If you ask me, the Brits are superb storytellers. They have an idea, and they tell it, length be damned. If that means 8 episodes will tell the story, that’s what they will do. No need to drag an 8-episode story out over 22 episodes! But once in a while, they get it wrong in a different way. Colin Baker was victim of the misplaced notion that starting the audience off on the wrong foot with their hero might be a good idea. By the time of Capaldi’s reign, decades later, they made the same mistake again. News flash: it is not advisable to introduce us to a main character who is grumpy and unlikeable. Yet Class opens up with much the same idea in mind. Not to mention, they fail to give us a clear indication of who’s who. It took me about half the episode to learn what Mrs. Quill’s name was, for instance. And we are introduced to a group of characters who are not easy to like, barring April. Charlie turns April down rather coldly when asked to go to the Prom with her, Ram is introduced literally ramming Charlie, knocking his books out of his hand, and Ms. Quill is mean in both demeanor and jawline. (She even refers to Ram as a guy who hears applause every time he walks into a room, thus establishing that Ram is egocentric, and she’s a very rude teacher!)
Where Class goes right, however, is that over the course of the very first episode, each of those characters begins getting fleshed out. Ram is dealing with a dad who is consumed with his sports activities, pushing him to be the school sports king. Tanya’s mom is hyper-protective making it difficult for her to cultivate friendships. Charlie likes Matteusz, and by the way, he isn’t even human, so his turning down April gets explained away easily enough. (April takes this all in her stride in a way that made me instantly like her! She has the quality of a hero from episode one.) And Miss Quill is a slave to her enemy, thus explaining her anger issues. So it didn’t take long for the writing to shift in the way that would have benefited C. Baker and Capaldi had someone thought to mellow their characters in their first episodes. That doesn’t mean I think it was a good strategy, but at least it starts to improve right from the first episode.
To further improve the quality of the show that got next-to-no publicity at the time, they had Capaldi make a cameo in this episode, bridging Class to the greater world of Doctor Who. The issue I take with that is this adds very little to that greater world. Coal Hill Academy might look great, but it’s not the Coal Hill School we know so the weakness in the fabric of time that exists there doesn’t hold up logically. A throwaway line about renovating is all we get to explain that away – but then that is all we need, technically; it’s just that it feels like a copout. Adding “Oswald, C.” to a faculty board is fun for the viewer, but again, is that enough? Does anything here really feel like Doctor Who? The Shadow Kind have never been heard of before, nor are Charlie’s people. At best, the Shadow King knows of the Doctor, calling him “the great destruction of the universe” but it is a fairly weak indicator that these worlds are connected. Sarah Jane Adventures at least connected a number of things from UNIT, to Sontarans, and sketches of many items from Sarah Jane’s time with the Doctor. This, in fairness, may just be too new, but we’ll have to wait to find out and we don’t have a lot of time to see that happen. So far, I’m basing it on how I felt after just one episode.
Don’t get me wrong, the arrival of the TARDIS still sends shivers down my spine! But then we get another thorn in my side: the aliens on Charlie’s planet dress in school uniforms complete with ties and jumpers. Oh, when April asks if they all look like humans, we get a view of what they might look like, but the scene is done almost like a joke since both Quill and Charlie say they don’t have to alter their appearance. Considering everything else we had seen was a flashback, why would this be the exception? Perhaps it’s up to the viewers’ interpretation, which I can live with but wish the production crew put a bit more into that. I don’t think school attire on Earth will ever catch on in space.
That’s not to say this was a tough episode to watch. The Doctor, unsurprisingly, has some of the best lines. When the Shadow King tells the Doctor that he is there for “the cabinet,” the Doctor comments on a strange store called Ikea. He also gives us a very David Tennant line with “your brain: best weapon there is!” April (the “ludicrous care-bear”) is immensely likeable and cares about her fellow students and I get the impression Tanya is going to be a good character too, but I always like the brainy characters. On the other hand, Ram witnesses the brutal death of his Prom date, gets covered in blood in full horror movie fashion and loses half a leg. After the Doctor heals him, he steps out of the TARDIS with a prosthetic leg, totally clean clothes, and most importantly, not a word said about the interior of the TARDIS. He’s going to take some time to warm up to. (Not to mention, hopping on one leg should make swinging a chair at the Shadow King’s head a bit challenging but he seems to do a great job, even knocking the King to the ground!) ((Oh, and what is going to be said about the missing Prom date? Hope that’s not brushed under the carpet!))
The show is a Doctor Who take on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer complete with an in-episode reference to the Hellmouth. So that’s the deal: Coal Hill is on a Hell… sphincter… and non-Who enemies are going to come through for the class to defeat. OK, I’m on board! (The Doctor does point out that Media Studies are harder than most exams, and with the sheer volume of references the writers throw out during the end sequence, one can understand why he says it! Unfortunately, I did not know each reference.)
Does the show have potential? YES! Absolutely. Don’t think the complaints I have with episode one are indicative of the overall quality of the show. The mere reference to the Bechdel test gives us some indication that the writing is above par. The idea that shadows can be scary is also a strong opening idea. (And I will say it made me long for the Capaldi era again!)
With only 8 stories to go, we won’t have long to see how the final Doctor Who spinoff compares to the rest of the series. Class is in session. ML