Class is a Doctor Who spin off in the vein of Torchwood, that being “What if the universe of Doctor Who was more for adults?” Unlike other Who spinoffs, Class is very much trying to balance itself somewhere between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Degrassi. To wit, our cast is primarily assembled of what you’d expect: decently attractive teenagers paired with a mentor working in the school who with a huge chip on their shoulder and a good healthy dose of “teen issues” filling up the cracks. Now that I’ve had some time to take in the first episode, I think it works, but only barely.
The following contains spoilers for the first episode of Class.
After a brief intro sequence featuring an unnamed student being chased and then killed in the school; episode one, “For Tonight We Might Die,” kicks off pretty much how these things need to, as we are quickly introduced to the main cast attending Coal Hill Academy: April (Sophie Hopkins), Tanya (Vivian Oparah), Charlie (Greg Austin), and Ram (Fady Elsayed). Again, per formula, we quickly get basic traits thrown at the screen. April is our default character; fairly normal and as a result isn’t noteworthy to the people around her. Tanya is an honors student with high expectations put on her; exasperated by her younger age. Ram is the school’s attractive football star, and Charlie is the new kid, notably very proper in his demeanor.
Coal Hill is getting ready for the annual prom. April is in charge of decorating and trying to convince Tanya to assist in the process. Due to her age, Tanya is being barred from attending courtesy of her mother. April makes a point that she doesn’t even have a date, but ends up asking Charlie if he’d like to go with her and is promptly shut down. Meanwhile, the school is rife with discussion about a missing student, all centered around scorch marks found in the building.
All four students sit next to each other in Ms. Quill’s class, and Ms. Quill (Katherine Kelly) doesn’t seem to much like her job. She makes this pretty much abundantly clear when she catches Charlie using his phone, and promptly breaking it. Quill blames her “butterfingers,” but the students aren’t having it. Charlie doesn’t cause a fuss, however, and instead locks eyes with another student Matteusz, who indicates a joke at Quill’s expense. We cut to more daily stuff for the students, Ram’s football practice in particular. Ram’s performance is watched on the sidelines by his girlfriend-and also his father. Here on the field is the first sense that something else is wrong also, as Ram sees a shadow run between the shadows of his fellow players, causing him to misstep and immediately get grief for it.
Charlie catches April and asks about prom and whether or not a date is important. Getting her hopes up, April confirms this to him without thinking it strange Charlie doesn’t know that, being a teenager and all. Charlie confirms, and says he’ll be asking Matteusz; leaving April with the good old “of course you are.” Tanya, despite leaning towards wanting to help April, decides to stick to the rules and go home. Charlie also rushes home, to find Ms. Quill already in the house, which does not seem to catch him off guard in the slightest, and instead asks if she killed the student.
That night, April is decorating in the Coal Hill gym while Tanya tutors Ram over Skype; and it is here we get our first taste of proper weirdness in the show. April and Tanya both are attacked by shadows, with April being held in place and Tanya unaware as Ram watches over Skype in horror. It’s pretty sold tension for genre TV, as the shadow begins to manifest in Tanya’s room, she’s forced to try and fight it off with a nearby lamp while April is trapped courtesy an inability to move. April is rescued by the arrival of unexpected help in the form of Ms. Quill, who spooks the creature away for a few moments. Quill has a gun on hand that she claims kills the shadows, but strangely cannot fire it herself; insisting April does so. Terrified, April goes along with the plan and aims the gun at the reappearing creature and fires. The shot is interfered with by Charlie, who has also arrived. The creature is wounded by not killed, which apparently causes all sorts of problems. Meanwhile, Tanya manages to find another weakness of the shadow creatures-the obvious one. She turns up the lights in her room, giving the creature nowhere to manifest.
Back at the school, Charlie explains to April that both himself and Quill are aliens, of two species that once existed at war-the Rhodians and the Quill. Ms. Quill was the leader of a violent rebellion against the Rhodians, who had colonized her people. When she was captured, she was subjected to a particularly interesting punishment: a creature was placed inside of her head that would kill her if she violated her new purpose in life-protect the prince of the Rhodians. No prizes for guessing who that is. However, during their internal war, both races were obliterated by the shadow creatures, called Shadow Kin. With Charlie and Quill being the last survivors, they’re rescued by a familiar blue box.
Oh, and that gun? It kills Shadow Kin, but because they tie themselves to people’s shadows, it kills the user as well. Interestingly, the creature within Ms. Quill will also kill her if she uses weapons, so she insists she isn’t avoiding using the gun because she doesn’t want to die, because it wouldn’t really matter. April didn’t actually make a kill shot, so she doesn’t die, but now her heart is basically working for both her and the Shadowkin, who of course is actually their king. For some reason, April is pretty okay with all of this, presumably because she’s seen her mother deal with strife as well, and they resolve to stand together the next day.
The following day in class, Ram tries to warn his nearby classmates about the shadows, so he and Tanya are filled in with the details about the Shadow Kin and Charlie’s identity. Much like April, they decide to take it in stride and prepare to all meet together at the prom; April advising Tanya to tell her mom it’s mandatory for a class assignment. It is still that kind of show. That night they all arrive at the prom, April without a date, Tanya just excited to be there, and Charlie with Matteusz, who is indeed gay and really into the idea of irritating his religious parents with his date. It is still that kind of a show. Ram is late due to his father trying to dissuade his dating of his current girlfriend, though it’s difficult to see his reasoning. Maybe it’s because of his potential as an athlete? Everything actually seems to be going along swimmingly for a while, and yeah, the set does actually look like a high school prom. The music is pretty much appropriately used too.
From here, everything takes a turn from soapy sci-fi melodrama to definitely not screwing around.
Ram steps outside with his girlfriend for some alone time, as April senses the Shadow Kin approaching by way of a heart attack. They do manifest, with one appearing directly behind Ram’s girlfriend and driving a sword right through her. I know it sounds like it’s telegraphed in writing, but I actually let out an audible “Holy shit!” This isn’t really how you expect the first episode of series tend to go, but here we are-a small invasion force of Shadow Kin march down the hallways of Coal Hill, with a bloodied and angry Ram fighting them off the best he can. One drives a sword almost clear through Ram’s leg. Charlie and Quill go to meet another group of the invasion, while April regains herself and tries to get the students to evacuate, but no one is listening. She snaps, stealing the DJ’s equipment and hollering to escape while going on about not wanting to be “nice” anymore. It also doesn’t work, but reeks of evil alien influence.
Charlie is unable to fire the gun and kill any of the Shadow Kin, and the gun is lost as they are pushed back. They retreat towards the dance, with Ms. Quill getting on her phone calling about “a problem.” The Shadow Kin breach the gym and naturally all the students flee. Now trapped, the students save for Ram group with Ms. Quill and find themselves surrounded. Without a plan, and with things at the most dire, this is of course where the episode’s guest star makes his appearance. Yes, it’s Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, appearing in the last moments to stand up to the Shadow Kin. Taking charge, the Doctor demands to know why the Kin are attacking again. Turns out, Charlie took an heirloom with him when the Doctor helped him escape before, called the Cabinet of Souls. It’s a religious icon that the Rhodians believed kept their spirits after their death. The Shadow Kin believe that energy can be used as a devastating weapon.
Tanya tries to rid the room of the Kin by turning up the gym lights, but they aren’t powerful enough for the large building. The Doctor increases the output with his sonic screwdriver, which pushes most of the kin back through the portal they used to enter this realm. The king grabs April in an attempt to issue a threat, but the battle damaged Ram appears with a folding chair and hits the King through the rift. Unfortunately that means his heart is still connected to April, but the Doctor is able to block the rift and scramble the Kin’s ability to return, at least for now. Ram collapses and is taken to the TARDIS. While the others regroup, Ram is given a souped-up prosthetic by the Doctor and returned. The Doctor then explains that while they’ve pushed back the Kin, it’s abundantly clear Coal Hill has become a focal point for bizarre occurrences and will need people who can intervene more often than he can.
To achieve this, he charges the students to be the defenders of the school and immediate area, with Ms. Quill protecting them. Quill is visibly distraught, as she expected the Doctor to take her and Charlie away. The Doctor reminds her of the student from the beginning and confirms she used him to fire the gun. He reminds her of her punishment linking her to Charlie, and calls this her punishment from him. From there, he leaves and that’s pretty much it. The kids all go home; April deciding she will become stronger thanks to events, Tanya still amazed at it all, and Ram needing to get used to his new leg that will likely impact his future-along with the grief he feels. Quill is still enraged at her fate, and Charlie sits with the Cabinet of Souls, revealing that it is, of course, not empty.
While things do follow a fairly familiar pattern, this was a pretty decent show opener. We get a decent feel for these characters and where they are coming from. The Shadow Kin designs are pretty cool, with some pretty solid makeup on the actors. Once things get going with the main plot, the edginess is right up front but doesn’t distract from the episode; instead it gives it stakes. The MVP is easily Katherine Kelly as Ms. Quill. She is able to play the cold human act while also being an angry alien-and always feels a little bit out of place. The performance never goes too far towards insufferable, which is pretty hard to do. That said, there are issues. Despite the show’s insistence that Charlie is the main character, he’s the least interesting of the bunch, even with owning a super weapon. I also have a difficult time believing these are characters that would actually really spend time together if these events didn’t happen. It reeks of most of the character motivation being centered on “my damage” than anything else. A part of the reason these things worked on shows like Buffy is that the characters had a vested interest in each other even past the bizarre things they fought. Furthermore, I’m a little bothered by the Doctor’s behavior here, or rather, how he’s written. Over and over, Ms. Quill equates her bond to Charlie as enslavement, making it clear that’s how she views her predicament. There’s a possibility in exploring that, but instead the show decides for us via the Doctor charging her the same way.
In spite of that, I’m still interested in where Class goes from here. If the cast can come together and work, I do believe the show can overcome these stumbles. I’m curious to see what else they fight and what the pay off with the Shadow Kin will turn into. We only have a short seven more episodes to find out.
- Serious question: Why do the Shadow Kin attack April and Tanya at all? If it is because they interacted with Charlie at school, then it’s clear the Kin have eyes on him and could have just tailed Charlie, right?
- As I mentioned in my Doctor Who recap, this takes place before Series 10.
- If you’re wondering why Coal Hill looks so different, it was apparently renovated.
- If this is Doctor Who meets Buffy, I’m guessing life isn’t gonna get easier for our Willow analog, April.
- I have no idea why Charlie was Googling Idris Elba in class, but do you blame him?