Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo and Katherine Kelly, with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Anastasia Hille.
Written By: Patrick Ness, Directed By: Edward Bazalgette
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 29th October 2016
This review contains spoilers
After last week's launch episodes, not to mention an audience-grabbing deployment of Peter Capaldi, this is where Class might start to settle down into its own spin-off rhythms and Academy routines. But 'Nightvisiting' avoids a number of telefantasy pitfalls; for one thing, the lead characters are not instantaneously bonded together as an alien-fighting team. And even if this scenario begins to solidify across the episode, Class still has its trump card of Miss Quill - a perpetual outsider played with insistent relish by Katherine Kelly - to disrupt any easy sense of teambuilding. For another thing, this story avoids focusing on a 'character of the week', despite seeming at first as if it may belong to Tanya in the same way that 'Coach with the Dragon Tattoo' made Ram its central figure. Instead, both Quill and Tanya are forced to confront powerful memories.
We open with what amounts to a pop-video-style montage, a four-minute warning of what Tanya has lost from her life, as we see key moments in her relationship with her Dad before flashing forward to his sudden death, and then to the second anniversary of their family's loss. As a pre-credits sequence this really packs a punch; Patrick Ness is right to emphasise all these happy family events so as to really underscore and stress Tanya's grief, and her desire to believe that her Dad may have returned. It feels somewhat akin to the most unusual episode of Russell T. Davies's Cucumber, albeit boiled down to a single sequence and given a fantastical edge.
Of course, the 'nightvisiting' idea that's explored in this episode has a long and venerable history in both folklore and genre fiction, but even so the folk motif drawn on via April's hobby gives things a fresh new dimension. Even more impressive, though, are the visuals, where this week's alien presence has a Krynoid-like or Zygon-like organic feel, combined with an 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' pod-people vibe. The monstrous aspects of 'Nightvisiting' are handled expertly via Ed Bazalgette's direction, especially when Tanya's Dad, Jasper, is framed at the extreme right-hand edge of the screen in order to mask the unpleasant reality of exactly what's feeding into his shocking appearance. All the trunk and tendril imagery is also utilised very well in outside scenes of alien invasion, making this a highly unusual and distinctive alien attack in relation to the Whoniverse's norms.
Although it could be suggested that this is an even more character-driven and emotional story than what's come before in Class, it balances character development and its action storyline very effectively. There's also space for a number of subplots to occupy the ensemble cast, as Matteusz takes on a larger role after his displacement from episode 2, allowing his budding relationship with Charlie to be touchingly explored, as well as Ram and April's friendship deepening, perhaps into something new. One aspect of the show's format -- that Miss Quill can only defend her charge rather than proactively fighting -- looks as though it may be in danger of becoming repetitive and limiting rather quickly, though. It is only referenced briefly here, but for such a compelling character to be so restricted seems narratively awkward at best. It's a neat device for making a conflicted "freedom fighter" a more Doctor-ish presence, having to rely on ingenuity and intellect rather than resorting to violence, but thus far in the series it seems just to have inhibited Quill. I hope that Ness can find creative ways to vary, qualify and bend the rules he's set for himself in future adventures.
There is some limited tension as we ponder whether beloved relatives may have been restored to those suffering bereavement and loss. Given the genres that Class is registered within, however, there's no real doubt or hesitation over where the story is headed (and likewise, the visual reveals rather quickly indicate a less than pleasant alien force at work). But with so much else going on in the episode, this is less of a weakness than may otherwise be supposed, and the real tension lies in whether Miss Quill or Tanya will give into temptation.
After three episodes, and being almost half way through series one already, it's interesting to ponder what makes this a "YA" rendering of the Doctor Who template. Yes, the lead characters are mostly of school age; yes, relationships and sexuality are a major part of the mix; yes, there's more gore and telefantasy horror than the parent show and its family-friendly prohibitions can muster. Having said that, "YA" may itself be difficult to pin down, and Class makes a strong case for not really worrying about such definitions, along with ignoring the TV industry's preoccupation with audience demographics. The persuasiveness of Patrick Ness's vision of Coal Hill Academy is that its persistent probings of loss carry an emotional realism that easily transcends age categories. Such loss also afflicts human and non-human characters alike: there's no superheroic position outside the sadnesses that make life worth living, and even the Doctor can't always be there to help. There is a basic, underlying melancholy to Class that is more than merely adult or grown-up. This is television where emotional realism and emotional intelligence intertwine in its very roots and branches. Roll on next week, then, and an episode that looks set to revisit and expand upon another core part of the mythology that Patrick Ness is wholeheartedly, sensitively unfolding.