TL;DR – Class does what the last season of Doctor Who couldn’t, it got me engaged with this franchise again, with interesting mature stories that feel like they have some weight to them.
Score – 4/5 Stars
As I mentioned in my Top 30 TV Shows Countdown, some way through season 9 I fell out of interest with Doctor Who, I can’t put my finger on any one thing, I just lost track of the episodes and found I did not really care to chase them down and catch them up. So when this new Doctor Who spin-off series hit my feed, I almost passed it up, because as at this point why bother. Well, I’m glad I didn’t, because Class is the most engaging entry into the Doctor Who universe that I have seen in a while.
Class is set after the end of Season 9 of Doctor Who, but don’t worry if you didn’t watch Season 9, or indeed any Doctor Who, you’ll still be able to follow the story. But to sum it up for you: Class is set in Coal Hill Academy (a regular setting from the Doctor Who series) and opens in a fairly standard turn of events, people running from something that slipped through a crack in the universe. To be honest, the opening of the first episode doesn’t really give you a great impression of the show. I’m not sure if they were trying to lure you into a false sense of security before flipping the tables or not, but it feels like the start of any trite high school drama. First, you get a diverse group of students, which is great, but then you ham-fistedly point out how diverse you are which kind of undercuts your moral high ground. Then you have all the main characters meet each other in a highly contrived manner, mentioning time and space as many times as possible, seriously this is not a drinking game you want to play, and then you finish it with what is quite an underwhelming opening titles. Of course, then the shadows start killing people and everything changes (Dear Doctor Who stop making me afraid of shadows please and thank you).
So from this point onwards I’m going to talk in general about the first three episodes of Class, so there will be spoilers from those episodes and thoughts for the rest of the season. So [SPOILERS] engaged. The first thing that separates Class from its contemporaries and its mother show is that this tackles very mature themes. Indeed people and students get killed and not just off screen, like in bloody close up. As well as this in the first three episodes, we get a close-up of a remarkable firm buttocks, people getting skinned alive, even an implied sex scene. While this may just seem like the producers watched Skins and went ‘well let’s just do that again’, however, I would say tonally it is more in line with the previous Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. Indeed the similarities don’t just stop there, there is a hole in the universe which things are falling through, a plucky team that fights off a new threat each week, while an overarching plotline draws the season together. However, in many ways, Class takes the best features of Torchwood and jettisons a lot of the baggage that held it back. For me, I appreciated this more mature tone, Doctor Who dabbles with it from time to time, but it always gets held back a bit by the thought that it’s still a kids show (rightly or wrongly), there are clearly no such restrictions here.
I liked the fact that things don’t just reset at the end of each episode, the events that happened have weight for the characters, even if none of the other students at the school seems to remember anything. The fact that Ram (Fady Elsayed) saw his girlfriend killed in front of him has emotional weight, not just in the moment, but for the character going forward. In fact, all of the main characters get their moments to shine in the first three episodes and for a generally young cast, they show a remarkable talent and drive the narrative forward, if they were not good this series would fail. Vivian Oparah gives a stunning performance as Tanya, the pain she shows in explaining the death of her father is raw and demonstrates a remarkable skill. Sophie Hopkins as April who more than any other of the characters is the embodiment of doing the right thing even if it is the difficult thing to do. Greg Austin as Charlie the Prince who may or may not have watched his entire race die in front of him brings a lot of depth to this fish out of water role, and even Katherine Kelly who plays Quinn whose standoffness is first quite off-putting until you understand her past, has moments of anger and grief. More than anything the cast shows remarkable talent in making the absurd real and like the cast of Skins they clearly have a great future ahead of them.
With many respects it is the little things that help shape Class, like how we see Tanya’s father’s life in two minutes, it’s short but what it packs into those two minutes is beautiful and more than anything so far hits you right in the feels, or when Matteusz’s (Jordan Renzo) parents kick him out of home for what he is. Indeed the entire third episode gives the whole cast a moment to reach some real emotional depth.
Also at times Class quite funny or at least very introspective, like when they attack a prom the call goes out ‘where are the teachers?’ jump cut to those teachers off helping puking students and consoling those who got dumped, a moment of reality as smoke creatures attack, also you have to like that little Buffy reference thrown in and I’m not sure I will get used to the tear being called the ‘bunghole of time’ but it is an apt description. You can tell they are on quite a budget when it comes to their special effects, but they make the most of them and it never looks too cheesy. Also, I like the use of dodgy internet connection to create tension.
In the end, all I can say is I am really digging this Doctor Who spin-off series and I really hope it can stick the entire series run which is something that Luke Cage which I reviewed recently couldn’t quite pull off. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the threads of the Shadows and the Governors pan out. My one concern is that it will struggle to find a target audience, as on one hand it is more mature than its predecessor, but also it is set in a school and that might be a tough balance to market to. The best thing I can say is that Class has made me want to go back and finish off season 9 of Doctor Who and that is a remarkable achievement. So I can recommend Class, and if you can you should give it a look.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Ed Bazalgette (Episode 1, Episode 2 & Episode 3)
Written by – Patrick Ness (Episode 1, Episode 2 & Episode 3)
Part of – the Doctor Who Universe
Created by – Patrick Ness
Staring – Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo, Katherine Kelly, with Peter Capaldi