Class: For Tonight We Might Die

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

This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Spinoffs, Twelfth Doctor and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Class: For Tonight We Might Die

  1. Roger Pocock says:

    You don’t think school attire from Earth will catch on in space? Turlough’s influence as a fashion icon obviously extends further than you realise. Coal Hill changing to an Academy was simply the writer having his finger on the pulse of what was happening in Britain at the time – many schools have been converted to academies, and that does generally come with a big refurbishment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    The genre of kids dramatically dealing with otherworldly and paranormal activity may have found a better foothold at the time with Stranger Things. But Class with this pilot gave audiences a forced impact in certain ways, with Capaldi’s Doctor showing up to help set its potential in motion. For all intents and purposes, this pilot sold the show enough for eight episodes, and Big Finish has taken it further. But perhaps as a spinoff, as opposed to the convenient originality for Stranger Things, this attempt to broaden the Whoniverse for TV, coupled with all its darker aspects that were similar for Torchwood and The Soldier Stories, may have felt a bit too forced to succeed as intended.

    It’s sad because I was enjoying it enough to appreciate Big Finish’s efforts for its retribution as they did for The Omega Factor and Star Cops. Sophie as April was my favorite character. So it’s nice for the Junkyard to still give its due for readers to take their own interests. Thanks, ML.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. scifimike70 says:

    We all know by now via the Big Finish trailer that the audio-adventures revival for Class will have the Daleks. But on TV, I felt that Class was wise to introduce all-new Whoniversal villains to show how adaptably heroic the ensemble cast could be. Star Trek: Voyager brought back both the Borg and Q just to boost its Trek familiarity. But Class so far doesn’t follow that example and therefore, quite wisely, enables us to enjoy its good-vs-evil format from a fresher perspective.

    Fans can always imagine how tough April would have been in fighting a Sontaran or how Quill in her own obvious way would have dealt with the Missy. But it’s good that Class was fair enough to retain its own impact, even if Big Finish is bound to take more chances in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

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