Alex Moreland reviews the first episode of the Doctor Who spinoff Class…
“You can’t seriously expect these juveniles to deal with whatever’s going to come through these tears in space and time?!”
Class starts as any typical Doctor Who episode might: someone’s running from a monster in a darkened corridor. In beginning this way, there’s a clear connection to the parent show; we know right away that, at the end of the day, what we’re getting out of this is going to be engaging, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be an adventure. And yet immediately Class subverts this with their titles sequence, emphasising that in spite of the similarities to Doctor Who, Class is very much its own show with a fresh energy and its own identity.
We’re soon introduced to our cast of characters; picking up after the titles sequence is a nice tracking shot from director Ed Bazalgette, in which we get to see each character for the first time. There’s something quite nice about this, actually – none of them are interacting with each other at this point, and aren’t even friends at this point – because we as the audience know where it’s going, even if they don’t.
Across the course of the episode, we get a sense of each individual; For Tonight We Might Die is quite an effective pilot in terms of establishing the core cast, and endearing them to the audience. Certainly, there’s a strong basis here for subsequent episodes to follow, with engaging character arcs being teased for each individual. Of particular interest is Ram, as played by Fady Elsayad; watching his character deal with the traumas he suffered in this episode will no doubt prove compelling. However, it’s not wholly fair to single out any individual character – they’re all fantastic. Often with television shows featuring teenagers there’s a worry, and perhaps a justified one, that the acting will be subpar, or that the drama will feel trite and manufactured; that’s far from the case here, thankfully, as Greg Austin, Vivian Oparah and Sophie Hopkins, as well as the aforementioned Fady Elsayad, all do brilliant jobs here.
Similarly, Katherine Kelly as Miss Quill impresses throughout. Her character throws up several interesting questions which will no doubt be explored throughout the series – while it’s clear enough that she’s not exactly a good person, the relative morality of her punishment does throw up a few quandaries. She’s not exactly wrong – she is a slave to our main character Charlie, which begs the question as to just how good a person he is. It’s a fantastic idea to build into the premise of the episode, and it’s certainly got a lot of potential moving forward; regardless of where they take it, though, one thing that can be said for sure is that Katherine Kelly and Greg Austin will give stellar performances.
Of course, it helps that the actors are all working with fantastic material. Patrick Ness, who’s received much well deserved critical acclaim for his YA work, delivers another barnstormer here. It’s a very compelling fifty minutes of television, managing to set up a whole world for us; the idea of the Shadowkin is an excellent one, and there’s a great hook at the end of the episode with the Cabinet of Souls. For Tonight We Might Die does a really impressive job of encompassing both drama and tragedy; there’s a real nuance to Class, and it’s abundantly clear that this is going to be a very powerful show.
Admittedly, certain aspects of the resolution of the episode felt a little weak. Having established the Shadowkin as a particularly threatening foe, their eventual defeat felt a tad rushed, and as though it needed a little more time dedicated to it. Equally, though, there’s a nice joke from Vivian Oparah’s character Tanya, and with the King of the Shadowkin linked to April (a very clever writing choice from Patrick Ness, tying in nicely with the character’s fears of fragility) and bearing a personal grudge against Charlie and Miss Quill, it’s evident they’ll be back at some stage.
Also worth of note is Peter Capaldi’s guest turn as the Doctor. It’s nice to see him here, acting almost as a blessing from the parent show; it helps to contextualise Class in terms of Doctor Who, and gives us an opportunity for a poignant yet subtle reference to Clara. Primarily, though, it’s just nice to see the Doctor – he’s far from essential to the plot. And frankly, that’s as it should be – this isn’t Doctor Who, and it isn’t Peter Capaldi’s programme. It’s something entirely new altogether, and that’s extremely exciting.
Ultimately, Class debuts with a particularly strong first episode; it introduces us to a compelling cast of characters and an establishes an engaging overarching plot. Most importantly of all, though, it makes it obvious that this is a programme that can and will stand on its own – and maybe even surpass Doctor Who, one day.