[Spoilers ahead for Class season 1, episodes 1 and 2]
Even though we won’t get any more Doctor Who until December when this year’s Christmas special arrives, that doesn’t mean we won’t get to visit the Doctor Who universe. With the premiere of Class we’ve been introduced to a new part of that universe (which is also kind of an old part of it, but more on that in a minute). The show fills in an interesting gap in the Doctor Who offerings, targeted toward the young adult genre and landing squarely between Doctor Who and Torchwood in regard to content and maturity.
There have been a lot of comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and they’re not without merit; even the show acknowledges a few similarities with a Buffy joke in the first episode. Class is more than just Buffy with the Doctor Who name slapped on, though – it actually manages to capture the feel of the Doctor Who universe pretty well without trying to simply redo what’s been done before. It acknowledges the history of the original show, incorporating it into the show’s lore in such a way that long-time fans of the original show will surely appreciate.
All of that said, let’s take a quick look at just how Class connects to Doctor Who.
Welcome to Coal Hill Academy
Class takes place at a school known as Coal Hill Academy, which – as you might notice from a brief glimpse at the crest at the beginning of the premiere – used to be known as Coal Hill School. If that name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason; it’s appeared several times in Doctor Who history (and even more often in the expanded universe that includes books, comics and audiobooks). The very first episode of Doctor Who began at Coal Hill School, where the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan attended and original companions Ian and Barbara were teachers there. It also appeared in the Seventh Doctor serial “Remembrance of the Daleks” and was the hiding place of the Hand of Omega.
In the modern Doctor Who series, Coal Hill was the school where Clara Oswald worked during her time as the Doctor’s companion, and the Twelfth Doctor himself posed as the school’s caretaker briefly. We even catch a glimpse of Clara and Danny Pink’s names on a memorial board in the school.
The Doctor also made another trip to Coal Hill before the events of Class began. It’s revealed in the first episode that he relocated two aliens to Earth to try and give them a fresh start at Coal Hill. This doesn’t necessarily work out for the best, though the Doctor’s intentions were good. The pair were the last of their respective species, and he’d arrived too late to save anyone else. Given how Earth always seems to survive whatever’s thrown at it in Doctor Who, it seemed like a safe enough place to put them at the time.
Wibbly-Wobbly Timey Wimey
All of the events that have taken place in and around Coal Hill have taken their toll, and that is the main premise behind Class. According to the Doctor, time itself has gotten “thin” and a rift has formed that even he isn’t able to close completely. This is similar in a way to the rift in Cardiff in Torchwood, though it won’t necessarily have things slipping through from different times; instead, this rift will serve as a beacon for monsters and aliens who can take advantage of the weakened spot in time.
Most likely this will result in the show keeping a monster-of-the-week format, with different threats emerging each week while the cast tries to solve the problem of the rift itself over a larger story arc. This formula worked pretty well on Buffy (well, most of the time) and is also essentially what we get on Doctor Who most weeks as well. It should keep Class interesting, and offer up a wide range of monsters and threats while allowing the larger plot to progress a little at a time.
A Very Special Visitor
Of course, the biggest connection to Doctor Who is the appearance of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in the show’s premiere. He looks slightly different than when we last saw him, and is sporting a new Sonic Screwdriver as well. They even manage to slip in a variation of his classic “Doctor Who?” wordplay during his appearance, among the various comments people are making when he walks into the room. It’s very much done in the same style as his appearances in his own show, with the Doctor showing up right when needed and saving the day before things get out of hand. The big difference is that in Doctor Who we’re following the Doctor during the adventure, and in Class we were following the group that the Doctor dropped in on instead.
The Doctor laid the groundwork for the rest of the series as well, establishing the fact that problems will continue at Coal Hill and establishing the “team” that will defend the school from future attacks. Unlike some other spinoffs where a character appears in the pilot and then is never referenced again, we also get a mention of the Doctor in the second season to show that this is still very much staying in the same continuity. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get much in the way of references in the other direction, there seems to be enough world-building going on here that it’s possible that Coal Hill could get a namedrop at some point in the future.
Beyond the direct connections to Doctor Who, Class has a pretty strong thematic connection to the show it spawned from. The monsters and aliens showed off so far could easily be monster-of-the-week villains on Doctor Who, and having a Dalek pop out of the time rift at some point wouldn’t seem out of place given what we’ve seen of Class so far. This is perhaps one of the best things that can be said for the show; even though it’s aimed at a different audience, it fits pretty easily into the Doctor Who universe and all of the weirdness that’s inherent there. It’s a bit bloodier and edgier than Doctor Who in places, but it also doesn’t have the Doctor there to save the day.
It’s possible that Class will lose some of this feeling of belonging in the Doctor Who world as time goes on, but for now it’s off to a good start. As the first season continues, we may see more references and thematic connections to Doctor Who to really cement its place in the extended universe of the show. Even if we don’t, though, Class has certainly made a strong case for fans of Doctor Who (and other shows like Buffy) to give it a shot.
Class airs on Saturdays on BBC Three, and will air on BBC America starting in 2017.