Dr Moo takes a look at the newest Doctor Who spinoff.
2016 will be a year that historians and future generations will always look back at with some confusion. This was, after all, the year that gave us a whole tonne of unexpected things: Beginning with a slew of celebrity deaths, that never seemed to let up and continues to crescendo onwards, before the world of politics got a shake-up through Brexit and all it entails before finally culminating in the victory of President-Elect Trump.
But for us sci-fi nuts the biggest surprise of them all had to be the sudden arrival of a new spinoff of Doctor Who. So now that the first season of Class has ended and the dust has settled, allow me to take a look over these eight episodes and ask how well it worked.
I’ve decided to examine some good things about the series (things that I felt worked), some bad things about it (those that didn’t) and finally some things that were just plain odd. I’ve tried to find two from each, six points in all, in interest of being evenhanded before giving a final judgement on the first season as a whole.
Main characters and cast
This was one area where Class truly excelled. Every one of the six main characters (Charlie, Quill, April, Tanya, Ram, Matteusz) brings something different to the table and some very capable young actors play all of them with conviction, even if a second series doesn’t happen it’s safe to assume we haven’t seen the last of any of them.
Charlie, the alien prince from the planet Rhodia, and his prisoner Quill are probably the most interesting of the bunch but also worth mentioning are the surprisingly deep Ram and his blossoming relationship with April. Tanya is also awesome with her one-liners and hacking into UNIT.
Charlie’s relationship with Matteusz is a welcome inclusion, how refreshing for a same-sex relationship on TV that doesn’t feel like the writer is preaching from a soapbox! This is how to do something like that.
And despite only being in the first episode “For Tonight We Might Die” it was a joy to see the Twelfth Doctor show up.
The idea of Coal Hill School being something of a beacon to alien life forms doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny in my opinion (It’s had two alien incursions before this series, just two, no more!) but if you can look past that then the series managed to find some interesting things to do with the idea.
The second episode “The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo” has a dragon in it, the first genuine dragon to feature in a Whoniverse series that wasn’t a hallucination or robot. The second episode “Nightvisiting” has an evil plant, the Lan Kin, coming to people at night and taking the form of someone they have loved and lost. This was followed by a two-parter about petals that rip flesh off people and then multiply in a way not unlike Star Trek’s iconic Tribbles episode. Then episode six “Detained” (which was basically Doctor Who does The Breakfast Club) has the main cast trapped in a single room with an alien prisoner by whose mere presence all the rifts in the group come to the fore.
You get the idea. It’s a shame that one other monster doesn’t quite manage to work, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Shadow Kin
Tedious monsters are tedious. There’s just nothing original about seeing some huge colossal monster and being told that it can and will destroy all life on the planet just because of eviiiiiiiils (By their own admission in “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” this is their entire raison d’etre), so the whole thing just falls flat. The fact they speak with booming voices that require subtitles for understanding certainly doesn’t help matters. Then they go and feature in 50% of the show’s episodes for some reason, making them overused too.
But the worst thing about the Shadow Kin has got to be just how lazy a narrative decision they are. They exist entirely to fill a Generic Evil Villain role, which would be okay if only they had something to do to make them worthwhile. But they don’t do this. There’s no moral complexity here, like all the best TV shows have, it’s all just black and white darkside versus lightside.
Having read Patrick Ness’s prior work it astounds me that he let this happen. Look at his “Chaos Walking” trilogy (which is an absolute masterpiece in every possible sense of the word); here the main villain is a man named President Prentiss, he’s a mind-raping, manipulative liar who abuses the power he got illegally, betrays his son, abuses trust and starts a war with not just an alien race but also the entire female gender. He’s also oddly likable. You may not agree with the things he does but you can understand all of it. Compare to Corakinus, he just does what he does Because It Advances The Plot. How did Ness sink so low? What happened?!
At least the Doctor’s confrontation with them was amazing, so there is that much.
All aboard the trauma train
I don’t mind the idea of having some trauma thrown at the characters in a show, it gives them some motivation and helps us watching at home get behind them. For example “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo” does this for Ram all the way through, pulling focus onto him and how he copes with the brutal murder of his girlfriend in the preceding episode. It does this brilliantly, but it’s all downhill after that.
The less said the better as far as Mr Armitage is concerned.
Take a look at the finale “The Lost” for a prime example: Before the opening titles start we have seen Ram’s dad get killed. Before the end of the episode the same fate has befallen Tanya’s mother, Charlie commits genocide, and there are a lot of other deaths on the way there. Then April wakes up in Corakinus’s body. Now I don’t mind throwing difficulties at these characters but there’s a line and when they can’t even go a week without something bad happening to them it begins to stretch the credibility of the series.
April’s mother gets an especially rough deal: Before the series she has been disabled after her husband tried to kill himself, and her with him, in a deliberate car accident. In “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” April uses the Shadow Kin power to heal her disability. Then in “The Lost” that healing is undone and she loses the ability to walk for the second time in her life. Not only is this an offensive subplot but it also doesn’t go anywhere. It exists solely for purposes of throwing some trauma at a minor character for no apparent reason.
I’ve always felt that sex in fiction is unnecessary. I’m not being prudish here, I just don’t feel like anything is gained from having to show what could occur offscreen.
Unfortunately it would seem like Patrick Ness disagrees with me here, because across seven stories he gave us no fewer than four different sex scenes. First in “Nightvisiting” we have Charlie and Matteusz going for it, then in “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” we witness it more explicitly between Ram and April, before her mother catches them in the act. Another one occurs in “The Metaphysical Engine” between Quill and The Guest Star Of The Week, mostly offscreen this time, but perhaps the most important one since she ends up getting pregnant from it.
But the weirdest of all, and a contender for the weirdest Doctor Who scene of all time, is when we see Corakinus getting it on with one of his subjects. “I don’t suppose we could have a moment of cuddling?” he says.
There are at least three cliffhangers by the time that “The Lost” has ended. One of them is the matter of Quill’s pregnancy with a child that will probably eat her.
Another is the final scene of the entire series where April and Corakinus are both dead but then the Cabinet Of Souls does a thing (I’m still not sure what) and suddenly Corakinus sits up alive again only for him to actually be April. Apparently Ness wrote the final line first when he came up with the show, which does raise a few questions if this was what he was building up to!
But biggest of all is the subplot involving The Governors. First introduced in the form of a robot observer in Coach, this mysterious organsisation are shown to be running things behind the scenes with a keen interest in Charlie’s cabinet. “Brave-ish Heart” sees their agent Dorothea investigating this, and “The Metaphysical Engine” has her make it so that Quill could theoretically force Charlie to use the cabinet. After “The Lost” renders it useless as a weapon however The Governors kill Dorothea by unleashing a Weeping Angel on her. Apparently they have been working with them in preparation for The Arrival.
Now this would all be fine if Ness knew that a second series was on the cards in which these things could be explored further, but he doesn’t know that! Nobody knows that! In fact, due to poor viewing figures (The BBC didn’t even try to promote it and then put it on an obscure online-only location, what did they expect?!) the second series looks unlikely, so why did Ness put these cliffhangers in there? They will quite likely stand out conspicuously as things that will never be resolved, just how Torchwood’s final scene has Rex become immortal like Jack.
Incidentally, if an eschatological Weeping Angel story were on the cards then I’d rather Moffat write it as an arc in series ten.
Overall series one of Class has been a pleasant surprise. Yes it had faults, as we have seen, but it also had some very impressive strengths and I think a second series would be a welcome addition to the 2017 TV lineup. My hope is that BBC Worldwide don’t cock-up promoting this series, like the BBC did in the UK, because if they can get people watching then we may still have a chance.
Class was one of the best new shows of 2016 when it was good but an embarrassment when it wasn’t. An uneven first series overall but one which featured more good than bad and comes out looking positive on the whole. I’d like a second series. Would you?
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The
Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the
latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.