Class: For Tonight We Might Die

Some students at Coal Hill Academy face the Shadow Kin, creatures who seek the last members of two warring alien races. The Doctor has hidden these survivors in the school, as teacher and pupil respectively.

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First Class: the Met remain a visible presence in Shoreditch.

The idea of an unearthly child, cut off from their own planet and hidden away in a British school is one famously seen before in Doctor Who. But whereas Turlough was at a public school, Charles is at Coal Hill – alma mater of the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, former Imperial Dalek hideout and erstwhile employers of the Doctor, Clara and Danny. There are some fairly subtle nods to the past – the policeman patrolling the school entrance harks back to the officers in the opening shots of An Unearthly Child and Day of the Doctor; while the memorial board boasts familiar names of those who are (presumed) dead.

I think it’s fair to say that the announcement, back in October 2015, that Doctor Who would be getting a new spin-off wasn’t exactly met with universal excitement. When the midnight announcement broke, as tradition dictates, several hours early, the news seemed to be largely met with disdain or antipathy from fans on social media. Either because it wasn’t the news some were hoping for (missing episodes found), the sneaking suspicion it meant there would be no full series of Doctor Who in 2016, or just the general miasma of negativity around new stuff.

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Class warfare

More recently the BBC advised parents that Class “is not suitable viewing for younger audiences.” This has led to a further slew of disparagement, still without anyone seeing a single frame of the show. I don’t think this such a bad thing. If it’s unsuitable for kids, the greater the appeal will be for them to watch it. It’s like the visceral thrill of staying up for a Hammer Horror film when you’re young.

It certainly increased my anticipation for the new series, as it seemed to echo a February 1977 The Daily Express interview with one of Doctor Who‘s greatest writers, Robert Holmes. He said, “Parents would be terribly irresponsible to leave a six-year-old to watch it alone. It’s geared to the intelligent fourteen-year-old, and I wouldn’t let any child under ten see it.” This from a man who had just helped preside of an era rightly regarded by many as a golden age of the series. More recently Steven Moffat made a similar point at the Doctor Who Festival in November 2015:

“It has a very particular place in the world, in that it is the children’s programme that is in no way suitable for children and it is a programme that doesn’t quite sit in the adult world… As I say, it’s a children’s programme that’s not suitable for children. Kids like being scared. Kids grade Doctor Who on scariness, they say it wasn’t a very scary thing one week, mean it wasn’t very good. What they can find scary can sometimes be surprising, obviously that doesn’t mean you’re harrowing them or giving them a real-world monstrosity, we’re giving them big red calamari… But it is scarier than other children’s shows at that time of day would be allowed to be. Yes, absolutely, because it’s some grand old tradition… Children have nightmares about monsters anyway, all we’re doing is adding the Doctor to the nightmare, So that’s a good story to tell children but if you’re going to have a great, swaggering hero he better have something to fight.”

In this first episode, the only part that might be more than you would see in an episode of Doctor Who is the scene where Rachel is skewered by the Shadow Kin, and the resulting fight. The way the blade protrudes through her chest is similar to the scene where Loki kills Agent Coulson in Avenger’s Assemble. This was digitally censored out of the UK release of that movie to secure a 12 certificate. It’s a surprising moment in Class, made a little less horrific by the Buffy The Vampire Slayer-style plume of dust her body turns into. Ram having his lower leg severed raises the stakes, and establishes the Shadows as a real threat, presumably to return in the series finale.

Of course scariness, gore and adult content don’t guarantee something is good, otherwise the first series of Torchwood would have been much more enjoyable. But if it’s married to more sophisticated story-telling, like series nine, could well come up trumps. I think the ‘young adult’ stuff here that might jar with most old fans like me will not be the higher levels of visceral violence than we’re used to in the parent series, but the danger that the teen angst might eclipse the alien threats.

There’s much to like here, particularly the interesting backstory, and dynamic, between Charlie and Miss Quill. The way we see this unfold in April’s imagination is a clever way of keeping some mystery to their origin. There might also be more to learn about Tanya: she has prodigious maths skills and has skipped two years at school. Also, the Doctor gives her a particularly enquiring look before they dash off after the retreating Shadow Kin.

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Order Class series 1 on DVD:

On Blu-ray:

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