Class is the fourth BBC TV spin-off from Doctor Who, this one aimed at ‘young adults’ created by novelist Patrick Ness, who to my knowledge has written nothing in the Whoniverse before. Premiering 10 years to the day after the second (happy anniversary, Torchwood) I had no idea what to expect, other than that my office would feature (‘cos I’d watched them doing lots of filming). And that it would be the only Peter Capaldi Doctor Who we’d get this year before Christmas Day.
I got whiplash watching. It’s not that the pacing is off, as in the early days of new-Who cramming stories down to three quarters of an hour. It’s more like a language of television that I’m not familiar with (I’m getting old…is this what the young people watch?) This straight-to-iPlayer BBC 3 drama has character development, sharply defined relationships, backstory… but it’s revealed only in super-dense snippets in the narrative that is already in full flight before the credits. I guess I was expecting some sort of Grange Hill with aliens.
The writing is sharp – quick witted as well as quick – yet finding space for emotional development within the short fast scenes. It’s well plotted, with clever setups paid off – the Moffat haters will have to find something else to moan about (no doubt they will). And there are several nods to old-Who; though whether the trad-Whovians will appreciate the fact that it was the Fourth Doctor’s costume designer who caught her husband fiddling with himself on the stairs is doubtful.
When Capaldi does turn up, the change of pace is marked (here’s a Doctor who happily spent half an episode talking to a Zygon about a box). It’s good to see him – but it feels awkward, too, as the gears crunch and the plot coasts to a standstill. The frenetic urgency has evaporated. None of the previous spin-offs have featured the Doctor until well established (i.e. a couple of seasons in). I guess it helps that we can go straight on to episode 2 (which ‘dropped’ at the same time – again, language I don’t get, when did ‘drop’ stop meaning removed and start meaning the opposite?) At the time of writing I haven’t watched it, though.
The stakes are pretty high early on but the characters are fun and intriguing. It was well trailed Katherine Kelly was going to be interesting – and she was lots of fun, even if it verged on pantomime. I hope we get more of the freedom fighter later, but I thought this comment provided an illuminating insight:
What is clearly a small budget has been spent wisely; the monsters (a kind of unsophisticated vashta nerada) are extremely well realised and menacing. The incidental music is great, though it’s a shame we get some sort of popular song rather than a proper theme tune – but I’ll forgive it that because the titles have my office in!
They are a little bit Grange Hill, though.