Class – The Doctor Who Spin Off With Issues

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Class, the Doctor Who spin off with issues. It deals with the adventures of a group of young adults at a school where tears in space and time are letting hoards of aliens flood in and cause mischief. Sounds like fun, right?

There’s a lot going for it. A diverse cast, some kickass female leads, good music and a lot of really interesting ideas. However, it has a lot going against it, too. But I want to try and be balanced in my review here and address where I think it works as well as where I think it fails in the hopes that if it is recommissioned it will get better. (As if people at the BBC are reading my reviews, right?)

fady-elsayed classThe good

The best thing about Class is definitely the cast. They’re diverse, dynamic, and great to watch, most of the time. They each bring something different to the table and everyone’s relationship to the group is subtly different. There are some really powerful moments and emotional scenes that the actors do an amazing job with and they all deserve to get plenty of work off the back of this show.

Charlie and Matteusz’ relationship slowly grows more complex and interesting. Though it takes a while, but this is understandable. They are given time to become a real couple and they have difficulties like any other. What is especially good is Matteusz’ very human reactions and down to earth attitude.

While the big, grand scale, fate of the world stuff is going on, he is able to put things into perspective for Charlie. He’s honest and kind, too, but these aren’t presented as unquestionable virtues, but rather the source of some deadly interesting conflict in their relationship.

Ram’s attempts to deal with his trauma and emotional stress are really well played by Fady Elsayed. I think he’s going to be an actor to look out for in the future. He gives some really nuanced performances in this series and it is only towards the end that things start to become a bit flakey, but that is down chiefly to the writing. Again, he gives very human, very realistic portrayals of how a normal person would react to horrifying events.

The bad

Hoo boy, here we go.

Patrick Ness is a good writer. I’ve read some of his books and never come away thinking he’d botched it or turned in something sub par. But, Class comes incredibly close to making me rethink that assessment. I don’t know how much of that has come from cuts, last minute changes, or directorial choices, but the series felt like a mess, story wise.

Class doesn’t do subtle, and it doesn’t do nuance very well. A lot of broad strokes, a lot of crying, but the tears do not feel earned. Even when characters go through legitimately traumatic experiences, they are given so little weight it takes a lot of effort to get behind them because there’s just something missing. The whole thing feels off.

Throughout the run, I kept feeling like I was being told to feel things; feel bad for this character, now happy, now scared. Look, they’re crying, that means it’s a sad scene. All this stuff is thrown at you, and I found myself feeling as if none of it was earned. There’s no real depth. I can sort of see the ideas being played with, but I never felt fully invested. Is this a failing on my part? Possibly.

The Tone is all over the map

I wonder if it was originally meant to be a kids show, and then they changed their minds at the last minute. Or at a very late stage. Because a lot of the concepts and ideas, while creepy and sometimes morally grey, would actually have been really interesting in a kids show environment. I could even see the Sarah Jane Adventures dealing with them if given enough time. But instead of being a children’s show that talks up to its audience, it’s a ‘grown up’ show that often talks down to the audience.

The villains

The big villains, the Shadowkin, look rubbish, it has to be said. If they’d been just shadows (even, like, 3D shadows so as not to make them too much like the Vashta Narada) that would have been good. They LOOK like a monster from the Sarah Jane Adventures or a more comic Doctor Who story. Which, again, left me thinking this was originally supposed to be a Sarah-Jane like series.

When you’ve got a monster called ‘the SHADOWkin’, maybe keep them in the shadows more?

The general story arc doesn’t really work. And then there are seriously cringe worthy bits about belief and magic, and religion that feel like such a stretch. But those are mostly in the final two episodes, so I won’t dive too deeply into it. Spoilers, and all that.

It’s like somebody dumped three jigsaw puzzles into a pile, removed a bunch of pieces from each, and then still tried to make the image fit.

Cliffhanger ending?

Oh, and the big cliffhanger endings? I wasn’t exactly blown away by it. I won’t go into too much detail so as to avoid spoilers, but needless to say, I don’t feel like the enemy they chose as the force behind everything really fits. Hard to say more without giving it away, but let’s just say it’s an enemy that has been in before, was initially scary, and has gotten progressively less so over time. They don’t really work as a malicious, organised, machiavellian force, I don’t think. That’s not the strength of their appeal. Having said that, if you asked me to nail down what their appeal actually is I’d probably struggle to tell you.

Roundup

Class has a lot of potential to be a great show. There’s a decent setting, great actors, and interesting concepts. But it needs focus. It needs a more consistent tone. It needs to be its own thing. I hope it gets a second series, for the actors’ sake if nothing else.

Well, we still have the Doctor Who Christmas special to look forward to, don’t we?

 

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.