Class Series One - Episode 6 - DetainedBookmark and Share

Saturday, 19 November 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Ep6 - Detained - Matteusz (JORDAN RENZO), Tanya (VIVIAN OPARAH), Charlie (GREG AUSTIN), April (SOPHIE HOPKINS) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Katherine Kelly, Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin,
Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo with Ferdy Roberts

Writer: Patrick Ness
Director: Wayne Yip
Producer: Derek Ritchie 
 
Executive Producers: Brian Minchin,
Patrick Ness, and Steven Moffat  
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 19th November 2016

This review contains spoilers.

Its another conundrum to unravel for our gang of do-gooders, having been abandoned to unsupervised detention by Miss Quill. This is no normal punishment, however, as they have been cast outside space and time itself, thanks to the rift.  Remaining trapped in one room, they all feel mounting alarm. The view outside the door and windows is a blank void.

At first they wonder if a mysterious segment of an asteroid could be the means to their escape. It turns out the rocky entity forces their deepest, most heartfelt feeling to the surface, as one by one they clutch it in their palms.

Truth and honesty unchecked can be damaging, and so it proves as the ties of friendship are strained to their very limit. Relationships come under heavy, unexpected scrutiny, for respectively Charlie and Matteusz, and April and Ram. Tanya also is taken on a difficult emotional path in terms of her insecurities over being the youngest of the group.

It eventually becomes clear that someone must take a stance, even if the ultimate sacrifice is the only pathway. Otherwise, this group of five could be reduced to just the one lone survivor..

**

The premise of a bottle episode has been done many times before in television. In Buffy, one particular episode involved the main characters forgetting who they were, but once they regained their memories, their relations were drastically altered. This story somewhat echoes that plotline, and does similar work in germinating the seeds laid out in prior stories. Enough craftsmanship by the writing, acting and production teams is involved, however, to make this tale feel like it is both relevant to today, and to be heartfelt in the emotional journeys presented.

One noticeable difference between Detained, and all preceding Season One efforts, is that effectively the core narrative is told in real time. Charlie describes the ordeal they go through as lasting "forty-five minutes". But in that time, a lot of things a considerable sea-change has occurred in the relations they have with each other.

This proves that sometimes sound, fury, and visual effects are not always needed for making a drama show work. Believable and fleshed-out characters will always be vital for any discerning viewer. It is also a neat conceit that the enemy in this story was the ruthless survivor of a group of five, and at one point it appears the same outcome will play out with our lead characters. The series may have had some moments of tonal confusion - particularly in Nightvisiting - but it is very good at bringing across themes, and parallels between different characters and/or groups.

Mystery is often one of the best methods to make a work of fiction gripping. Patrick Ness certainly gets the balance right between exposition and speculation, as the quintet are able to piece together enough to clarify how and why events are unfolding. We never get the full details of why this is all happening. The enigmatic prisoner's original appearance, where he came from, and just what motivation and method applied to the many murders he committed; all this remains open to our imagination.

It turns out that the Prince of Rhodia is anything but an angel, despite his mild manners and awkwardness that on the surface. His willingness to kill all civilisation on Earth, and that only his romance with Matteusz holds him back, is rather alarming. One wonders if Quill is actually the most immoral one after all. Of course Charlie's Polish boyfriend is able to reassure him repeatedly, and this helps the group overcome their predicament. Some damage is done to their relationship in the short term with the 'confessions', but perhaps it will bode well in the long run.  

We also witness Ram's deep feelings for April, but how he senses she does not quite return those feelings on the same level. She has perhaps every reason to be cautious about a man in her life getting close to her and being trustworthy, given the way she and her mother suffered (and continued to suffer) through Hew's actions years ago. Indeed, some exposition over the horrific incident to befall her family features when April clutches the meteor.

I know I was not alone in finding the competitive footballer's match-up with the thoughtful violist something that came out of left field. Certainly their moment of physical intimacy in Episode Four was one of the lowlights of the show, and further made ludicrous by the juxtaposition with the Shadow Kin. There never was proper discussion of how Ram was able to move on from losing Rachel, who died in such a manner that she could not even be allowed a proper burial.

Fortunately this episode manages to make the romance feel engaging, and the performances of both Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed continue to feel authentic. I appreciated how April and Ram have different attitudes to the past, present and future, and how that defines their chances of staying together. They also are responding rather differently to not being - in biological terms - fully human anymore. The viewer really is made to care that their union needs considerable work from both parties.

All of the regular main cast continue to impress. Certainly with Ness' best script thus far there is little room for anyone to have a bad day's work. But perhaps the most notable performance comes from Jordan Renzo as Matteusz. I had been slightly indifferent about the character, and indeed he had barely featured in the early episodes. Here though he has enough screen time to fully establish himself as likeable and engaging. Although for much of the plot it may appear Charlie is the least angry, it actually transpires that it is his lover who has more control in the pressure-cooker situation. Renzo shows a good range and seems to thrive on the stage like confines of the one room here, so hopefully the dynamism can be followed through in other stories as well.

A lot of good drama thrives on not taking itself stone cold seriously, and having undercurrents of humour, or even absurdity. This episode shows poise in achieving this delicate contrast. One highlight involves April moving the situation along by announcing she is going to pick up the prisoner/meteor, but undercuts it by asking if anyone will "stop" her, accompanied by a comical look on her face.

Another fine moment of levity: Charlie's limitations in coming across as an actual human teenager- through being transplanted into 21st century Earth by the Twelfth Doctor - are exposed when he does not realise that 'Narnia' is a fictional realm, and quickly guesses it is somewhere in Canada. There is also of course the subtext that they have been transported to another dimension, and time has progressed back on Earth in notably different pace to their own in the void.

A few minor issues hold Detained back from being a true masterpiece. The voice for the alien prisoner is serviceable in and of itself, but is just a touch too similar to how the Shadow Kin sounded. The decision to have the classroom lights flicker and the group cower under desks makes sense within the context of the storyline, but is one of the few moments that fails to really resonate as imaginative or notable.

Also, perhaps an opportunity was missed to have some more screen time for Quill when any given person who held the stone could be made to imagine her presence, relating to the influence she has had. Katherine Kelly is really impressing me, and reminds me of Michelle Gomez in being a villainess that can inspire some sympathy. 

Some profanity - but by no means the strongest kind - features in dialogue for both April and Ram. However, it manages to still feel within context. Tanya at one point utters "airbag" as an insult, which cast my mind back to Sophie Aldred's brave attempts with Ace's more emotional dialogue, in the Seventh Doctor era.

But overall this instalment sees the series raise the bar, and iron out some flaws in earlier episodes. It boasts some skilful and dynamic direction from Wayne Yip, that lives up to the sterling work of the other directors involved in Class. Enough groundwork has been done for the final pair of stories to make this particular school term end strongly. Certainly that cliffhanger with Quill 'unshackled' will make me rush to my BBC I-Player connection in double-quick time.

The episode's confidence and effectiveness is such that it deserves to be a companion piece to the 2008 classic Midnight, and thus help justify once again the amazing scope that there is in the extended Doctor Who universe. 





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.

 








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