Class: Series 1, Episodes 3 and 4

(SPOILER WARNING!)

Episode 3 – Night Visiting

One of the real strengths of Patrick Ness’ writing for Class is its emphasis on character. Yes, each week’s central menace is whatever alien nasty has plunged through the Hellmouth Rift to Shoreditch this week; but each time, the plot is driven by how these developing characters, with continually developing back-stories, deal with it. After ep2’s focus on traumatised jock Ram, this week focused on Tanya, and her still-unresolved grief over the death of her father, established last time.

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But what’s good about these character-focused eps is that, while one character may be central, the others are never neglected; each gets some development and revelation of their own. Hence, here we got more development of the romance between Charlie and Matteusz, while Ram and April grew closer with revelations of their own, setting the scene for future plotlines. And scene-stealer Miss Quill got more meat to the bones of her character, with yet more revelations about her freedom fighter/terrorist past.

So, we knew from previous eps that Tanya had never fully got over the premature death of her father from a stroke; that formed the central plank of a sensitively written episode that centred on a repeated trope of sci-fi – what if the nasty aliens took the forms of our much-missed dead loved ones. Doctor Who itself addressed it, far less sensitively, in season 2’s Army of Ghosts, but this dealt with the concept in a more sensitive yet more devastating way. That’s the benefit of establishing rounded, sympathetic characters – when horrible things happen to them, you can’t help but feel it.

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So, we knew Tanya still hadn’t properly processed her father’s death; hence, when he arrived in her room, attached to a mysterious (and gross) tentacle, we could understand her reaction. And kudos to the writer for giving her a believable amount of suspicion – she’s a smart cookie, and unlike most of the Lankin’s victims, she’d been dealing with homicidal alien creatures for several weeks now.

It was an ep full of low-key, very emotional scenes between the intended victims and their deceased loved ones, but still gave a greater sense than many eps of Who itself that this might just be the end of the world. Ram and April, venturing through streets full of tentacle-entombed victims, said as much, and you could believe them. The vista of a silent London, riddled with tentacles and enmeshed bodies, was both quiet and eerie.

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While the confrontation between Katherine Kelly’s Miss Quinn and the human-shaped version of her sister shed much light on her compelling character, it was nice to see undercover alien prince Charlie getting it on with his boyfriend Matteusz upstairs. Patrick Ness, himself openly gay, says that one of the hardest things for him as a young reader was never seeing himself represented by any of the characters he read.

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Charlie and Matteusz are a well-handled answer to that; none of their peers think anything different of their relationship than any of their straight friends, but the writing doesn’t ignore the fact that it’s not all wine and roses for young homosexuals – Matteusz has been chucked out by his conservative, religious parents. As an aside, it’s also refreshing, in the current climate, that Matteusz is a complex, flawed yet sympathetic example of an Eastern European in England dealing with his less-than-accepting parents.

And none of his schoolfriends think any differently about either his sexuality or his nationality. Given that Charlie himself is an immigrant from not just a different country but a different planet, it’s interesting that he doesn’t face that problem either – in his case because he sounds like a well-heeled Englishman. I do hope that gives people pause for thought.

Shag of the week

Given what seems like a trend of the show, here’s a new feature. This week’s actually quite sensitive but visually rewarding sex scene was between Charlie and Matteusz – and while it wasn’t especially graphic, there were a few brief shots that made it clear they were actually having sex.

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Torchwood only did that once with Jack Harkness, in the execrable Miracle Day; here, while it plainly was a bit more “adult” than its parent show, this was sensitive, well-executed, and not gratuitous. Though still nice to look at 🙂

Episode 4 – Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

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Groan-making pun of a title aside, I’m bound to say this wasn’t quite as successful as the previous ep. Following up on the season opener’s premise that April now shares a cardiac organ with the leader of the genocidal Shadowkin, this was plainly the April-centric episode, following on from last time’s revelations about her alcoholic father.

In those terms, it was pretty good; in the rest, not so much. The interpolation between her life and the Shadowkin king was an interesting idea rather torpedoed by the fact that the Shadowkin’s electronically enhanced voices were sometimes incomprehensible. And then there was that sex scene…

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I don’t mind that the alien baddies are humanised by showing them having sex, and yes, the cross-cutting between the King and his sycophantic minion with April and Ram’s tryst was a good idea. Trouble is, the way it was written and played came off as nothing so much as Dr Evil and Frau Farbissina in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. I was actually expecting the Shadowkin King to say, “it got weird, didn’t it?”.

Still, that aside it was an interesting ep in the sense that it was the first non-self-contained, “To Be Continued” story the show’s done. Aside from April’s cross-dimensional cardiac troubles, Shoreditch is being covered with bloodsucking alien flower petals; and there’s a mysterious new headteacher at Coal Hill Academy who knows more about Charlie and Miss Quill than Ofsted would normally manage. Given that The Day of the Doctor established that the Chairman of the Board of Governors was one Mr I Chesterton, I wonder where that’s going next…

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That aside, the ep ended with the unrepentant April stuck on Shadowkin World HQ, with Ram having unwisely leapt into the Rift/Hellmouth after her. With her disreputable father looking on in surprise, this looks like another interesting plot that will be driven by the characters as much as the scenario; bad sex aside, an intriguing first ep in an arc.

Shag of the week

April and Ram, obviously:

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It’s lovely that he’s a nice, conscientious boy who uses protection and all. But my goodness, when did every young British man start having to go to the gym like an American to look that toned?

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A good couple of episodes, one plainly better than the other, but both emblematic of Patrick Ness’ thoughtful approach to this Who spinoff. Yes, it’s fair to say that Coal Hill’s Scooby Gang are even more unfeasibly attractive than the one in Buffy, but Ness has given them real, believable characters and flaws, which, crucially, drive the plots. If you’re one of those who looks at this as just another Buffy clone, then ok, fair enough – but look again to find characters who are every bit as cheerable.