Class Season One - Episode 5 - Brave-ish HeartBookmark and Share

Saturday, 12 November 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - Miss Quill (KATHERINE KELLY), Dorothea (POOKY QUESNEL), Charlie (GREG AUSTIN), Matteusz (JORDAN RENZO) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Philippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 12th November 2016

This review contains spoilers

 

As befits the first two-part story in Class, there's certainly an epic scope to this tale. The threat of genocide hangs over proceedings, with all of humanity about to fall prey to a bloom of exponentially amassing petals... unless this floral invader can be completely wiped out instead. At the same time, April and Ram are on a mission to defeat the King of the Shadow Kin. Either storyline would be compelling by itself, and in many other series the build up of petals would probably be enough to carry the main plot, but Patrick Ness ups the ante by cleverly intercutting between these two story strands before finally integrating them. 'Brave-ish Heart' also shows a spirit of parental inclusion by having Huw and Varun cross over into Corakinus's world as well as April and Ram. Consequently, it isn't just the teenagers who are taken out of ordinary Shoreditch life, as the wonder of the fiery 'Underneath' (perhaps unintentionally resonating with Stranger Things' 'Upside Down' realm) incorporates a cross-generational presence. Elsewhere, this episode feels insistently marked by Ness's ethos of inclusivity - for example, at a vital moment Matteusz proves crucial to events instead of somehow being placed as a supporting character (and he's given a sharp, smart line about his Polish identity too). And despite an escalating narrative threat, the show's creator-writer also finds time to sketch in more of Ram's cultural background, but without making an issue of it.

 

There is much to marvel at, even if there are occasional mis-steps. Personally, I didn't believe that Huw would simply wander off at the end, readily accepting April's wishes: this felt more like a character being made to do what the writer wanted to telegraph as the right thing. And for me there was also a tension between the dialogue given to April's mum at the episode's conclusion and the logic of storytelling; what we're shown here doesn't seem to entirely fit with the expressed sentiment that there was nothing "lesser" about her previous way of life. But Patrick Ness is highly alert to the pitfalls and problems of representation, and is actively trying to counter particular ways of responding to this storyline. Class is keen to impart its lessons without being misunderstood.

 

Dorothea, played with sinister precision by the always excellent Pooky Quesnel, tells us that the multiplying petals can't be destroyed by conventional means - hence the need for the Cabinet. Yet at one point we witness a smattering of petals on a car windscreen being squished like bugs. This visual image is a striking one, especially as blood squirts out, but it doesn't quite make sense in relation to the petals' alleged indestructibility. As their massed ranks grew and grew, I couldn't help but be reminded of Star Trek's infamous Tribbles, even if they were animal rather than vegetal.

 

Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS), Ram (FADY ELSAYED) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)

Where the petals offer an offbeat, skewed threat, the Shadow Kin sometimes feel more akin to a generic fantasy race. Their realm is effectively represented, though I should note that the BBC's episode preview marked some of these sequences as "work in progress", so final heat haze effects and so on were probably still to be added. But the Shadow Kin really come alive in the moments where their portentous fantasy selves are undercut by a more everyday depiction - we hear a grumble of "teenagers!" when April and Ram's romantic interlude is interrupted, for instance. Too much of this comedic undermining would, of course, undo the Shadow Kin's 'warrior race' designation, but it adds tone and colour to what can otherwise feel like a programmatic image of villainy.

 

The previously alluded to "Governors" start to take on a greater role this week, and I wonder if we might actually encounter their collective before (or during) episode eight. As Coal Hill Academy has been taken over by a suitably shifty organisation, presumably one I. Chesterton is no longer involved. But the gradual emergence of this shadowy group presents Quill with a new set of possibilities, and Katherine Kelly again makes the most of her character's enforced ambivalence and caustic attitude. Mind you, the ethical weight of genocide isn't explored as much as I'd expected it to be, becoming more of a story calculus or an equation to be solved - who will commit genocide against who? - rather than an unsquarable circle or a morally impossible act. While Charlie anguishes over his Princely duty, however, Matteusz sees the situation rather more clearly, and even adopts one of the Doctor's key tenets.

 

'Brave-ish Heart' is a busy episode, always bristling with dramatic action and character moments. Tanya's impassioned defence of April and Ram is one such delightful instant, as is Ram's hilariously strained attempt to sound laddish. Setting in motion what promises to be a powerful story arc for Quill while revisiting Charlie and April's defining dilemmas from the opening episode, Class continues to more than make the grade.             





Class Season One - Episode 4 - Co-Owner of a Lonely HeartBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 November 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

Class - Ep4 - Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins,Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, 
Vivian Oparah, and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Phillippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 5th November 2016

This review contains spoilers.

 

As soon as the 'Previously...' montage starts, I could tell straight off the bat, that this, the fourth of eight episodes of the new BBC3 drama would have heavy links to the first instalment, glossing over what happened in the last two episodes quickly, and concentrating on a recap of episode one. Sure enough, as the episode itself starts, we open on the Shadow Kin's home world, where we find their leader desperately using any way that he can to claim the heart that he now shares with April for himself. 

Back on Earth, as a result of the Shadow Kin's desperation we discover that the link between the Shadow Kin leader and April to be getting stronger and stronger. It is first noticed when she heals quickly after cutting herself. Unfortunately from there, things rapidly escalate, with the link between the two of them actually starts manifesting swords into April's hands when she is angry, something that isn't at all helped by April having an increasingly shorter fuse as the Shadow Kin manage to get an anchor on the heart. As every minute of the episode passes, the link between the two gets stronger and stronger. None of this  is aided by the reappearance of April's father, Huw (played by Happy Valley's Con O'Neil)  who has just been released from prison and is desperate to make amends with April and her mother for any harm that he had previously done.

Elsewhere in the episode, we find out a lot more about the mysterious box that is in Charlie's bedroom. We also get a better insight into Charlie and Quill's 'arrangement'. And there is a sinister and well informed new head teacher at Coal Hill Academy, who makes Quill an offer that she really might not be able to refuse. Oh - I nearly forgot to mention, we also have the small problem of some viciously carnivorous, and rapidly self-replicating blossom that has a very nasty bite. The blossom has somehow found its way through the rift and has started feasting on squirrels and birds.....

The theme of the episode seems to centre itself around one of duty. Be it the duty of a Prince to his people - as Charlie ponders the fate of the population of his home world or the duty of a father and husband, desperately trying to reach out to a family that he has damaged beyond repair. We also have the duty of a protective Mother, plus - as Ram and April's relationship steps up a gear, the duty of a lover.

As we have come to expect, there is a lot of humour in the story, especially when the link between April and the leader of the Shadow Kin starts to work the other way during a rather passionate moment ("I don't suppose.......we could have a moment of cuddling?"). We also have more humour thanks to the wonderfully dysfunctional relationship of Charlie and Quill, as they wrestle with the thought of going to Coal Hill's parent's evening together. 

The cast are growing on me, this story has Ram and April front and centre, while the focus of last week's story, Tanya takes a bit of a back seat.The Shadow Kin as a race fair a lot better here than in episode one, where I must admit that I wasn't that impressed with them. They seemed quite a generic villain, but here on their sizzling home world, spewing boiling anger and desperation, they come across as a real threat.

Now, lets not forget the introduction of that killer blossom, which is a great move, and which elevates the episode above just having the Shadow Kin as the main threat, the blossom is a slow building threat that is at first ignored, and then only really addressed when it could well be too late.

Before closing off this review, I feel that I must mention the special effects, as they are very special. I loved the way that the home world of the Shadow Kin was depicted, it's as if their scenes were shot in the very heart of a volcano, all floating embers and shimmering heat, it was very atmospheric, and made those scenes feel very alien. But lets not forget that it is also about the more subtle effects. The scene that opens on Earth is truly beautiful, and something that has obviously been inspired by the feather at the beginning of Forrest Gump. We follow a single, innocent looking blossom floating slowly through the scene, and eventually down to the ground.

Co-owner of a Lonely Heart is very enjoyable episode, and is unique in the series so far in that it is not only a direct sequel to the very first instalment, but in true, old fashioned Doctor Who tradition, it ends on a cracker of a cliff-hanger that leaves at least two or three very important plot threads dangling.





Class Season One - Episode 3 - NightvisitingBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Class - Series 1 (Credit: BBC/Todd Antony)

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.





Class Season One - Episode 2 - The Coach With The Dragon TattooBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Ep2 - The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo - Ram (FADY ELSAYED) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, with Ben Peel and Nigel Betts.

Written By: Patrick Ness,
Directed By: Edward Bazalgette
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 22nd October 2016

This review contains spoilers

 

Not long having bonded together, the quintet of would-be heroes, drafted in by a mysterious and anonymous Caretaker, are faced with a new challenge. A spate of brutal killings have occurred on the premises of Coal Hill Academy. The P.E coach - or 'teacher' depending on what parlance one opts for - is looking like a red-handed suspect as he takes packages of raw meat out for the consumption of a mysterious entity. Ram is still struggling to make use of his new leg that belongs to a world far away from Earth, and is feeling painfully self-conscious as he cannot kick a football to save his life. However other talents and virtues of this youngster soon will come to the fore..

*

First off, the actual title of the episode has very little to do with Stieg Larsson's famous trilogy, although there are both murders and some detective work featured at times. Instead the 'tattoo' is literally the focus of the episode, as it concerns one of a pair of dragons being somehow trapped on the skin of a staff member at Coal Hill. This boldness in playing with such a well-liked series of books/films is to be admired, nonetheless.

There is plenty to enjoy, although the episode is a touch uneven, and only really gets going about a third of the way in. A number of flashbacks and sudden edits do make things feel slightly overcooked, but eventually the direction matches the opportunities Ness has laid out in his second straight script for the maiden season. Perhaps Ed Bazalgette was opting for a different type of storytelling method, but sadly this goes down as his least successful spell in the director's chair to date.

Dialogue is mostly on the nose for these 45 minutes of (online premier) hi-jinks, and is inevitably allowed the luxury of less exposition and introduction. The portal that allows any manner of creature from time and space is christened with such a funny - but ribald title - that I alas cannot repeat it on this particular site. Trust me: it is amusing. 

Tanya stands out after two episodes as a character with much potential. She mainly intrigues in that she is less pious and upset at the death and chaos around her. Perhaps her outward empathy is that bit less developed, despite her many intellectual gifts. The script for this episode allows actor Vivian Oparah to show more of her innate abilities, and why she was chosen over others for the role; some of whom may have had more experience. 

Miss Quill is once again a very enjoyable component of proceedings. She is blatantly amoral in attitude, but also a lifeform that needs companionship. Her obsession that something is up with the sinister and creepy Ofsted inspector eventually proves a justified hunch, but does lead to her losing control and causing consternation for boss Mr Armitage. Eventually, she uses the most direct method to try and get a romantic partner, but is rewarded with a robotic lack of interest and then a near-death experience. Regardless, the succession of dramas are likely still considerably preferable to her experiences as a freedom fighter on her home world.

As for Charlie and April, who had such a wonderful overlapping arc in the Series premier, there is far less screen time than I personally was expecting. It almost feels like a deliberate focus away from them, at least until the final clash with the villain and the reflections on the ordeal the team have just been through. There are suggestions that whilst Charlie might certainly prefer men on a romantic level, he can have at least an emotional, deep platonic connection with women too. This is of course precedented in the wider Who universe with Captain Jack, Ianto and other characters over the years.

Class - Ep2 - The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo - The Inspector (JAMI REID-QUARRELL) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)

A number of one-off supporting player bite the dust in conclusive fashion, most memorably the Ofsted inspector played by Jami Reid-Quarrell (who has graced prime time Saturday nights before in the parent show - most notably as Colony Sarff). However it is perhaps regrettable we lose Nigel Betts as Mr Armitage so soon into this brand new show, although he did have a good innings when taking into account the Doctor Who episodes that featured him in 2014.

As for the actual villain, I must say I was left a touch cold. He is undoubtedly a reprehensible and selfish character, but the lack of sufficient backstory and a rather overly taciturn demeanor from Ben Peel make him slightly forgettable. Consequently, there is less to care about when Raj's quick thinking condemns the wrongdoer to either a horrible demise, or even potentially a 'living death' as a chair, or whichever object the dragon so chooses to enable a reunion with its mate. After all, the laws of physics in the dimension the beasts originate from are kept very much a mystery and stem from an excellent central premise for the series itself.

The story ultimately manages to make its focus on Raj, and his struggle with the incredible turn of events he has had to process in double-quick time, fully pay off.  The final scenes with the young would-be athlete being consoled by his dad - whilst the surreal and alien events may not fully register with a rather conservative and religious individual - do work on several letters and feature delicate performances. Aaron Neil in particular as Varun is very authentic and engaging, in his supporting role.

This episode overall works sufficiently in doing the tried and tested 'monster of the week' formula and is watchable enough in one or two sittings, depending on the inclination of the viewer. It also allows the principle cast to stand on their own merits and draw us into their characters' highs and lows. The first salvo of the double bill is clearly the stronger script and production, but Class has delivered two works that have more than respectable marks. The remaining episodes are now expected to at least provide the same easy-watch diversions, and a succession of twists to excite the intellect and heart in equal measure.





Class Season One - Episode 1 - For Tonight, We Might DieBookmark and Share

Saturday, 22 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Series 1 (Credit: BBC/Todd Antony)

Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.

Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Edward Bazalgette

Released Online (BBC Three)  - 22nd October 2016 

This review contains spoilers

 

Coal Hill School has now become an academy, and it is some time since popular teacher Clara Oswald became missing, presumed dead. Life at the educational establishment goes on though, and a quartet of remarkable youngsters are attending the academy: Charlie, April, Ram and Tanya. One of these is an aloof and unpredictable young man, another a self-conscious but kind and loyal young lady, another a promising athlete with something of a chip on his shoulder, and the last a brilliant student who has skipped a year and who tells things exactly the way they are.

'The way things are' ..become somewhat surreal, however. A student has suddenly gone missing, and a new teacher - Miss Quill - has joined Coal Hill and acts in the most awkward and unnatural of ways. A shadow creature is beginning to stalk students, and before long a legion of otherworldly beings are stampeding the premises, despite a carefully arrange prom by April.

Could this be grounds for the return of Coal Hill's rather eccentric Caretaker??

 

 

Class (Credit: BBC)2016 will go down in Doctor Who lore as something of a 'gap year'. The first one of these was back in 2009, which featured a number of specials. Since then, other years have been rather light in terms of having new material with the Doctor on TV. Currently, fans are eagerly awaiting Series 10 to materialise onscreen in the spring of 2017. In the meantime, there will be the customary Christmas special.

There now is also this particular edition to the wider Who mythos, and somewhat appropriately it is set  in the school that was the workplace of the first two human companions of the Doctor - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright -  before they were whisked away on the most incredible of journeys.

 

Other spin-offs have been part of early evening or prime time TV once modern Doctor Who fully got under way. Torchwood was most deliberately intertwined with the main Who universe, despite its very different target audience. Class falls between the parent show, and Torchwood, in that the 'young adult' is the intended demographic. There is some gore now and again, and sexuality and relationships are given much emphasis - unsurprising, with the show set in an academy, with teenagers on the verge of adulthood.

Many fans will have been made aware by press that the Twelfth Doctor would pop up immediately in this maiden run of the new show. However, as it turns out he is used sparingly enough to allow the main protagonists to have their crucial limelight. Having the Doctor teased as being shown in a flash back to explain Quill and Charlie being on Earth in the first place is a wise move, before the eventual crisis point where he pops up in the nick of time to quell the threat posed by the Shadow Kin. Capaldi manages to make the most of his limited screen time and continues to act in the vein of a traditionally open and friendly Doctor, as he did for much of the 2015 TV run.

Some of these new characters that viewers will follow in coming weeks are more engaging than others, owing both to the script and to the actual actor. Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), and April (Sophie Hopkins) definitely stand out best for me, although there is a lot of potential for Charlie (Greg Austin) as well, given his back story. Tanya and Ram do have their moments but sometimes can feel stilted. Fady Elsayed has a substantial enough resume already, but can't overcome the 'jock' clich├ęs enough for him to be particularly remarkable in this first installment. Vivian Oparah shows some of her acting inexperience at times, but still convinces more than not, and should grow into the role under the solid production team involved with the show.

 

Patrick Ness' script is reliable and confident in getting a suitably energetic adventure across, but also affording some good work into making us connect with the characters, and that includes some of the relatives of the students. Ness also wants to keep one guessing, which is always an asset of TV drama. One or two other academy students had the potential to end up as main characters, but are killed off by the Shadow Kin in resounding fashion. And the violence does mean this is not really a show for 'under-12s', with Rachel's gory death, and Ram's horrific leg injury really pushing the envelope. 11829519-low-.jpg

The direction and music - from Ed Bazalgette and Blair Mowat, are similarly assured. Some scenes flash by in heartbeat, but the overall feel of the episode is just coherent enough, that the fast pace is manageable.  This season opener has many moments of literal light and shade to explore and the production makes the most of the opportunities afforded. Obviously, the budget is not in the same stratosphere as Doctor Who, and some of the effects with the Shadow Kin or the unearthly dimensions that April or Charlie can see in their mind's eye do require a little tolerance on a given viewer, used to more seamless CGI.

Class stands up as a show with a steady foundation and a lot of good will both in front of and behind the camera. It may currently not appear to offer anything truly pioneering, given the likes of Buffy, Misfits and many late afternoon teenage dramas, that have graced TV screens. But it is still a justifiable addition to the Doctor Who canon and has plenty of room to grow into something truly distinct and memorable.