From the title itself “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” is a rather ambitious and complicated narrative revolved around Quill gaining her long awaited freedom. What makes this episode’s formula intriguing is it happens alongside previous episode “Detained”, explaining what Quill got up to prior to her estranged entrance at the conclusion.
Dorothea Ames, and the mysterious Governors, finally grant Quill her means of escaping Charlie’s imprisonment by undertaking a dangerous quest to gather the tools to extract the Arn from her head. At first I was rather confused by what was going on as the narrative appeared rather complicated in its design, structure and logic. Plus it felt rather boring at times as the characters kept going from one place to another to perform random tasks to tick off their bucket list.
But once it got going it had some rather interesting character moments, similar to “Detained”. I think once the episode got going it was nice to see some ambition thrown into the spin-off and give us a real extension of the Doctor Who universe through seeing new cultures and understanding their believes, as well as being introduced to new ideas and technology.
The idea of the device used to travel to the different locations was rather ingenious. The idea that you can travel to any place that people believe in is clever and ultimately is used to find the items required to free Quill (though it does add into the complicity of the overall narrative and makes me puzzled more as to who the Governors are and what their intentions are).
The different locations in this story made for some rather stunning looking environments, particularly the Arn’s concept of Heaven which served as a rich looking woodland, painted with a beautiful colour scheme. It was a nice change to see Class actually adding to the Doctor Who mythology rather than detracting with its meaningless additions and sore concepts. There were genuine moments within this episode where you felt like you was within the Doctor Who universe, from locations feeling familiar to locations we’d seen before or that it all felt fantastical and alien.
It was also nice to see the spin-off move away from contemporary Earth and its teenage characters and concentrate on the alien side of the universe and actually explore them in depth. The Sarah Jane Adventures worked because of its great characters, and Torchwood worked because of its engaging concepts, but Class fails on both fronts which makes the overall series feel flat and lifeless, so I’ve enjoyed the past two episodes actually trying to ingest some sort of spark to give it some identity.
Like with “Detained” we had more character moments and this helped to make Quill appear even more relatable which is interesting when you consider she is kind of a villain. She was imprisonment because of her war crimes and yet the narrative has always gone about showing her side of the story and giving us plenty of reasons to feel sorry for her. In many ways Class makes you root for her, making Charlie and his race the true villains of the story because of their pompous attitudes.
It was good how they used character Ballon to further humanise Quill. Ballon is in the same boat as Quill having been imprisoned in human form and is separated from his own race. They are both also soldiers so throughout the narrative you get these great bonding sessions where they bounce off each other’s pain to help one another understand themselves more personally. We also got to see the idea of alien refugees explored through passing references, something that was greatly touched upon in “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion”.
These moments reminded me a lot of the current season of Supergirl and how society can be cruel to those they don’t understand and find to be different from them. It’s a concept that I would like to see explored further within the Doctor Who universe.
The process of extracting the Arn was a gruesome experience, to say the least, but this was only followed by a cruel game of survival as Ames reveals that Quill and Ballon are inside the Cabinet of Souls and that only one of them can escape. It’s a kick in the teeth moment because you have seen these two characters come together to help one another achieve their own versions of freedom, as well as form a strong bond, and now they are forced to kill one another. It’s made even more manipulative when Ames gives them both strong reasons why they should kill the other person.
In the end it’s obviously Quill that survives but it certainly takes a toll on her as she has become sickened by Charlie’s race because of all the cruel games they have put her through. This resolution reminded me a lot of The Doctor’s painful decisions during “The Day of the Doctor” and how those consequences made him feel lost and bitter in his consecutive incarnations. But now Quill has the power to change things and it will be interesting to see where her new-found freedom will take her and what consequences will erupt. Also there is the shocking reveal during the conclusion where we see she is pregnant, another aspect I’m interested to see how it plays out.
Overall though despite “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” being a more ambitious, and fantastic looking episode it failed to be fully engaging because of its confusing plot threads or that, despite things happening, it felt like not a lot happened. Mostly this story had good points but it’s a shame thinking back to it that I felt it didn’t give me much apart from a few good character moments and some nice environments (which are quickly glossed over).
Nevertheless this is where Class should be heading – bigger stories, less conflicts to do with teenage problems and actually concentrate on the science-fiction aspects with more care and bring the spin-off closer to its source material instead of feeling like a bad after thought that doesn’t quite gel properly.
Final Grade: D
Pros and Cons:
+ Great character development for Quill.
+ Enjoyed the bond between Quill and Ballon.
+ Nice usage of alien locations.
– Not a lot happened in the grand scheme of things, which is a shame because this episode had a lot of good points.
What did my fellow Whovians think of this week’s episode of Class? Improvement or just the same mess as before? Share your thoughts in the comments or on our Twitter page!