, who knows what their evil and powerful enemy may be capable of? One thing is for sure – they are in for some surprises and shocks along the way.
The war might be in a distant land but their dads are out there and they feel it deeply. Escapism isn’t a luxury, it’s a way of coping. Jed, who can neither explain nor answer the “alien”, worries that Zara’s getting a bit too keen on the idea of travelling to a place where nobody gets sad. The pressures, meanwhile, of outside life and the tensions of growing up are beginning to take their toll.
Combat Kids is carefree games on a sunlit afternoon, coming home to the tensions of a family divided by the pain of military life. It’s growing up when you don’t understand what you’re supposed to grow into. It’s trying to stay mates when the world and the rules keep changing. It’s about a group of kids finding out what really matters and nearly losing each other along the way. And it’s about the healing power of imagination.
According to producer/director Paul Wilmshurst, Combat Kids mixes whimsical fantasy – meeting an alien in the woods – with the unusual reality of growing up on an army base. “It links the two, implying that imagination can become an effective escape from anxiety.”
“Writer Robin Mukherjee has put a great deal of research, and his heart, into the story. With a script of this quality we were able to attract a first-rate cast, an exciting mixture of new and experienced talent,” he said.
“No other broadcaster in the world would have dared commission a show like this about a subject like this,” he added. “It’s both brave and proper that CBBC should. combat Kids goes out as part of a season on children and war and we are proud to be part of such a useful and important piece of children’s broadcasting.”
CBBC: Monday 22 November, 5.45pm
BBC One: Thursday 25 November, 4.30pm.