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Class: Volume 4 – Review

Wrapping up the recent two new entries into the Class mythos is Volume 4, a set that comprises three new stories for the Coal-Hill gang and offers some great new stories for the show, proving there is still plenty of life left in the spin-off that was ignored by so-many fans.

The set opens with Mock, written by Alfie Shaw and gives us a nice story for Charlie and Miss. Quill which sees the pair having to work together properly for a change.

Class: Volume 4
Class: Volume 4

Shaw gives us a story that is about the power of storytelling while giving us some background on Miss. Quill. It opens with a rather creepy re-telling of her life on Rhodia when she was a freedom fighter. And it marks the first time we hear all six of the main characters together in one story, though the rest of the characters don’t do as much as Charlie and Miss. Quill.

Dervla Kirwan once again proves to be a formidable addition to the cast as Miss. Quill, effortlessly picking up the vocal tones and sardonic way of delivering her lines that Katherine Kelly did on the television series while giving it her own spin. Shaw also effortlessly captures the voice of Miss. Quill and gives her some great lines background to explore, which feels much more than we got in the one episode about the character on screen.

The main villain, the Cleaver was a strong creative and proves a formidable threat for Miss. Quill and Charlie to face. The Cleaver did feel a little like the Trickster, though to be compared to a villain like the Trickster is a great thing and the Cleaver works nicely for the older-audience that Class is aimed at.

Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed
Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed

Greg Austin is still great in the role of Charlie and he has just as great chemistry with Kirwan as he did with Kelly. It was interesting to hear Quill’s take on the war on Rhodia in a sequence similar to when Charlie told April about it in the opening television episode. And I was surprised with how dark Shaw’s storyline here actually was. Charlie and Miss. Quill was one of the best things about the television series and it’s great to see their complicated and interesting relationship continuing to get explored in audio form.

The second episode of the set was my favourite. Creeper, written by Lizzie Hopley gives us Coal Hill School at Halloween.  One does wonder though if the Class-gang would have had enough of monsters, without having to dress up as them.

Creeper would have been a brilliant episode to see on television and would have worked as a great breather episode, giving the gang a little break from the Shadow Kin. Creeper also features fewer of the Class gang which serves the story well as she makes sure there is just enough for Charlie, Miss. Quill, April and Mattuesz to do and give each character a time to shine.

It was also fun to hear them tackling old horror-tropes and the similarities to films like Halloween, Insidious and The Conjuring are worn on the story’s sleeve with pride. I love horror movies and Creeper hit all the right notes for me. I also appreciated that the main bulk of the story’s actions took place outside of Coal-Hill school.

It was great to hear the friendship between Charlie and April get some exploration, something that we didn’t really get to see on television apart from the opening and closing episodes of the series. They make a great pair and manage to solve the main problem for the episode without the help of Miss. Quill, who along with Mattuesz find themselves inside an Insidious-type of situation, stuck in a ghostly dimension. April comes across as much more self-assured here than she did on television and its really refreshing to hear Sophie Hopkins getting to take charge of the situation.

Greg Austin and Sophie Hopkins
Greg Austin and Sophie Hopkins

Charlie also comes into his own much more here, with Miss. Quill hilariously commenting on how the pair are always joined at the hip, it was nice to hear Charlie getting to play the hero and save his boyfriend. Jordan Renzo delivers a great performance here as Mattuesz, and proves to be a great pairing with Miss. Quill. In fact, that’s something Creeper does brilliantly, giving us unusual team-ups between the different characters, it’s a shame that Ram and Tanya weren’t included in it too, it would have been great to hear them pairing up to help.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Creeper was a terrifying listen but its certainly dark and disturbing and not the sort of story you’d have gotten away with in Doctor Who proper. Instead, it works brilliantly as a dark thriller, giving us some brilliant character moments and nods to legendary horror movies. What more could you want for want a Halloween treat. It’s certainly a story I’m going to enjoy listening to again in the near future.

The third and final story for this volume is Queen of Rhodia, from Blair Mowat. For Mowat, he has been involved with Class since its very beginning as he created the music for the television series. Dialogue is a lot like music so who better to give us a story than the original composer? And Mowat does a tremendous job here, giving us a story that does a sense of finality about it, almost as if this is the story that is going to close the Class session for good. I doubt this is the last we’ll hear from these guys, but I reckon we’ll have a few years between these and the next couple of releases for the range.

Miss. Quill, who is currently pregnant during this episode, which takes place between the television stories, The Metaphysical Engine or What Quill Did and the finale, The Lost, wakes up on Rhodia, only to find the Quill in control and she is the second in command to the queen, who is someone familiar, none other than Tanya. This alternate dimension not only threatens her life but the life of her unborn baby before things take a real turn for the more bizarre as the story rattles towards its conclusion.

As well as Kirwan as Miss. Quill, Queen of Rhodia gives the main cast a chance to play different versions of their familiar characters. Charlie and April are on the side of the Rhodians, while Mattuesz, Tanya and Ram are all part of the Quill. Not only is it a great chance to hear Greg Austin, Sophie Hopkins, Jordan Renzo, Fady Elsayed and Joanna McGibbon play different versions of their characters, but the story also allows us to see how Miss. Quill actually sees them and her reactions to them all are hilarious and stay completely in character.

Dervla Kirwan and Simon Armstrong as Corporal Blood in Queen of Rhodia
Dervla Kirwan and Simon Armstrong as Corporal Blood in Queen of Rhodia

I’ve always wondered why Doctor Who has never done a Star Trek-Mirror Universe-esc set of stories so Queen of Rhodia is perhaps the thing that comes the closest to that in the Whoniverse. And I really like alternate universe types of stories that give us different looks at characters and often shine a light on the ‘normal’-versions of characters we know and love.

Mowat also gives us a reason why Quill was so quick to take Tanya under her wing when her mother is murdered by the Shadow-Kin in The Lost. Catfish ended with Tanya and Miss. Quill coming to an understanding and Queen of Rhodia tells us that Miss. Quill actually sees a lot in Tanya, maybe also that her usual quietness might be hiding some darkness.

Mowat delivers a brilliant but bittersweet story here and while this does feel like it is the end of Class, at least for the time being, it’s a great story to go out on and I’m looking forward to hearing more Mowat if he writes more stories for Big Finish.

Given how the television incarnation of Class was cancelled after only one series, four volumes of audio adventures have more than proven that there is an audience for this spin-off and that it does have a right to be included in the Doctor Who universe. Sure it might not reach the heights of something like Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures but Class always was a lot better than people gave it credit. And it also proves that with more than just writer penning stories, Class could have survived more than one television series.

I think it’s fair to say that Class has firmly found its home at Big Finish and in the audio format.

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