Coal Hill. It was a battleground for Daleks and a killer robot. Various time travellers used it as a hub. And now there’s a rift inside it, and all hell has (almost literally) broken loose.
Class was the spin-off that nobody wanted and that not many people watched, and that in itself is grotesquely unfair. It was unveiled amidst a flurry of cryptic tweets from the official Doctor Who account promising ‘a big announcement’, leading to much speculation about missing episodes, new companions or even new Doctors. When the big news arrived the reaction was akin to opening an exciting-looking cardboard box on your birthday and discovering that it complains a pressure washer. No one was quite sure what to make of it.
I wonder if that attitude continued during the show’s original broadcast, given its comparatively poor ratings. Certainly one of the biggest criticisms you could level at the show was that it arguably doesn’t fit the ethos of the Whoniverse. It has sex and graphic violence, for one thing. Of course it does. It’s aimed at teenagers. Teenagers love sex and graphic violence. But that’s always made us slightly uncomfortable. Sex has become an unavoidable part of life in the TARDIS ever since Jackie Tyler first flirted with the Doctor in her dressing gown, but with a couple of exceptions it’s always been comparatively chaste – more Mills and Boon than Fifty Shades of Grey.
Where Class succeeds where Torchwood failed is that nothing about it feels gratuitous. The bad language in Torchwood felt like a bunch of teenage boys given access to a computerised speech package and who decide to get it to swear, just for the giggle factor. In Class, when people have sex, there’s a reason. (Yes, all right, Miss Quill’s spontaneous shag with Ballon was slightly ridiculous, but the two of them had just been to hell and back, in a quite literal sense.)
Class is based around four or five students (do we count Matteusz? He’s in every episode but he rarely appears on the promotional shots) who fight alien incursion with the reluctant assistance of their A-Level physics teacher. Said physics teacher is tough, resourceful and the best thing in the show, even if it is not clear why she has a tartan shopping trolley. The students – placed under her charge by a certain time-travelling alien – are by turns black, Asian, gay, Polish and disabled-by-proxy, ticking just about every positive discrimination box on the worksheet.
Said time-travelling alien turns up only once, but it’s an electrifying moment. You know it’s coming, but when it finally happens you want to cheer. It helps that the original broadcast occurred within a self-imposed wilderness period for the show, which was off air until Christmas – this was all we were going to get of the Doctor until he turned up in New York, and the BBC knew it. Capaldi’s appearance may have been fleeting, but it gave the show the shot in the arm it needed.
The students at Coal Hill have their own personal demons to fight, in a figurative as well as literal sense. Charlie – secretly a Rhodian prince – is weighed down with the responsibility of being the last of his species, just as his captive protector is the last of hers. His boyfriend Matteusz appeals to his conscience whenever the nuclear option looms, hovering on his shoulder like a Polish Jiminy Cricket, but has to deal with with his own problems when he is rejected by his family. Tanya struggles both with a domineering mother, dead father and the stigma of being the youngest member of the group. And April has one parent in a wheelchair and the other in prison: the two incidents are not unconnected. She also shares a heart with a craggy alien warlord, but who hasn’t?
Then there’s Ram, who has ‘most likely to get burned out on drugs and destroy a promising football career’ scribbled in his yearbook, but who becomes the target of an early running gag when he is repeatedly soaked in the blood of people who’ve been viciously executed right in front of him. It all sort of peters out in later episodes as he hooks up with April, only to have things go horribly wrong as the series arc draws to its murky conclusion. Ram’s the only one who displays any real common sense in the finale, rationalising that the best thing to do is run, but morally he doesn’t have a leg to stand on (and if you’ve seen the early stories, you will understand why this is funny).
I’ve been a little remiss when it comes to discussing the show at Brian of Morbius. There just wasn’t time. You’re welcome, of course, to pop over to The Doctor Who Companion, who graciously allowed me to review three episodes for them –
(I am particularly proud of the interest graph on that second one.)
And now Class is facing the chop, it seems: the OFSTED reports are in, and highlight poor attendance and student boredom among the most obvious failings. Nothing has been decided, at least it hasn’t as we go to press, but unless a miracle happens Stateside I suspect the death knell might be ringing for Miss Quill and her crew. We will never find out when the Weeping Angels plan to invade, how April managed to get out of Corakinus’ body, or whether Ram ever managed to get his shirt clean.
In the meantime, you can have this. It’s no coincidence that some of the highlights in that first series involved Miss Quill – so it made sense to assemble them into a montage. This was new territory for me as it was the first time I’d actively stripped out the score from a TV episode myself rather than simply relying on someone else to do it for me (verdict: comparatively simple, provided you have the right software and a decent 5.1 mix). And eventually, this is what we had.
The music, incidentally, is the instrumental version of ‘Come With Me’, the Puff Daddy / Jimmy Page collaboration that takes Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ and sticks a rap on top of it. I can’t help thinking it works much better without Puff Daddy…