The first half of Doctor Who spin-off Class is now available to view on BBC iPlayer. As an avid ‘Whovian’ I had to at least give it a go, and I have to say that it’s actually of high quality for its target audience. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as though I belong to that audience anymore.
According to series creator Patrick Ness, Class is for ‘young adults’. It wasn’t clear what that meant until airing, but it now seems that ‘young adult’ is roughly 11-16. It involves teenagers learning about relationships, dealing with family problems, and generally exhibiting angst. All while coping with alien threats, of course.
So it’s not designed for me. In fact, were it not for the Doctor Who connection, I wouldn’t have even noticed it. This is where I’ve found myself in a difficult spot. Unlike previous Doctor Who spin-offs, the link to Who is only actually there in the first episode. Yet it’s the first episode which is the weakest so far.
The appearance of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in the first episode is good, and his directive sets the premise for the show. Because he’s too busy, the children have to defend the school from a variety of aliens and monsters. He’s also responsible for two of the protagonists, aliens Charlie and Quill, being at the school. He appears for about ten minutes for exposition and a deus ex machina solution before disappearing. So the Doctor is important for the premise of the show, you just don’t need to know that in following episodes. You’d be able to enjoy them at the same level without knowing. Besides that, Doctor Who is only present through subtle winks and nods. Besides that, it’s just a sci-fi drama for teenagers.
For said age group, I feel like Class is clever and I would definitely have enjoyed it when I was younger. I was a massive Buffy fan when I was 14, and I think I would have liked Class just before then. What’s more is Class references Buffy in the first episode. Within the episode the characters note their situation is akin to those in Buffy, Once Upon a Time etc.
Class is a success because of the care that’s gone into it by creator Patrick Ness. He knows its premise is an up-to-date version of other programmes, but he takes ‘up-to-date’ seriously. He has a cast of characters which include different ethnicities and sexualities on purpose. Ness does this because: “When you don’t see yourself on screen, you are harmed. You are implicitly disinvited from the party and I just thought, when I started writing books that that was never going to happen again – not on my watch.”
A tried-and-tested format of blending monster-of-the-week and Big Bad episodes is used. This feels natural if choppy in a short, eight episode series. The arch antagonists, the Shadow Kin, are good but there resemblance to the White Walkers in Game of Thrones is hard to ignore. The concept of their leader sharing a heart with one of the protagonists, April, gives them a layered presence though. It’s a compelling element, but is cringe-worthy when the villain experiences April’s emotions.
I think April is my favourite character – she’s kind but headstrong, without being boring. Yet there’s no weak central character. Even the secondary characters are fleshed out more than I expected at this early stage. They all share strong chemistry with one another. This is complemented by the presence of Quill acting as the group’s reluctant mentor. To keep the Buffy analogy, she acts as a synthesised version of Spike and Giles.
I’m quite invested in the series at this point and will definitely watch the rest of series one, mainly because I want to see how some of the storylines conclude. That said, I doubt I’ll bother with the inevitable second series. Not because I think it’ll be of low quality. Just it’s not for me.