[This is a SPOILER-FREE review of the U.K. series premiere of Class.]
Now upgraded to an academy, as most U.K. secondary schools are, Coal Hill becomes the setting for the newest Doctor Who spinoff, Class. From renowned YA author, Patrick Ness, Class focuses on a group of sixth-formers (U.S. equivalent of High School Juniors and Seniors), drawn together by nothing more than an uncanny ability to attract aliens. Coal Hill has, of course, featured heavily in Doctor Who lore, most notably and most recently as the school in which Clara Oswald taught. Owing to its continual association with one who travels through time and space, we are told, the time around Coal Hill is thinner than elsewhere, leading to many gaps, or ‘tears’, that can be opened up between worlds. In short, Coal Hill is likely to be a hotspot for alien visitors. Just as well, then, that Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly) and Charlie (Greg Austin) are on hand to try and keep some semblance of normality. If only they were normal themselves…
Out Of The Blocks
Prior to the opening credits, Class opens in a similar manner to many a Doctor Who episode, leaving viewers in no doubt as to its parentage. However, as soon as those opening credits roll, we realize that while this show might be in the same genre, it’s branching out from Doctor Who and standing all on its own. The show moves at a fast pace, swiftly introducing the central characters who as yet, don’t really interact with each other all that much. They will soon, though. The pace of the episode doesn’t drop, either, and while it could possibly benefit from a few slower moments, the dynamic script writing is hopefully a good sign of things to come. Class has been aimed at a YA audience, and it’s quickly apparent that this is not a Saturday-night family viewing show; it’s more graphic and violent than Doctor Who, and the language is near to the knuckle at times, but nothing that isn’t typical of older teenagers. The plot moves along apace, but also allows plenty of room for us to meet these new characters and to learn something about them, a sign of some very strong writing from Ness. The script is also very funny at times, with witty one liners that poke fun at itself and other shows from the same genre.
Meet the Cast
For the most part, the central characters are all outsiders in one way or another, which might explain their willingness to accept alien life forms arriving in their school without much question; it gives them something to pull together for, and they find acceptance among each other as they’re all dealing with the weird stuff together. The young cast are deserving of high praise here; Sophie Hawkins as April, Vivian Oparah as Tanya, Fady Elsayed as Ram and the aforementioned Austin as Charlie are diverse, exciting, and compelling to watch. Elsayed in particular shows great promise. As Miss Quill, Kelly makes your hackles rise. Is she good? Is she evil? Either way, she’s thoroughly entertaining and plays her role with a subtle, understated brilliance. Ness has previously spoken about comparisons between Class and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and yes, those comparisons are easy to make but with a cast this strong, there’s really no need. They more than hold their own.
Call the Doctor
In fact, ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ is so instantly watchable, and so fresh, that an appearance from Peter Capaldi as the Doctor is almost superfluous; certainly it was not needed to lift the show in any way, but it does, perhaps, serve as a reminder of Class’ heritage, and it is thoroughly entertaining, too. Seeing Capaldi is like pulling on a favorite sweater; it’s cozy, comfortable, and you know exactly what you’re getting. The Doctor is on fine form, too, babbling away while the threat of extinction looms ever closer, in that mad scientist way he has. He also joins up a few dots for the viewers. Those little connections could have found their way into the script elsewhere, easily enough, but it’s always great to have the Doctor unravel the tangle of threads.
Much has been made of the diverse casting for Class, as well as the LGBT lead which was touted by Ness and the BBC prior to Class’ release. As it happens, both points are executed well. Yes, the actors are from a range of ethnic backgrounds, and it seems as though more may be to come about that in future episodes, since the premiere seemed to hint at some difficulties between Ram and his father. For the most part, though, everything is presented without comment. The same for the (previously revealed) kiss that Charlie shares with his date. It happens, there’s no fanfare, and then we move on. In fact, what is far more evident is that these kids aren’t afraid to be wholeheartedly themselves. Tanya and April have intelligence and an academic prowess that they’re rightfully proud of, and Ram has emotions that he’s not afraid to show or speak about. That in itself is refreshing to watch on screen.
It’s hard to find a balance in a sci-fi show, between emotive storytelling and alien action. Buffy managed it, of course, and Class is well within reaching distance, and should achieve it well as the series becomes more established. Though it might move a little too quick at times, Class is out of the blocks and on course to be something that’s really worth watching.
Class airs on BBC3 from October 22 in the U.K., and will premiere on BBC America in Spring 2017.