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REVIEW: Class 1×01 “For Tonight We Might Die”

It’s certainly been a long year for Whovians due to the lack of Doctor Who content and the next series is still many months away. But with the promise of a brand-new spin-off we may actually be killing two birds with one stone. Can Class fill in the void during these long gaps between new Doctor Who content and can we at least be blessed with a spin-off that holds up against the absence of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood?

From first impressions it’s very hard to say whether or not this spin-off is a success. I think a lot of this is down to the characters and the mixed tone. It’s trying to be too many different things, whilst trying to please too many different people and I think I need more time to see whether or not Class can find its feet. But for the most part I did find it enjoyable but not totally memorable. As for the other spin-off shows that have come before Class they almost automatically hit me with something I could stick my teeth into, and had elements, ideas, and characters that I could either relate to or engage with.

I think the core problem is that Class isn’t precisely the spin-off we needed. I think we needed something better than a show trying to be hip, and cool, whilst also being dark, and grown-up, whilst also serving as a direct spin-off to the main show. The key reason that the previous spin-offs had a hook from the moment they started was because we had an icon to focus upon, i.e. K-9, Sarah Jane Smith and Captain Jack Harkness. Here we don’t have any of that, which acts as both Class‘s weakness and strength. Maybe I was a little too harsh earlier when I said we needed something better, because this show is something different, and different is good. Doctor Who is built upon change and adaption but we have also quickly learnt that not all changes and adaptions are for the better, and this could fall under that category if it isn’t careful.

The characters of Class do feel, at least at the moment, quite generic and stereotypical, which is a shame because The Sarah Jane Adventures had already proven that young characters could be portrayed in a developing way. Here I feel like we’ve receiving the usual bunch of school kids you’ve seen in every school programme. The whole set-up does seem interesting in some aspects, i.e. seeing how a younger generation tackles the harsher nature of time and space whilst The Doctor isn’t around, but on the other hand you’re following a narrative set in a school which is fine if you are a teenager because you can easily relate to that setting. But to anyone else it just seems rather alienating and not all that interesting.

At least Patrick Ness, the creator and writer of the spin-off, added a curve-ball into the mix through having our protagonist, Charlie, an alien (although we had slightly seen that before with Luke Smith). This I didn’t see coming at first and added an extra layer that was clearly needed to give Class something engaging and to take us past the typical school setting. And I will admit that his backstory is deep and personal, which makes you more interested in the character. But unfortunately a good backstory doesn’t make a good character. Yes he is honourable in his decisions and carries his presence as a Prince, whilst also showing a stern nature in being able to control his servant Miss Quill but there has to be other attributes as well to make him a more well-rounded character.

And I will go on to add that having Charlie as a gay character is nice and all but isn’t totally necessary. Equality is good but I do fear that television has become rather obsessed lately in trying to make us aware of this subject matter. But at the end of the day if the character doesn’t change because of this subject matter then it isn’t necessary. Don’t make a character gay or change their gender for the sake of it, include it to actually make the narrative better and more meaningful.

Miss Quill is by far the best character out of the main cast. She has by far the best character and is the most entertaining to watch. Like Charlie Miss Quill has an intriguing backstory which makes the ongoing narrative rather more complex because she was once Charlie’s enemy but is now his servant as punishment for her war crimes. So Miss Quill is forced to serve Charlie against her will in order to keep them both alive. It adds for some personal character moments between her and Charlie as they conflict with their views and objectives. Miss Quill is quick to make more harsh, and heartless decisions in the moment of need whilst Charlie uses his conscious to make emotional decisions that bring about the least bloodshed. This is interesting when you consider how much anger he should have, and how vengeful he should be considering he lost his entire race to murderous monsters and yet he wishes to remain humane.

As for the other characters, April is the outsider trying to find a way to fit in, Tanya is the nerd who studies hard but wants to experience fun, whilst Ram comes across as the typical jock who showcases himself as a hard-man outside but inside is more complex. April had the most screen attention out of these characters and yet seemed to have the least amount of character development. Her only true development was her connection with the King of the Shadow Kin, and how far she was willing to go in order to defeat it. Tanya was a more sympathetic character because her mother didn’t allow her to enjoy life and was instead forced to put her study’s first, enclosed from the rest of the world. Ram was certainly my least favourite character because he constantly contradicted himself, posing one minute as a massive prick whilst the next he would actually show human emotions.

The Shadow Kin came across as rather lazy as they were simply ripping off other races that we’d seen in Doctor Who. They certainly screamed out “Vashta Nerada” throughout the first half of the narrative until they became warrior-like creatures towards the end and simply became generic in wanting to destroy for the sake of destroying. They had little, to no impact on me because they felt very bland. Though their design was rather neat at least. But I’m certainly not looking forward to them becoming a reoccurring monster because they just don’t scream out as impressive, something this spin-off needs to give itself an identity.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 18/10/2016 - Programme Name: Class - TX: n/a - Episode: Class - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Corikinus (PAUL MARK DAVIES), The Doctor (PETER CAPALDI) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Simon Ridgeway

As sad as it is to say, The Doctor’s short-but-sweet cameo was the best part of this opening episode. And this doesn’t come as much as a surprise. A lot of the reasoning behind me even wanting to give this spin-off a chance was because it tied into Doctor Who so closely. The knowledge that we would get to see The Doctor merge once again with one of his spin-offs is always an exciting idea. Plus I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. He’s simply fantastic in the role and it has been criminal not seeing him in a series at all this year.

So to at least see him for ten minutes in this episode was worth my time, even if the rest of the story, setting and characters didn’t meet up to Capaldi’s presence. It was interesting how he tied into the narrative, if slightly predictable once you realised Charlie and Miss Quill were aliens, but it was upsetting to know he was pushed back and wasn’t allowed to take full control. Deep down it reminded me how much I would rather be watching The Doctor in his own episode. I think the sad truth is that more fans will tune into this solely to see Capaldi and not the other characters.

Like I said earlier, Class lacks in promoting decent characters. It certainly lacks a hook like the other spin-offs. The only relation Class has to Doctor Who is the setting and to be fair it’s not the best setting. Sure we had the whimsical first episode, “An Unearthly Earth”, briefly set in Coal Hill School along with the brilliant battle between Ace and the Daleks in “Remembrance of the Daleks” but these moments were great because the setting was used in a clever way to create a brilliant story. You can’t just have the setting be a plot-element without using it a clever way and at the moment we have dull looking school corridors with teenagers fighting aliens within them. Sounds promising but it has to also look good, as well as be executed well.

I feel Class has so much potential but luckily it is still early days and I have some hope that Ness can pull something out of the bag and produce something good. I think we just need to get more clever and adventurous otherwise Class won’t gain its own stamp within the Whoniverse and will simply remain an after-thought plucked from the main series.

Episode Grade: D

Pros and Cons

+ Peter Capaldi’s cameo as The Doctor!!! Loved it when he told Miss Quill she has to stay and look after Charlie and the others (hope he comes back later on in the series to check up on them).

+ Miss Quill and Charlie’s backstory, and fun chemistry.

– Boring/Stereotypical teenage characters.

– Random swearing and explicit violence (this is meant to be a Doctor Who spin-off right?)

– Bland and unimaginative villain.

– Other than The Doctor’s short cameo, Class has little to do with Doctor Who and thus doesn’t feel like it should be connected to its universe.

A shout to all you Whovians out there, what did you think about the opening episode of Doctor Who‘s latest spin-off? Does it compare to the others or was it an idea best left lost in time? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below or on our Twitter page!

About the author

John Hussey