Class: 1.01 For Tonight We May Die, 1.02 The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo
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Patrick Ness' Class has a huge weight on its shoulders - it's the closest thing we get to Doctor Who in 2016 other than the Christmas Special. It's also a BBC Three series - which makes exposure and audience a REAL problem now that the BBC's youth oriented channel is an iPlayer only affair.
Set in Coal Hill School, now an Academy and centre to a number of alien occurrences over the years. It first appeared as the school that the First Doctor's daughter attended and was most recently where Clara taught while she was occasionally whisked away on adventures by Matt Smith's Eleventh and Peter Capaldi's Twelfth incarnations of the Timelord. The setting alone pays huge reverence to the history of Doctor Who. We're quickly introduced to the cast and the Shadow Kin who torment the school and things move on at the same kind of spritely pace that we're used to - it's ALMOST as if Russell T Davies was back at the helm.
The show plays fast and loose with references and you can feel its influences screaming out; not in a way that detracts but one that will hopefully attract a dedicated audience all of its own. The first episode sees Capaldi's Doctor appears for an extended and energetic cameo providing that vital link and exposition but it's telling that this is something special when without this Class manages to stand on its own. Talking of Capaldi - this could be the best we've seen him as the Doctor so far and Ness clearly understands the character and actor better than anyone else who has written for the role in the last decade. It'll never happen but when the BBC are looking for Chris Chibnall's replacement in 5 years time, Patrick Ness could well be my first choice.
The Shadow Kin make an effective enough enemy; scary enough to stand out but their modus operandi is maybe a little too familiar and but the back story may be a little too convoluted for its own good. Katherine Kelly and Gregg Quinn's characters provide a third dimension beyond the students of Coal Hill and the monsters of the week; acting as stand-ins for the Doctor but it's Sophie Hopkins who really impresses as April. As an opener and scene setter For Tonight We May Die is a strong, if not outstanding, episode.
The second episode, The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo benefits from the fact that it doesn't have to introduce the cast and concept and as a result feels lighter in comparison; less packed with storyline but equally as strong and more graphic. We really begin to feel the cast gelling here in a way that suggests we've could be in for something special in the coming weeks.
As it stands Class surprises in many ways and the appointment of Young Adult author Ness as show runner suggested the show would be a departure from what we've seen before. The from the CBBC series Sarah Jane Adventures to the resolutely adult, if often daft, Torchwood the new series was expected to fit somewhere in the middle. Instead, with the exception of Torchwood's Children of Earth this is the most adult and grown up take on the Who universe so far and far more intelligent in both story and performance than anything else we've seen.
In a year without a full Doctor Who series, fans are looking everywhere for their fix and the likes of Big Finish have stepped up to the plate their audio adventures - the Eighth Doctor adventures released this year have been stunningly good, so Class has even more pressure to keep up the quality. There was concern that it might struggle to build its own identity as a result but the strong performances and high production values suggest that this was a worry we needn't have had. If Class can settle into the groove it's set out to do it'll be a welcome addition to the franchise.