The latest Doctor Who spinoff, Class, has a lot to live up to if it's going to impress fans of its parent show. Of course, Class can't really compete, out of the gate, with a show as massive as Doctor Who, and the people behind the scenes know that, so they, instead, concentrate on doing their own thing. That frees Class up to be way more bloody-minded than Who, and while the first episode is a bit of a mess, further viewings reveal a sci-fi show that could become pretty damn great before too long.
Class focuses on four gifted students at a renovated Coal Hill Academy and their teacher as they deal with (no shock here) alien threats from throughout time and space. Regular Doctor Who viewers will recognize Coal Hill as the school that has been featured on the very long running series since the premiere episode in 1963. Most recently, it's the school where former companion Clara worked as a teacher (as did her ill-fated boyfriend Danny).
Unfortunately for the students and staff at Coal Hill, a big ol' rift in space and time has opened right around the school, and The Doctor has tasked teens Tanya (Vivian Oparah) (a prodigy who's recently moved up three grades), Charlie (Greg Austin) (who's keeping a pretty big secret), Ram (Fady Elsayed) (a self-important, would-be soccer star) and April (Sophie Hopkins) (an ordinary girl with a big crush on Charlie), and their teacher Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly) (who happens to be in on Charlie's secret since she's hiding a similar one) with dealing with the creepy crawlies that come out of what is now their own, personal Hellmouth.
The first episode of Class, which comes from creator and writer Patrick Ness, who produces the series along with Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin, was way too frenetic for my taste. I'm all for non-stop action, but this episode just felt poorly planned, with my biggest complaint being that they bring us into the story a bit too late. The result is that we're playing catch up for most of the episode and can't really get fully absorbed in the story because of all the constant questions that are swirling around. This simply wasn't the best way to open the show, and I can see a lot of people tuning out and not bothering after watching that initial installment.
But, the very good news is that the second episode calms things down enough so that we can really get into the story. And, while you'll have definite questions about the baddie that this new Scoobie Gang has to face, you won't feel like the show is taunting you with untold information for the better part of an hour. And, from the three episodes that I had the chance to preview, this looks to be the actual standard for storytelling on Class.
As I mentioned earlier, Class is not shy about blood, gore or some heavy subject matter. They manage to deal with grief, the horror of some parental fuck ups, feelings of inadequacy, dashed hopes and much more within the sci-fi framework. The events of the premiere episode, for instance, leave one of the kids with what's basically PTSD and, even though the character fights through it, the show makes it clear that battling otherwordly bad guys isn't going to be easy for any of them. As Tanya puts it, they're dealing with whatever gets "pooped out through the bunghole of time," and none of them will come out unscathed.
Speaking of the students, Oparah, Austin, Elsayed and Hopkins all do great work portraying teens who are dealing with a now constant well of impossible situations, while trying to live their lives with a variety of personal demons. As their teacher, Kelly, for her part, is a bit nutty and just cranky enough that she makes the character a somewhat suitable replacement for the famed Time Lord.
If you can get past the general ridiculousness of The Doctor giving an assignment this dangerous to a bunch of untrained teenagers, especially when there's an international agency, UNIT, designed specifically to handle paranormal and extraterrestrial threats, and the clunky pilot episode, then Class should be able to fill the science fiction bill for a lot of people.