Sunday, October 23, 2016

In Which I Review Class (1x1 and 1x2)

Imagine if Pretty Little Liars had aliens. You'd get all the teenage angst of school, family, friends and coming of age stories mixed in with the edge-of-your-seat science fiction action that pushes ordinary boys and girls to grow up just a little bit faster to becomes heroes and saviors. This heady mix of real and other worldly is what the new BBC Doctor Who spinoff "Class" strives to achieve in its first two episodes, "For Tonight We Might Die" and "The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo." If the BBC is going to keep my beloved Time Lord from me for another few months, then we might as all pack our trusty screwdrivers into our backpacks and go back to Coal Hill; goodness knows there are corridors aplenty to run down inside its locker-lined halls. Doctor Who spinoffs can be hit or miss; I never got into the Sarah Jane Adventures but Torchwood churned out some pretty impressive and grown up science fiction. Class feels like it sits right in the middle; it's more adult than the former with an almost surprising amount of gore and blood for a show aimed at the YA audience, but less mature than the latter. It's a surprisingly decent outing that grounds itself in the knowledge that its audience already had a firm footing in its universe because of Doctor Who. We can easily accept that Coal Hill, the seat of so much Who history and lore, would suddenly have a rip in the fabric of space time (sorry, Tanya. We're not calling it a bunghole). If I can access your world without the writing have to do any somersaults, then we're well on our way to a good bit of narrative. Turn on the lights and check for shadows! Let's go!

At first glance, the characters in class might appear to be walking cliches. You have the outsider who can't quite relate to his peers (Charlie); the jock who has everyone in awe (Ram); the brainiac who just wants a friend (Tanya); the too-nice, big hearted but lonely outcast (April) and the tough as nails teacher whom you suspect became a teacher on a whim because they clearly hate their job and the students (Miss Quill). But like so much in Doctor Who, and in good TV, once the characters are faced with something outside their normal day to day lives, they show us their true colors. We get glimpses of what lies behind the cliches, of who Charlie, Ram, April, Tanya and Miss Quill really are. April has a heroic and self-sacrificial streak; Ram is under too much pressure from his father to perform well; Tanya really just wants to be normal in spite of her mother's own demands that she be extraordinary. Oh and Charlie and Miss Quill are actually aliens on the run from a Tolkien-esque monster, carrying the souls of millions in a box, and are telepathically linked because of a bug-brain. See. Layers! Like any show that hinges on the adventures of people only thrown together because of circumstance, the first few episodes are about trust and how hard it can be to work together with people you had never regarded before, but that doesn't make it unwatchable. The student characters are funny and there's a tangible ethos in some, especially Ram who struggles with the loss of his girlfriend (at prom of all places!) and his abilities as a footballer. The big themes are of the universal kind--the ordinary becoming extraordinary, the different talents each individual brings to a collective whole, the perils of growing up with danger all around. Like Doctor Who, Class is about individuals thrown into a whirlwind and finding the best of themselves (there's even a snarky, grumpy, yet somehow comical mentor along for the ride, though Miss Quill would probably shirk at being compared to the Doctor). Charlie, April, Ram, and Tanya have to "figure out how to make this new reality work," probably on a week-to-week episodic basis and it's a fun ride to go on. Plus, if it means we get to see the Doctor every now and then, I'm all for it!

Miscellaneous Notes on For Tonight We Might Die and The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo

--Class is spearheaded by Patrick Ness, a Young Adult author. If the characters on screen are less annoying than other attempts at teenagedom, this is why.

--The show deserves some credit for the wide diversity both racially and with regards to sexual orientation, though I wonder if making the sole LGBT representative an alien was a good idea.

--The CGI effects are surprisingly great; the dragon of the second episode was quite good to look at.

--Miss Quill will undoubtedly go on to be the fan favorite for lines like "you ludicrous Care Bear!"

--"We're not superheroes." On the nose commentary from one of the future "superheroes" of Coal Hill.

--The Doctor notices Clara's name on the school wall while explaining that "time never forgets"; a nice touch to remind the audience what happened to the Doctor at the end of last season.

--"You are the Great Destruction of the universe..." "Yeah, but most people just call me the Doctor."

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