The bell has finally wrung for Doctor Who spin-off Class to begin! Here’s our report on the debut two-parter…
With no new series of Doctor Who this year, and by nature of it being the first spin-off in five whole years, there was a lot riding on new high school set show Class – created by hit YA writer Patrick Ness. This Saturday – coincidentally, also the tenth anniversary of Torchwood – the first two episodes finally arrived. So how did they measure up?
Well, how much you enjoy Class will depend on whether you find its adherence to familiar format and elements endearing or off-putting. Exec producer Steven Moffat has called it a “British Buffy” and Scooby fans will find many parallels with the Joss Whedon series here. In particular, the main set-up of teenagers dealing with monsters as well as their own adolescent problems. Likewise, Who fans will recognize ideas and concepts borrowed from previous Doctor Who spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. i.e. a tear in time and space as the plot generator and an alien teen unfamiliar with human customs. Not to mention the conceptual similarities to Ness’ novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
Speaking of which, in contrast to his terrific novels, Ness’ two scripts so far are fast-paced, frenetic affairs that leave much underdeveloped. For instance, important details are quickly infodumped which leaves the viewer frequently playing catch-up. Fair enough, this is something that Doctor Who can suffer from too on occasion, but it’s particularly a problem in a pilot that has to set up a new show. Plus, both episodes’ monsters are fairly unmemorable – which is pretty damming for a show connected to supreme monster-maker Doctor Who. In the writer’s defense, there are some great lines including a joke about the Bechdel Test and some meta-references to other TV shows. More of this self-aware, slightly more anarchic, humour could mark Class out as separate from other Whoniverse shows going forward.
There is also no disguising the fact that Class’s debut episodes struggle to nail a consistent tone. It’s mostly family-friendly… until moments of blood, gore and nudity are stuffed in. Torchwood did the same thing in its first run, of course, but Class‘ gleeful flaunting of the more mature demographic is brought into sharper focus by the younger cast of characters and the inclusion of the Doctor. It’s odd to see him in a show with this much adult material.
Yes, Peter Capaldi returns to our screens in the first episode and, oh, how we’ve missed him. The much-touted Doctor cameo only lasts for about ten minutes, but it is very much worth it and is naturally the highlight of the show so far. That said, given how the rift is pretty much the Doctor’s fault – the TARDIS’ repeated presence there has worn reality thin – an opportunity to explore the consequences of the Doctor’s actions was completely missed.
On the other hand, the main cast deserves some praise for giving life to some familiar character types. The most fleshed-out right now are Fady Elsayed’s grieving footballer and Vivian Oparah’s whizzkid Tanya. Greg Austin’s alien prince got some stuff to do but we don’t really know him as a person yet, and the same goes for Sophie Hopkins as shy April. Both show promise for the rest of the series, though. Katherine Kelly also had some fun moments as ridiculously sarcastic teacher Miss Quill.
Overall, Class is currently – much like a teenager – still trying on different styles in a bid to figure out its own identity. I wouldn’t say these opening two episodes get top marks, then, but it is clearly on a learning curve and may well improve its grades in future.
Is that enough school puns now?