2016 was a sorry year for us Whovians, with no new series of the show on television, there was very little circulating except for the fantastic Big Finish audiobooks. Then it was announced earlier in that year that the BBC had been working on a brand new spin-off, one set in Coal Hill School. A project called Class.
For some fans, this was welcomed news, something new from the Doctor Who universe we could treat our eyes too. Some fans condemned it there and then but no foul-mouthing from them could halt the project. Sure enough on the 22nd October, the premiere episode, For Tonight, We Might Die aired and the series was finally available for all to see. We know how it all ended.
But Big Finish has announced that the series is coming back in the audio treatment. And again, the show has been treated with the same condemning from some vocal fans of the parent show. But Big Finish has an excellent way of taking things that weren’t all they could have been and turned them around. It is my belief that the same will happen to Class and it will find its home on audio.
I’ll quickly get this out of the way before I start properly, I enjoyed Class, I thought it was ten times better than many viewers. Of course, I wasn’t blind to its faults and believe me, there were a few but overall I really enjoyed the ride. I gave a good review on my own blog here.
But enough about me lets get on with the point of this article, the trial of Class.
Class was headed by a young-adult author, Patrick Ness who knew the show’s target audience very well. The majority of the characters in the show felt like teenagers, even if they were slightly exaggerated versions of them. There was the intelligent one in Tanya, the strong one in April, the jock in Ram and the slight outsider in Charlie. We even had the surrogate, (albeit reluctantly), mother in the form of Miss. Quill. Throw in Matteusz and we’ve got a whole gang who work brilliantly together. These guys felt like they could be kids at your school or college.
Ness had a good handle on how teenagers act but not necessarily on how they talk. With a show running the line between The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, swearing was always going to be included and teens do swear, but some words were put together in ways that didn’t make sense. Having these characters say things that teenagers were ‘supposed’ to be saying was cringe-worthy, even I felt that as a teenager in 2016.
The acting was great though. Greg Austin, Jordan Renzo, Vivian Operah, Katherine Kelly, Fady Elsayed and Katherine Kelly always made sure they did the absolute best with the material they were given, which was, mostly top-notch. As with every series, there were always going to be a few duff episodes but the show had really begun to come into its own by the time its finale The Lost, (a subject I’ll get to in a moment,) and absolutely deserved a second series just on the basis of how this one finished!
Greg Austin and Katherine Kelly had an already established chemistry as they had worked together on a couple of big projects before Class came along. I knew who Katherine Kelly was from her time on Coronation Street which I’ve had to endure anytime I’ve been around my Grandparents’ house, but the rest of the cast were unknowns. With the exception of read-through’s, television doesn’t a rehearsal time, prior to going in front of the cameras these days and sometimes, this can really show up an actor who isn’t matching the performance of their co-star. But all the cast looked like they had been acting together for years in the scenes they all featured in, even if those were few and far between.
That was a major issue for Class, the whole gang were very rarely together in the same scene. One of two was always off doing something else while the others were sorting things out. An episode where this is really evident is episode three – Nightvisiting – where Tanya, Ram & April, Miss Quill and Charlie & Matteusz spend most of the episode apart only to come together in a rather Sarah Jane Adventures move when Miss Quill drives through the alien with a double-decker. (Sarah Jane did it with a bus when she and Maria were trying to get into the Bubbleshock factory in Invasion of the Bane). Had the characters been together in episodes for longer, they might have worked better as a well-oiled machine. You only to look at the conclusion to For Tonight, We Might Die and The Lost to see what I mean. The Doctor and Tanya work out how to stop the Shadow Kin, Charlie and Miss Quill fend them away, April offers them an ultimatum and Ram smacks the king round the back of the head with a chair.
I’ve mentioned The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood a few times so far so let’s have a look at why they worked slightly better than Class did. Class suffered because it didn’t have an established Doctor Who character involved. I understand that Class wanted to be its own thing in the Doctor Who mythos but both The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, even the Australian K-9 series were using characters from the parent show but forging their own path.
Its been announced that Ace will be featured in the new audio adventures and this instantly gives us fans someone to invest in, in this new product. Given how she was supposed to feature at the end of the Fifth series of Sarah Jane Adventures, she would have been the perfect character to feature in the Class television series. Or Ian Chesterton, given how the building the action took place in was called The Barbara Wright building and it was established that Ian was a governor at the school.
Mr Armitage was the head teacher in The Caretaker and Dark Water but how cool would it have been had the headmistress been the mysterious Susan Foreman?! Of course, Mr Armitage meets a sticky end in the middle of The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo and I don’t think longtime viewers of Doctor Who would have been happy had Susan been killed off that way, I know I wouldn’t have.
For Tonight, We Might Die did feature the Twelfth Doctor but that was no way to set the series off. The pilot episode should have been a great way of establishing these characters as a team, Revenge of the Slitheen allows the gang in Sarah Jane to bond, gel and come together and defeat the villain. Torchwood did the same in Everything Changes/Day One. The Doctor is referenced but never seen, though he did put in appearances later on, the shows were already established with the Doctor fitted in as best as possible. And it shouldn’t be that the Doctor gets his ‘Doctor’ moment in a spin-off show. Although he has that terrific speech that was memed, tweeted and reshared to hell from The Zygon Inversion, I would argue his true ‘Doctor’ moment came when he was facing down the Shadow Kin.
Miss Quill: “Well, there’s nothing left to do then is there but to die well.
The Doctor: “You know, I never thought that was possible, dying well?”
Still, Peter Capaldi’s performance is excellent as always, even if Patrick Ness has written him like the Tenth Doctor.
Corakinus: “We’re here for the Cabinet.”
The Doctor: “Oh…the Cabinet…Well, there’s this terribly painful shop here called Ikea…”
On the subject of the Shadow Kin, how did they work as the main villains for the series? Well, quite well, in as far as an invading force like The Daleks, as they didn’t really have many motivations besides invading planets. The Daleks have always been fun because they have been the main staple of Doctor Who since 1963, we are used to seeing them Exterminating, Annihilating and Destroying.
But the parallels between the Daleks and the Nazi Party has never been blurred. In 1963, Terry Nation created and wrote the Daleks from his experiences in WW2. The Thals were the Jewish people and the Daleks were their WW2 oppressors. And that theme has never been lost, the Daleks want to wipe out anything they perceive as below themselves. The Shadow Kin only work because they are evil and invading planets is what they do. It is a character trait that gets quite old, quite fast.
But they work on their first and last appearances, we see how ruthless they are in For Tonight, We Might Die and The Lost, (I remember what a shock it was to see Ram and Tanya’s parent’s killed). Their other appearances in Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart & Brave-ish Heart, they fair a lot worse, being used for comedic value in Co-Owner and in Brave-Ish, did absolutely naff-all. And the way that April kept swinging those scimitars around was quite cringe-worthy!
The other baddies in this series were a lot more interesting, the alien vines that projected images of your dead loved ones, the carnivorous petals and the strange meteor and the Arn Devil proved to be much more interesting foes. The meteor brought everyone’s fears to light as well as some ugly truths, the petals had everyone at each other’s throats in how they wanted to deal with the threat and the alien vines had some very interesting reactions from people at home who had gone through the same thing as Tanya.
I had lost my father when I was seventeen too a brain tumour a few years before Class aired. Nightvisiting was a very interesting view for me, Tanya is confronted with a vision of her dead father and it made me wonder how would I have reacted to the same thing. I would have certainly acted with a little more shock than Tanya does, I would have probably sworn a lot and then passed out. But would I have taken his hand…
One major problem with Class was that it suffered from the lack of promotion from the BBC at the time. We were handed a number of promotional shots and that was it. There were no interviews ahead of time, no trailers on BBC1. There was nothing of note until the series landed in our laps. And it landed on BBC3. Now, I’m sorry, but BBC3 is a dead channel, it always has been seen, but it came off our screens and was a streaming only channel, its gone even further down the toilet. This series would have done so much better at either 8pm or 9pm on BBC2 like Torchwood did. It is a shame on the BBC that there was so little care taken with this series.
The sub-plots in Class were often a lot more interesting than the main ones, especially the one concerning the mysterious governors. Given how Coal Hill School was home to a mysterious crack in space and time, it was inevitable that some shady organisation decided to be involved behind the scenes. The headmistress, Dorothea Ames, played excellently by Pooky Quesnel has some brilliant input in the series, she pulls a gun on her students, Charlie and Matteusz, understands is knowledgeable on how April and Corakinus share a heart and takes Miss Quill on a trip to her home planet in a make-shift time machine so she can get the Arn, a device to keep her in line, out of her eye.
It all comes to ahead in the surprisingly good finale, The Lost where the Governors decide that Dorothea has failed in her mission and all turn their backs on her. Who should appear at that moment but the Weeping Angels and from those few moments, they were scarier than they have ever been since Blink. They tear her head around and kill her.
Going from that shocking reveal at the end of the series it is a shame that we never got that second series. From what I understand, it was supposed to surround a Weeping Angel Civil War but it would have been so cool to see those creatures, who worked so much better than the Shadow Kin, up against the gang from Coal Hill. Alas, we will never get to see that.
One last thing that Class was particularly good at was its LGBTQ+ representation. Doctor Who and its spin-off shows have never been shy about including this, Russell T. Davies had characters like Captain Jack and Alonso, among others and Steven Moffatt had Jenny, Vastra and Bill as well as most of the Roman centurions in The Eaters of Light. It will be interesting to see what Chris Chibnall does. Had The Sarah Jane Adventures continued, Russell T. Davies would have written that Luke had found love with his friend from University. The pair would have come back and we would have gotten Luke’s coming out story.
Class had a gay-couple as one of their main characters, Charlie and Matteusz. It was an interesting relationship because of how real it felt, thanks to the brilliant chemistry between actors, Greg Austin and Jordan Renzo. Charlie and Miss. Quill didn’t care or understand why some people shun the ideas of homosexuality. But Matteusz states that his family is deeply religious and don’t approve. The beginning of Nightvisiting even tells us that his family kicked him out, forcing him to live with Charlie and Miss. Quill.
With Jenny and Vastra living in Victorian times, Stephen Moffatt was able to show us how much times had changed and indeed, the pupils around Charlie and Matteusz didn’t care that they were dating. That isn’t meant in a horrible way, they just didn’t see anything wrong with it, which is the way the world should be. People shouldn’t have a say in who someone can or can’t love, no matter what creed, colour, size or sexuality you happen to be. Maybe this was the most important lesson that Class had to teach the world.
I said at the beginning of this large piece of waffle, that I enjoyed Class when it originally aired. I still do, even if I’m not blind to its faults. It is a shame that we didn’t get that second series for it. Like composer, Blair Mowat said in Doctor Who Magazine:
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Torchwood were still finding their feet in their opening year.”
And that was really what Class was doing, it was slowly finding its feet. The second season of Buffy is some of the best television I’ve seen produced, I’ve no doubt that Class would have strived to reach those heights. Now that Big Finish has taken the show on and are about to give it a brand new lease on life, maybe it will. With the inclusion of Ace and the Daleks, I’ve no doubt it will be a hit.