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BBC Premieres New Doctor Who Spin-Off: Class

ByAlasdair Flett

Nov 8, 2016

Violence. Swearing. Blood. Class delivers on its adult credentials but fails to engage viewers emotionally – I feel like we have seen it all before.

The BBC, while ‘resting’ the main series for a year, have decided to try and inject new vitality into the Whoniverse by launching a new, more adult programme set in the school at which former companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) used to teach. The premise appears to be a contradiction in terms. Perhaps, by setting the show in an educational environment, the creator was trying to make the point that teenagers are just adults treated with less respect. However, I cannot seem to make that cognitive leap within the first episode.

Typical sci-fi fodder is employed for the opening. For the millionth time, a heavy-breathing youth is pursued through endless corridors accompanied by a melodramatic soundtrack, only to be inevitably obliterated by a fantastical foe. The monsters are unoriginal, first appearing as insubstantial and corny ‘shadows’ and gradually materialising as a cross between Sauron, White Walkers and the Witch-King of Angmar. The CGI is not terrible, but neither is it particularly good, having never been a strength of Doctor Who; the physical costumes are always much more impressive.

Class’ theme tune is decidedly bland, evoking none of the epic, suspenseful tone of Doctor Who’s original theme. It is an odd contrast to the opening scene, shattering the tension it had attempted to build.

The show does have its strengths. The writing raises more than the occasional smile, and it lives up to the diversity credentials of its trailer. However, while the show’s inclusiveness is a definite plus-point, in the pilot it seems more like a box-ticking exercise than being particularly natural.

Characters are sometimes simply used to express the writer’s opinions; for example, the casual dig at ITV for the success of Downton Abbey and racial politics of that popularity. There are a few instances where ‘white people’ are the subject of ridicule, and whilst this criticism is by and large justified, the way it is inserted into the writing is clunky.

Whilst admirable for ethnic and sexual diversity, Class’ class issues (ironically enough) are muddier. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for the princely main protagonist, who has enjoyed a life of privilege and comes from a planet whose society is a perpetual private school? It is a questionable origin story, and not exactly inspired. This brings up a broader problem in Stephen Moffat’s canonical meddling, where he introduced an underclass in Gallifreyan society – the Time ‘People’ who are ruled over by the Time Lords. It is an interesting conceptual development, but lacks the exploration necessary to justify inclusion.

Class’ influences are not difficult to decipher. The two alien warring factions bear a striking similarity to Guardians of the Galaxy’s Kree and Xandarians, especially considering that one of these groups are called the Quill (Peter Quill being the central character in the franchise). The telepathic link between April (Sophie Hopkins) and the main villain is an age-old trope with its origins in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and can be seen more recently in Harry Potter.

The show’s violence is perhaps the most shocking element. What starts out, and for most part continues in the vein of, a bog-standard Doctor Who episode is suddenly shattered with an almost Tarintino-esque eruption of blood spraying from the body of one of the character’s prom dates as a sword is thrust through her back, drenching the onlooker. Decapitation ensues. Incongruous Capaldi then turns up, providing medical assistance and superlative cautionary advice.

From the teaser for next week, gore seems to be a mainstay, which is odd for an otherwise charmingly innocent show.

Class is an intriguing concept. Certainly not as dark or sexy as Torchwood, and with a confusing mix of cuteness and graphic violence, its success remains to be seen.

Image: Manginwu @ Flickr

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