Class episode 1: For Tonight We Might Die (22/10/2016)
‘It’s like the Hellmouth.’ 13 years after Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended, Doctor Who gets round to its own version, even channelling Welcome to the Hellmouth for the opening scenes of the Darla-esque Quill and a male student racing through dark school corridors – and the male student coming to a sticky end. And throughout the episode, writer Patrick Ness puts his cards on the table – within the opening five minutes there have been statements on race, class, gender and sexuality. This is a show that knows both its influences and its target demographic.
I’m less convinced how well these are matched – would late 2010s teenagers really be picking up on the Hellmouth comparisons? Sounds more like something a gay man approaching middle age might say. Comparisons to Buffy fall down because here there is no eponymous character, and I don’t know who our viewpoint, our Rose or Gwen or Maria, is supposed to be. It’s not Charlie, who’s more like Giles than any of the Buffy kids; it’s not the Willowy April (though she comes closest), or the Willowy Tanya, or the Xander-meets-Cordelia Ram, or the well-named spiky Quill. Ness is aiming for an ensemble, a Class if you like, which is fair enough. And so we find out key information about all the characters – April’s mum’s paralyzing car crash; Ram’s dad’s aspirational lifestyle; Tanya’s mum’s over-protectiveness; Matteusz’ parents religious objection to his homosexuality; Charlie’s dead mother. Everyone’s home life is complicated.
Alongside this, there’s a tonne of info-dump on backstory – the Shadow Kins’ genocide of the Rhodians; April sharing a heart with the Shadow Kin leader; the Cabinet of Souls (another Death in Heaven style artificial afterlife); the class (get it) politics and structure of Rhodia; Quill’s complicated and rulebound relationship with Charlie; Ram’s artificial leg. Basically, there’s a lot going on here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but given eight episodes to play with I’m not sure it all needed to be so front-loaded. The result, for me, is bewildering and difficult to get a grip on: I know everything about these people except why I should care.
So, dropping the Doctor in waving his flash new sonic screwdriver and instructing the viewers, ‘What an amazing team! You’ll be able to handle anything that Time throws at you’ feels like Ness trying to shortcut us deciding that for ourselves. That the Doctor then immediately moves onto something else is maybe a truer commentary on the show.
I did enjoy some of the links back to the parent series – June Hudson randomly showing up; the Headmaster from Series Eight; the Doctor pausing for a moment when he sees Clara’s name on the school’s memorial board.
Dr Who will return in The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Next Time: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo