Breathe a sigh of relief. Class is finally here, and believe us: the hype is real.
The first episode of Patrick Ness’ new Coal Hill side-story kicks off with a tremendous bang – and guess what? It might just be the best Doctor Who spin-off yet…
If you’ve had doubts about Class up to now, we can’t say we blame you. Its reveal came out of nowhere, and its premise – while interesting – definitely wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who. What’s more, it’s also been loaded with the added pressure of filling the big empty gap left by the main series’ 2016 hiatus. Thankfully, the cast and crew have been hard at work, and this is one test they pass with flying colours.
Right from the very start, Class shows that it means business. The opening scene is tense and intriguing, but that’s not the only thing worth noting. The cinematography is truly something special and the visual effects throughout are simply sublime. In particular, our brand new antagonists, the Shadow Kin, are an impressive design feat. It’s clear that, despite its spin-off status, nothing about Class feels lesser. The love and effort that’s been put into the show is obvious, and that makes it very easy to sit back and enjoy.
Top of the Class
The cast, for instance, couldn’t have been better picked. Each of the main characters has a fairly typical role to fulfill, but the actors all convince by adding their own unique spins. Charlie is the new kid at school and a fish out of water. April is the sweet and caring ‘girl next door’ type. Ram is the muscular and mouthy football player. Tanya is the smart kid with overly strict parents. They’re nothing out of the ordinary, but that’s to the show’s benefit – it feels incredibly grounded in spite of all the sci-fi shenanigans.
Perhaps best of all though is Miss Quill, a sharp-tongued teacher who takes no nonsense whatsoever. In a tightly crafted script full of wit and drama, she gets many of the best lines. Sarcastic and enigmatic, she’s sure to be an instant favourite with fans. All five of these characters get drawn into proceedings in various different ways, and everyone gets their moment to shine. It’s a great introduction to them all.
Just as much a character in the show though is Coal Hill itself, now granted Academy status. A stalwart of Doctor Who since the very beginning, the school takes centre stage for many of the episode’s principal moments (pun fully intended). Devoted Doctor Who fans can rest easy that there’s plenty of callbacks to older episodes – we even get to see some of the same sets and cast from more recent series. Indeed, a key revelation scene is very reminiscent of one from The Caretaker, a story which has clearly inspired a lot in Class’ first episode. Even The Doctor himself makes reference to it when he eventually appears on the scene – a welcome delight all by itself.
Doctor in the House
Ah yes, of course. We couldn’t possibly get through this review without mentioning Peter Capaldi’s cameo. He keeps you waiting a while, but when he does turn up he makes a very grand entrance, and all but steals the show. Accompanied by a brilliant new music rendition of Twelve’s Theme, he’s absolutely on top form – it’s so good to have him back on our screens, even if only briefly. What’s more, his appearance doesn’t feel forced, and it helps to tie Class into the greater Doctor Who universe (even more so than you might expect). In fact, that’s probably this episode’s greatest strength: it’s full of parallels and themes that make it fit right in with the main show.
However, Class definitely has its own identity, and it’s clear that it’s also not like Doctor Who in many ways. Tonally, it walks a line somewhere between Doctor Who and Torchwood – not quite as adult, but definitely an awful lot darker. Expect stronger language, bigger scares, and a lot more violence. There are some truly genuine shocks as the episode reaches its climax, and when the show goes full throttle, boy does it go full throttle. If you’re expecting something entirely in line with the main series, you may want to think again.
If there’s one noticeable niggle, it’s that the students seem to be incredibly accepting of everything going on around them. Maybe their heads are just so full of Artron energy now, who knows? It’s not a huge problem by any means, and dwelling on it would slow down the pace immensely. It’s just one of those things where suspension of disbelief is key.
So, in conclusion: Class is in session, and we couldn’t be happier. It may have been easy to ignore the show up until this point, but now that it’s here, it’s absolutely worth a look. Patrick Ness and the cast have done a fantastic job and Class more than warrants being given a chance. It may not completely fill the void left by Doctor Who, but it’s a mighty fine substitute in the meantime. We’re certainly on board for more Coal Hill adventures – now, where do we sign up for our enrollment forms?